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NC Farm School: From Dream to Reality

NC Farm School participants in a greenhouse.

Twice a month for six months, Obalaye Macharia drove 17 hours from northern Oklahoma to Raleigh. That was his one condition when his wife got her dream job out west: They would move there together – but he was not going to miss NC Farm School.

Students at NC Farm SchoolMacharia graduated from NC Farm School in August 2016. Farm School has been instrumental in kick-starting his family’s dream of a self-sustaining family farm on their acreage in Wake Forest, Macharia said – well worth the monthly journeys of more than 2,000 miles.

“Farming is a science, and they had a wealth of information for us – and visiting working farms was priceless,” Macharia said. “Anybody serious about farming will find the program very beneficial.”

The first NC Farm School started in 2012, a partnership between NC State’s Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics and the NC State Extension Service. The program received early funding from the Golden LEAF Foundation, the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners and the Southern Risk Management Education Center. Since then, more than 300 farmers-to-be have completed the program. Each Farm School location usually has a waiting list.

The program benefits everyone, said Gary Bullen, the program director: Formerly empty land becomes an economic engine. Those who are drawn to agriculture are provided the opportunity to pursue that dream – in a sustainable way.

“A lot of people have a dream of farming, but it’s a vague concept,” Bullen said. “We take this from that idea into very practical steps.”

Greenhouse at NC Farm SchoolThe amount of planning required for a successful farm was the biggest surprise to recent Farm School graduate Robin Stromberg. She and her husband work in the pharmaceutical industry in the Research Triangle Park region. They hope to retire to their newly purchased farmland on the North Carolina border.

After completing a business plan, the couple plans to start small: one acre of pecan trees instead of 10, and maybe some shiitake mushrooms. The chickens and beef cattle will come later.

“I was overwhelmed when I started, because I wasn’t sure where to begin or how to collect my thoughts,” Stromberg said. “Farm School took it from being overwhelming to something that made sense for us individually.”

Interested in signing up for NC Farm School? Dates, locations and more are available online.