The Small Farm Dream Courses

The Small Farm Dream Course

Agriculture is by far Virginia's largest industry, contributing $55 billion annually to the state's economy and providing more than 357,000 jobs. Yet Virginia ranks 11th among the states for the amount of prime agricultural land lost annually, with more than 20,000 acres going out of production each year. And no wonder: the average farmer is nearly 60 years old and has a net farm income of less than $9,000.

Fortunately, there are a growing number of beginning farmers, inspired by consumer demand for fresh, healthy, local foods in Virginia. These new farmers face significant challenges, however, when trying to establish a successful agricultural business.

To support beginning and transitional farmers considering starting an agricultural operation, and to educate landowners to increase farmland accessibility, The Piedmont Environmental Council is offering a series of Exploring the Small Farm Dream Courses in the Piedmont.


Alumni of the Course, Holly and
James Hammond of Whisper Hill
Farm in Culpeper County.
Photo by Rose Jenkins

This course is for people who are considering launching a small farm enterprise, but are not sure where to start. Designed to guide students through an initial exploratory decision-making process, "Exploring the Small Farm Dream" courses bridge the gap between ideas and action.

What to Expect:

  • Creative exercises, homework, research and class discussions that will help you assess your skills and resources
  • Interviews with local farm business owners that will assist you in deciding how to carry your dream forward
  • The opportunity to connect with others interested in starting new agricultural enterprises in our region

Course Sessions:

Class 1: Expressing Farm Vision and Evaluating Goals

This first class will focus on assessing yourself and mapping out your farm vision. We will review the objectives of the course, meet and engage with other classmates and work through in-class exercises and discussions. A week before the first class, students will be given a section of the course workbook to read and will be asked to fill out a couple of the worksheet to bring with them the first day.

Class 2: Researching the Landscape and Interviewing Current Farm Innovators

During the second class, we will cover local farming trends, helpful resources, important business regulations, and continue with in-class exercises and discussion. The class will culminate with a panel of local farmers and food industry experts to tell their experiences and offer advice. Homework will include conducting a research interview with a local farmer.

Class 3: Assessing Resources and Risk

The third class delves into the resources that you currently have, what you need and discuss ways that you can access your business needs. Guest speakers will highlight ways to secure land for a farming operation. A local attorney will discuss leasing arrangements and Rex Linville, PEC's land conservation officer, will review how easements can help farmers get on the land.

Class 4: Decision-Making and Next Steps

This class will review the work covered over the last three weeks and identify the next steps in developing your farm business. There will be a focus on finances with guest speakers highlighting loan, grant and other resources and opportunities.

Upcoming Courses:

Charlottesville Class -- Fall 2018

Dates:   Tuesdays - October 23 & 30 and November 6 & 13
Time:     6:00 - 9:00pm
Where:  CitySpace, 100 5th Street Northeast, Charlottesville, VA 22902
Cost:     $100 for one person or $150 for a couple

More information and registration >>

If you are interested in learning more about the course, please contact our Food and Farms Program Manager, Jess Palmer, at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 540-347-2334.


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