Stone Barns Center Lays Foundation for New Farmers

12/22/2012 7:00 AM
By Troy Bishopp New York Correspondent

POCANTICO HILLS, N.Y. — It took less than 36 hours for the 2012 installment of the Young Farmers Conference held at the historic Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture overlooking the Hudson River Watershed to sell-out again. “What’s more amazing about this phenomenon of 250 young farmers from 27 states and Canada coming to our conference is the 170 farmers that wanted to remain on the waiting list”, said Mel Weiss, Coordinator of the Growing Farmers Initiative at Stone Barns.

Ladies and Gentleman, reviving the culture of agriculture is here, front and center.

With their smart phones and iPads collecting information, or instant messaging on a hot topic, these passionate and aspiring farmers were hungry for knowledge that lays a foundation in a new narrative for agriculture committed to resiliency, regeneration and what presenters, Steffen and Rachel Schneider from Hawthorne Valley Farm called, “food as the connecting point” to local and global well-being.

The Growing Farmers Initiative seeks to train new farmers in this resilient, restorative manner in partnership with their other programming to educate children about the sources of their food and how to steward the land, and to raise public awareness of healthy, seasonal and sustainable food production systems. In addition, the award-winning Blue Hill restaurant at Stone Barns is managed by 2009 James Beard Foundation’s top chef in America, Dan Barber. Barber complements the Stone Barn vision by purchasing what’s produced on the 80-acre farm while collaborating with farmers in all stages of production and holding in-the-kitchen classes featuring seasonal ingredients.

Stone Barns President, Fred Kirschenmann, described the educational experience as “creating shared values.” The cornucopia of diverse workshops focused on animal husbandry, rotational grazing, beekeeping, soil health, business planning, marketing, vegetable production, finding farmland, farm-based education, tree fruits, weed management, machinery maintenance, cover crops, greenhouse production and learning to advocate for agriculture to name a few.

In addition to these interactive topics, a screening of the film, “Symphony of the Soil.” There was a series of open-source farming “slow tool” demonstrations and poignant lectures by Adam Davidson, co-host of Planet Money. Fred Kirschenmann, distinguished fellow at the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University spoke. There were many networking opportunities with sponsors, a seed swap, an online virtual grange and a lively contra dance featuring caller Kristin Andreassen. The information and connections soaked in better with 2 days of gourmet style meals prepared and served by Blue Hill restaurant staff highlighting local ingredients.

Comments from this new generation of farmers on why they came were many: “Farming can be a solitary, lonesome sport. I’m here to listen, talk shop and share experiences. My goal is to become a wiser more efficient farmer”, said Adrienne Altstatt from Wright-Locke Farm in Winchester, MA.

Stone Barns scholarship recipients, Lucia Stephen and Hannah Hunter from the Atlantic Canadian Organic Regional Network (ACORN) in New Brunswick Canada came to learn more about developing new farmer training programs for their members. “We like coming as a way to put faces to the e-mails and making long lasting relationships with like-minded people”.

“This education is an integral part in starting my own farm, developing my market approach and making family decisions. This is an investment in my future”, said Lindsay Zimmerman of Glen Ellyn, Illinois. And one young anonymous New Jersey lad commented, “In addition to being a great learning environment, there were many opportunities to find a future wife”.

As the next generations inspire a nation to revive the culture of agriculture, the learning communities surrounding the privilege of engaging the earth and growing a consciousness of nutrient-dense food at the Stone Barns center are rock-solid.

To find out more about the Growing Farmers Initiative and educational programs visit, and to join an online community and hub for beginning farmers, visit the Virtual Grange at<\c> LF20121222_N Stone Barns 3/

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The 2012 Young Farmers Conference at the Stone Barns Center, seen here, sold out in less than 36 hours.

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This pib is busy renovating a field outside the Stone Barns Center in Pocantico Hills, N.Y.

Photos by Troy Bishopp

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