Roots Memphis Farm Academy is a 501 (c) 3 nonprofit that trains and launches new beginning farmers into the Mid-South Region. Our farmers train in a 6-month long intensive business farming course, and then head out to the field in Spring to put their skills to the test. Together, with the support of the Roots Memphis staff, our farm students grow hyperlocal, chemical-free, Certified Naturally Grown produce and flowers. These produce and flowers are then sold to the community through CSAs, at markets, and wholesale. We love spreading good food throughout our area, and take pride in our farm students and in the goods we all cultivate together.
Classes begin in August, and run through January to have the farmers ready in Spring to step into their next portion of the Academy. We currently have eight farmers growing in this next step, incubation. Depending on the year they began, the farmers will finish with incubation and be ready for launch anytime from this fall, to fall of 2018. When our farm students launch, Roots Memphis Farm Academy will continue supporting them by connecting the farmers to land, financing, markets, and ongoing technical assistance and consultation.
The six-month academic curriculum instructs aspiring farmers in small farm business entrepreneurship, planning and management, sustainable agriculture theory and practice, and small farm production skills. While these weekly classes are only a few hours in length, they are highly intensive and require outside reading and research. Students prepare an approved small farm business model to graduate from the academic program.
Our four new farmers are ready to hit the field in Spring 2016. Welcome Mark, Peyton, Chris, and Brian (from L to R)!
Those graduates then move on to an incubation phase, during which they manage a quarter-acre farm plot and demonstrate the capacity to commercially produce the crops reflected in their business plans. While the farm students manage their own land, they often work side by side with fellow students. Our farm manager is also available to answer questions every step of the way, from seeding advice to proper harvest instructions. With our heated greenhouse and shared tractors, the farm students are able to learn and use communal tools, instead of other beginning farmers who typically face barriers of debt and loan applications for these expensive and critical devices.
Typically after three seasons in the incubation phase, the farmers are ready for launch. Viable new small farm businesses work with the Farm Academy to connect to land (lease or own), and to access for start-up capital through community partners, marketing, branding, legal, accounting, and other ongoing technical assistance. Roots Memphis Farm Academy helps create and provide a market for its students and graduates, to ensure their long-term success, through their continued participation in Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). All students agree that, should they graduate, they want to be a part of a sustainable and ethical farmer's cooperative of young and beginning farmers in the Memphis region based on shared values and love for people and planet.
Tuition is $1,800. Classes begin every August and conclude in January in time to begin seed-starting for the next full season. Limited scholarships are available at the Farm Academy's discretion. Admissions are on a rolling basis. Space is limited. Graduation is not guaranteed. Must be 18 or older. Download an application here.
How many students do you typically accept? Do they all graduate?
Each year we typically accept 10-15 students. This year, we started with 12 farm students and four graduated from the business class portion to the incubation period.
When is the next class?
This year we will be focusing on supporting our restructuring the farm academy, to figure out what is best for our community. More information will be released summer 2017.
Is this for me?
While we value the public learning about farming, gardening, and growing their own produce, we are not casual gardening classes. If you're interested in experiential learning and only getting your hands dirty with us for a day or two, volunteer on the farm! Farming is a difficult route, but if you're serious about changing career paths and everything about us sounds like a dream, we encourage you to come talk to us and apply. Also, work on our friend farms! Email firstname.lastname@example.org if you're looking for local farming experience.
How much time does it require?
The classes are once a week for two to three hours. The class requires reading, research, and a lot of outside work and preparation for the final presentation. Students this year spent north of 40 hours on their presentation, and other weeks ranged from three to six hours of outside work. During incubation, what you put into your farm is what you'll get out. On average, our students spend 30 hours on the farm weekly.
Do i keep my day-job?
Yes. The classes are designed so our farm students can continue with their daily lives. During incubation, you make your own schedule, it's your farm. As a first year farmer, you will almost certainly not bring in enough money to sustain yourself without a primary job. We have farmers now in their third season that are beginning to transition out of their other jobs, but building up to the point in which our students are able to have their farms as their primary income takes time.
What does the $1,800 cover?
The $1,800 covers tuition, which partially goes towards paying our staff for their effort and time put into classes. Once paid, students are then a part of the Roots Memphis Farm Academy, where their tuition money also goes towards upkeep of the land, shed, greenhouse, and all shared tools.
Becoming a farmer requires a lot. What do I pay for and what does the academy pay for?
The academy pays for the land, shared tools, greenhouse, tractor, shed, washing station, packing labels and materials, and staff and efforts for selling the produce. The students are expected to purchase materials for their specific farm area, such as drip tape and seeds, and any other tools they desire to utilize that we do not have.
I'm interested, but I don't know if I can afford it.
It can get expensive to go into farming, even with our tool-share program and all the efforts we put towards reducing financial barriers. To combat this, Roots Memphis Farm Academy provides micro-loans to farm students as needed and as available.
Do I get paid?
No. By entering into the program, you're a student of the academy and are responsible for the quarter acre sectioned off for you. There are separate Roots Memphis Farm Academy staff members that are paid living wages to work the land that is not appropriated to students.
Do I have to sell the produce that i grow?
No. It would benefit you to spread the good word that you're growing food so we can sell more, but we have staff members diligently working to sell the produce and flowers grown by our farmers. We do this so that our farm students can focus on learning to grow, while our staff can take care of the rest.
interested in applying? email email@example.com