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Our Farm Beginnings students have flown the nest!

The 2016-17 Central Illinois Farm Beginnings class has concluded their classroom sessions! Congratulations to our students who made it through 63 hours of rigorous learning on topics ranging from enterprise budgets to legal liability management to whole farm planning. Starting in October, our students traveled from up to three hours away to learn from fellow farmers and industry experts. It was such a pleasure to get to know the students, help guide them through writing their business plans, and listen to the evolution of their ideas in their final presentations.

For each of the nine, full-day sessions, we met at Prairie Fruits Farm and Creamery in Champaign. Wes Jarrell and Leslie Cooperband were incredibly generous hosts. They provided the space for us to gather, frequently lent their expertise for panel discussions, and held a one hour on-farm lessons each week on production and farm management topics. Wes and Leslie taught our students about electric fencing, composting, the basics of soil science, and tractor maintenance.

We also had the great pleasure of Rey Dalito's fabulous homestyle cooking. Rey would whip up pastry and jams for breakfast and turn right around a prep amazing locally sourced lunches. Between the chicken pot pie, the beet soup, and the hot salad with a delicious egg yolk dressing, I can't pick my favorite! Wait, I can! It was the apple pie!!!

The most rewarding part of leading my first Farm Beginnings course was experiencing our students evolve from a group of strangers into a family. With every lesson, the students would get to know each other deeper. We shared dreams, aspirations, setbacks, and profound personal hardships. And through it all, we found a love for one another. We are no longer individuals, we are a community. Going forward, this class knows they have each other. Each one has grown their farm family from 2 to 14.

Now the students move forward into their Mentorships. Each farm family has been successfully matched with their farming mentors. They will travel to each other's farms and communicate frequently to learn all they can about their chosen enterprises. I am looking forward to watching this new farm family continue to grow into a wider community.

For me, the next step is to turn to planning next year's class. The calendar is set, the topics are refined, and it is now time to seek out new beginning farmers and fold them into this amazing and supportive community.

Applications [link] open for the 2017-18 Central Illinois Farm Beginnings class on April 3. If you think Farm Beginnings might be for you, please contact me at mallory@thelandconnection.org.

Come join our farm family.

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