The Cultivation of Young Farmers
New Hampshire Technical Institute (NHTI) students Willow Tritter, Nick Dubois, and Joe Emerson bond with Curious Bleu, a ten-year-old Scottish Highlander steer, owned by Learning Networks Foundation (LNF). The students are in a sustainable agriculture program held at Miles Smith Farm in Loudon.
"What kind of insurance will cover goats trained to drive a car?" asked Willow, one of my three sustainable-agriculture students from New Hampshire Technical Institute (NHTI).
"Why do you ask?" replied Mike Bertolone, owner of Farm Family Insurance.
Willow was working on an outreach program for adults and children using therapy cows, goats, horses, and pigs. And apparently, she had a Category 5 brainstorm.
The students met at Miles Smith Farm twice a week for eight weeks to learn about farming. The curriculum included how to lead a calf, trim a goat's hooves, and shovel manure. You can't get more "hands-on" than that unless you don't use a shovel. They also learned about the business. How sustainable is agriculture if your farm keeps losing money? And breaking even isn't enough. We farmers often forget to pay ourselves. The late Dot Perkins, an expert who worked at the Merrimack County Extension office, told my 2019 NHTI class that farmers need to pay themselves at least $18 an hour. Today it might be more like $20.
What Does It Take?
In our first ten years of farming, not knowing about the agencies and experts that could've helped us, husband Bruce and I tried to do it on our own. We could've used a low-interest loan and other financial boosts from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). And there are loads of outfits at the state level that want to help farmers.
I wanted to introduce these aspiring young farmers to agencies like the USDA, the University of New Hampshire Extension Service, the New Hampshire Department of Agriculture, and the New Hampshire Farm Bureau. To avoid giving them a boring lecture, we visited a different agency each week. That way, students learned about farmers' resources while getting information to help them complete their final project.
So we exchanged our mud-crusted farm boots for "office-ready" shoes to see what those helpful people had to say.
Commissioner Shawn Jasper of the state Department of Agriculture advised the students, "You have to love what you do. New Hampshire needs young people who love to farm." They also learned that all of the agencies are hiring. Loving agriculture could mean finding a job that helps farmers.
Whether or not Mike Bertolone saw Willow as a viable job candidate, she did learn that goats driving cars are not insurable.
Can Goats Drive a Car?
After gathering information (and a job offer or two), the students presented to NHTI faculty and the public. The students explained how they would create, fund, and advertise a program using farm animals to encourage trust and make us feel better. Who doesn't feel better after hugging a cow?
I'm excited that my students may have a career in agriculture. That might mean working for one of the agencies we visited or shoveling manure and raising cattle as I do. If they can dream it, they can do it, except maybe for the goat-driving thing – sorry, Willow.