When the Internet buzzed to life, humankind was presented with the gift of infinite knowledge; at the same time, it made it nearly impossible to distinguish reliable information from convincing fodder.
And while it’s not impossible to find a trustworthy YouTube video or blog, it can be overwhelming — which is exactly the problem Cornell Small Farms set out to remedy when they launched their online farming courses in 2007.
As an industry, farming presents a notoriously high barrier to entry: land, machinery, staff, seeds — food doesn’t come cheap. Cornell Small Farms started offering online courses to guide entry-level farmers through the tenuous process of starting their business. The organization’s flagship course, which covers everything from finding land to soil testing to financial planning, is still their most popular class.
Over the years, the program has grown to more than 650 students and 20 courses such as Exploring Markets & Profits, Grazing Management, and Poultry Production. The classes allow students to dig deep on each topic. Aside from the basics, Poultry Production students learn about breed selection, flock management systems, and the various rules and regulations for selling in different markets.
The bulk of students consists of aspiring or entry-level farmers, with early-career farmers close behind. However, a handful of experienced farmers have also enrolled in classes. In an effort to make the education more affordable, fees for the courses range from $199-$299 based on a students’ household size and income.
Is it an education that would-be farmers could cobble together through books, blogs, and videos, an apprenticeship if they’re lucky? Perhaps. But Cornell’s online courses make learning the hands-on work of farming more accessible, flexible, and streamlined. Plus, successful farmers usually serve as guest speakers in webinars, giving students the opportunity to ask questions.
And when it comes to farming, there’s no substitute for experience.
To learn more about Cornell Small Farms’ course offerings, visit smallfarms.cornell.edu