By Mercedes Taylor-Puckett

Kansas Farmers Union and the Farmer Veteran Coalition of Kansas are offering new and aspiring farmers an opportunity to visit nine Kansas and Missouri farms and learn from educators, producers and other experts about topics ranging from on farm food safety to business planning.

The Summer Fun Farm Tour Series runs every other Monday beginning July 22 and includes stops across the northeastern region of the state, a local foods lunch, networking, and an educational session. There is no cost to participate. The series wraps up on August 26 with a Produce Safety Alliance Growers Training workshop.

“Farm tours combined with a workshop topic provide useful information for producers at any level of experience. These three days are geared for beginning and aspiring individuals who want to farm,” said Mary Howell, education specialist for Kansas Farmers Union.

“Experienced farmers and ranchers share their own story and what works for them to provide ideas the attendees can take home and apply. No farmer has enough time or money to try everything on their own. The networking among producers provides shared farming experiences and valuable intelligence that makes the learning curve less severe and the farm more successful,” Howell explained.

The nine featured farms – many operated by beginning farmers and military veterans – raise everything from fruits and vegetables, to hogs, sheep and poultry. A diversity of production types are represented. The farms sell their products across numerous marketing channels including U-Pick, direct sales at markets, wholesale to stores and restaurants, and online.

July 22 farm tour stops are Green Dirt Farm, Weston, MO; KC Cattle Company, Weston, MO; and April Valley Farm, Leavenworth. ‘Critter Day’ highlights opportunities with livestock production including: a small sheep dairy and cheese making company, a veteran-owned and staffed ranch producing USDA certified hormone-free American Wagyu beef, and a diversified family farming operation raising registered Angus cattle, crossbred hogs and row crops.

The day’s educational session focuses on enhancing producers’ relationship with their meat processor and also covers a program for military service members transitioning to civilian life with interest in a career in agriculture. Rosanna Bauman, whose family farms and owns poultry and meat processing facilities near Garnett, KS, provides insight on how to be a good partner with your processor and strategies to strengthen relationships with your direct and wholesale buyers.

SkillBridge, a U.S. Department of Defense program for retiring service members, allows companies – including farm operations, to provide job skills training to service members during their last six months of their military service.

August 5 farm tour stops are JET Produce and Meats, Leavenworth, KS; Greater Than U Farm, Lansing, KS; and Cal Ann Farm, Basehor, KS. This ‘Growing Undercover Day’ highlights opportunities with high tunnel, greenhouse, and hydroponic production of produce, microgreens, and living herbs.

The afternoon’s lunch and learn includes information on USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service’s High Tunnel System Initiative. Jeffrey D. Ladner, District Conservationist for Jefferson and Leavenworth Counties, shares that hoop houses are an increasingly popular conservation practice for farmers, and that financial assistance is available through the NRCS Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP).

August 19 farm tour stops are Z&M Twisted Vines Wine and Winery, Schwinn Produce Farm, and Oregon Trail Farm, all in Leavenworth, KS. ‘Vines, Barns and Berries Day’ zeroes in on options with value-added production and agritourism, such as wineries, on-farm event hosting, and U-Pick operations.

The day’s educational session focuses on financial management, one of the biggest challenges farmers face, regardless of age or experience. Gary Matteson, Vice President for Young, Beginning, Small Farmer Programs and Outreach for the Farm Credit Council, encourages producers to make it a priority to study, analyze and improve their financial knowledge. “As farm managers, you cannot avoid difficult tasks, subjects or problems,” Matteson says. “Getting fluent in the language of monthly cash-flow budget is the single greatest skill a beginning farmer can have in convincing someone else that they are competent, committed, and have clear expectations of the future.”

On August 26, fruit and vegetable farmers can learn about produce safety, the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) Produce Safety Rule, Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs), and co-management of natural resources and food safety. The Produce Safety Alliance Grower Training Course is one way to satisfy the FSMA Produce Safety Rule requirement. The no-cost workshop runs from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm and registration includes lunch, training materials, and free post-workshop water testing provided by K-State Research and Extension.

