Lauren Kaplan - May 21, 2016

A Farmer's Guide to Hosting Classes: Part I

Photo credit to Cynthia Sandberg at Love Apple Farms

With the public interest in farming growing faster than a zucchini in July, now is a great time to think about offering a class on your farm. Workshops and classes are a fun way to connect with new and existing customers, sharpen your skills, increase revenue, and build relationships.

There are many different classes a farm can offer, and lots of good reasons to add this educational layer to your farm business. But any successful class – be it growing great garlic, foraging for medicinal weeds, pickling, yoga, building a coop or slaughtering a chicken – requires planning, goal-setting, targeted marketing, and follow-up. Here are some factors to consider when planning your next class, workshop series, or event.

Begin with what you’re good at.
What are your skills? What does your farm do well? Does your farm have something special to offer – a snazzy home-made seeder, lots of edible weeds, a certified kitchen, or a beautiful meadow perfect for yoga? Make your assets (and your weeds) work for you! You may also consider bringing in outside expertise to offer classes you can’t teach yourself. This could be a guest chef, a certified yoga teacher, or your friendly local brewmaster.

Set your goals for the event. 
Do you want to educate your community, get people onto your farm, make connections, make a profit? A class geared towards making money for your farm will likely be structured quite differently than one focused on building community. Perhaps you want to host a class in order to hone your own skills in teaching others, help home gardeners grow responsibly in a drought, or build brand awareness.

Define your target audience. 
Who will come? What are their schedules and access needs? What range of skill level (if any) can you expect, and how will this impact what the class covers and doesn’t cover? Identifying your target audience is just as important as setting goals: both will guide you as you continue to plan for and market your class.

Do some research.
Has anyone in your area offered a similar class before? What are their credentials? What is an appropriate price point? Go to a farm class nearby, or look to other farms such as Brooklyn Grange Farm, Love Apple Farms, New Earth Farm, Pie Ranch, Queens County Farm Museum, Shelburne Farms, and Soil Born Farmsfor ideas.

Don’t be afraid to start small. 
If you’ve got ideas for more than one kind of class, consider offering the one with less investment up front (ie: fewer materials, a class you can teach yourself). It will give you a chance to work out the kinks, and give you time to build your audience before you start offering more involved, pricey classes.

Photo credit to Cynthia Sandberg at Love Apple Farms

Plan for your class. What are the key concepts or skills you want participants to leave with? Find your state university’s cooperative extension for guidance or to review available manuals relevant to the topic you’ve chosen. What space and materials will you use? How will the materials used in the class affect the price you charge for the class? Plan to have attendees take something home – be it a head of specialty garlic, a bunch of plantain, or a jar of pickles. This is both an incentive to attend the class and a tangible reminder of what a great experience participants had on your farm! Consider logistics such as parking, clear walkways, signage and bathrooms.

Define success. 
What does a successful event mean for you? Having ten attendees, or twenty five? Meeting three new CSA customers face-to-face? Making a certain profit, or (more modestly) breaking even? Look back on your objectives for the event to set benchmarks by which you can measure its success.

Finally, ask yourself: is it feasible for you to provide everything you will need for this to be a successful event? Once you feel confident that the answer to this last question is a resounding YES, you are ready to get this class up and running… and get other people involved.

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After graduating from UCSC's Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems, Lauren Alexandra Kaplan spent a season at an organic CSA farm in California before returning east to farm in the Hudson Valley. Prior to pursuing farming full time, she worked in book publishing and helped to launch an urban farm in NYC. Alexandra is an avid salsa dancer and maker of jams, pickles, and kraut.


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