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New free online videos help mentor new farmers

To provide new farmers a resource lifeline, the New York Beginning Farmer Project has just released a series of 12 online videos, titled "Voices of Experience." Through interviews with 12 enterprising farmers, the videos are intended to help new farmers, from planning to marketing.

"The videos are just chock-full of the kind of advice that can only come from people who have experience," said Erica Frenay, an extension associate with the Small Farms Program at Cornell and the New York Beginning Farmer project manager.

The series, which comprises themed videos from two to 18 minutes in length, is one of the first steps in a new farmer mentoring program.

"We would ideally love to see any new farmer in the state have access to a mentor," said Frenay, who noted that such mentoring would require additional funds. "But in the meantime we feel like these videos provide some farmer-to-farmer learning that's a bit more general."

The New York Beginning Farmer Project, which is a project of the Small Farms Program headed by Anusuya Rangarajan, Cornell horticulture professor, covers topics that new farmers typically ask extension agents. "A lot of the [experienced] farmers are saying the same things that I might tell a new farmer, but it carries more weight when it comes from somebody who is actually out in the fields every day and has gone through the experience of starting up a farm," said Frenay.

The series gives an authentic picture of the challenges new farmers face. "You have to be prepared as well as you can if you're going to get into a farming operation," said Rick Reisinger, manager of Cornell Orchards and the owner of an orchard in Watkins Glen, N.Y. "And that means having as much knowledge about whatever you're going to get into, and you have to have more knowledge than the next guy."

In addition to covering business planning, marketing, insurance coverage, land maintenance, grants and product diversity, the videos also cover some of the diverse reasons why farmers begin their operations. Pierre Donne, M.D., of Sojourner Farm in Cattaragus County, for example, was inspired to farm through his work as a physician. "As a physician," said Donne, "I did some research and I realized our food system is going in the wrong direction as far as what we are putting into our bodies." Donne decided to retire into livestock farming with the mission of providing healthier meats to consumers.

The New York Beginning Farmers Project, launched three years ago, also sponsors intensive new farmer trainings and online courses. So far, several hundred people have been trained through the program, said Frenay.

The New York Beginning Farmer Project is funded by the New York Farm Viability Institute and Cornell Cooperative Extension. This series is available at

Sarah Palmer '10 is a writer intern at the Cornell Chronicle.

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Nicola Pytell