“As a grower it is our responsibility to do everything we can to produce the most wholesome, safe fruits and vegetables we can to our customers, says Howell. “Growers who have spent the day in one of our workshops will say that it was very enjoyable and they learned things they never thought about. The class is held in an informal setting where fellow growers can ask questions and learn from each other.”

National Farmers Union’s Local Food Safety Collaborative funding awarded to the KFU make it possible to offer the Produce Safety Alliance Grower Training workshop at no cost to growers. A grower who completes the entire day-long class receives a certificate of completion. Howell says, “We are the best deal in the state for this training!”

Additional details for each day, including farm and workshop descriptions, are available at kansasfarmersunion.com/events/.

Each farm tour day begins at 8:00 a.m. at the National Agricultural Center and Hall of Fame in Bonner Springs, KS. After visiting the three farms, participants return to the Center by 12:30 p.m. for a local foods lunch sponsored by the Farm Credit Associations of Kansas.

Following the meal, Ken DeVan shares the story behind the National Agricultural Center and Hall of Fame. DeVan is a Center board member as well as being the president of the Farmer Veteran Coalition of Kansas. Additionally, Tawnie Larson, Kansas AgrAbility Project Coordinator, explains how the program assists farmers, ranchers, and other agricultural workers who have become injured, have a health condition, or a disability to remain actively engaged in production agriculture for as long as they choose.

The featured afternoon ag education session concludes by 3:00 p.m. each day.

Kerri Ebert, coordinator for the Kansas Center for Sustainable Agriculture and Alternative Crops at Kansas State University, believes the farm tour series is an excellent opportunity for beginning and experienced farmers to learn tips and tricks from other farmers while visiting a mix of farm types. “The wonderful part of farm tours is that everyone learns – the host and the attendees alike,” said Ebert.

The tours are free, but registration is required. Registration is now open for all three tours at kansasfarmersunion.com. For more information about the Summer Fun Farm Tour Series or to RSVP by phone, contact Mary Howell at 785.562.8726.

To join a mailing list to receive updates on the farm tours and other events planned by the beginning farmer team, send an email message to kfu.mercedes@gmail.com.

The Summer Fun Farm Tour Series is made possible through funding from National Farmers Union’s Local Food Safety Collaborative and sponsorship from the Kansas AgrAbility Project and the Farm Credit Associations of Kansas. Tour partners include Kansas Farmers Union, Farmer Veteran Coalition of Kansas, Kansas Beginning Farmers Coalition, Kansas Center for Sustainable Agriculture and Alternative Crops, and K-State Research and Extension.

Kansas Farmers Union is the state’s oldest active general farm organization working to protect and enhance the economic interests and quality of life for family farmers, ranchers and rural communities.

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Graphic: 2019 Summer Fun Farm Tour Series. Available HERE.

Photo: Ken DeVan, Oregon Trail Farm in Leavenworth, explains the irrometer he uses to monitor moisture levels around his blueberry plants, which are especially moisture sensitive. The DeVans added a drip irrigation system to all 27 rows of berries containing 1,000 plants including five varieties of blueberries that bloom at different times of the year. Available HERE.

Photo: Jacob and Jennifer Thomas operate JET Produce and Meats located in Leavenworth County. Available HERE.

Photo: Production in high tunnels is growing in popularity and cost-share funding is available through the USDA NRCS EQIP Program. Available HERE.

Kansas Farmers Union is the state’s oldest active general farm organization working to protect and enhance the economic interests and quality of life for family farmers and ranchers and rural communities. We believe family ownership of farm land is the basis for the world’s most viable system of food and fiber production, and that maintaining this family farm system will preserve our natural and human resources.

Graphic: Kansas Farmers Union logo available here.