The most recent agriculture census reported that NC was tied for first in the nation in loss of farmland in 2007. Loss of North Carolina farms is equally alarming with a loss of half of the farms from 100,000 farms in 1976 to 52,500 farms in 2008. Nationally, we have lost 1 million acres of farmland since 1997 and there are now more people in prisons than on farms. With the average age of farmers now 59, it is critical that we support the training and development of new farmers. Proceeds of the Farm to Fork Picnic support the new farmer training programs at CEFS and the Breeze Farm.
The Center for Environmental Farming Systems was established in 1994 by the North Carolina State University, North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, and the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, and many non-profit and agriculture organizations. The mission of CEFS is to develop and promote food and farming systems that protect the environment, strengthen local communities, and provide economic opportunities in North Carolina and beyond.
CEFS supports beginning farmers through its Farm Apprentice Program where participants spend eight months or more based at the Small Farm Unit in Goldsboro learning how to manage a small-scale diversified integrated certified organic farm. They gain a range of real-world experience, including community-based food systems work in the adjacent town of Goldsboro. Summer Interns participate in a structured 8 week residential program at CEFS working with faculty members and others on weekly classroom learning activities, hands-on farming experience, community projects, and research. CEFS also has a new initiative partnering with six county governments and municipalities across the state facilitating new incubator farm development.
Established in 2007 with $10,000 provided by Orange County Board of Commissioners and on farmland bequeathed to NC State University by Colonel Bill Breeze, the PLANT @ Breeze Farm Enterprise Incubator was developed to train new farmers for the North Carolina Piedmont Region. This program is managed collaboratively by the Orange County Center of NC Cooperative Extension and Orange County Economic Development. Anchored by an 8 week workshop series held every January and February, participants meet once each week for three hours to learn production methods and business planning principles from successful farmer mentors as well as agricultural professionals. In addition, with a business plan in hand, participants can lease land at the Breeze Farm to pilot and grow their new or diversifying farm enterprise. Additional workshops and training events are held periodically throughout the year. Plans for 2012 include two new unheated greenhouses, a new irrigation well, and expanded leasing options for new vegetable and livestock farmers.