HESPERUS – A trio of young people is learning the whole scope of what it takes to run a farm, and they’re doing it on land with a long agricultural history.
The people, 18 to 25 years old, started in a program in December at the Old Fort in Hesperus. The site is the former location of Fort Lewis College, and over the years has served as a place for various farming, ranching, archaeological and nature projects. The program began with a two-month educational component. They didn’t start working on the fields until May.
“It’s different from being an intern on a farm, where you do maybe one job,” said Morgan DiSanto, a farmer in training. “Here I get to be a part of not only weeding or harvesting or running irrigation but also a comprehensive learning experience. This offered me a way into farming that was from an educational point of view.”
Fort Lewis College took over day-to-day operations of the 6,300-acre Old Fort property last summer and uses it throughout the year for educational opportunities. The college employs three faculty members full time and currently has several interns working through the farm’s various educational opportunities, which were exhibited at an open house on Thursday.
The Farmer-in-Training program is in its second year. It chooses three people interested in farming a small plot to practice and serves as an intermediary program between the internships the Old Fort offers and the incubator program it runs as an alternative route for beginning farmers in the region.
The farmers in training learn skills such as crop culture, irrigation basics, soil health, soil nutrients, water conservation, weed management and different production techniques. A large piece of the program also focuses on finances and marketing techniques used in the industry.
“What’s really cool about this program is the marketing and business aspects of it.” DiSanto said. “They do want you to be successful as a business because at the end of the day, that’s what farming is. You’re trying to make a living. Getting that grasp of it from a business standpoint was probably the most valuable.”
The Old Fort supplies the farmers in training with seeds, supplies and three-quarters of an acre to use. A crop plan is formed for the farmers, but the field work is done by them. The farmers grow beets, broccoli, bush beans, cabbage, kale and more.
“You can only read so much and listen so much to people talking about it,” DiSanto said. “You really have to experience it in the field.”
The program doesn’t have enough money for basic farming equipment, so the farmers in training do all their work by hand. To change this, the Old Fort managers are conducting an online silent auction, which they hope will raise enough money to buy a tractor and seeder.
The benefits from the open house will also go toward the training program.
“Having access to mechanized products would make it easier,” said Emily Adie, assistant manager at the Old Fort.
Half of the funding for the program comes from grants, while the other half comes from selling their products. They’ve been setting up a stand at a farmers market in Farmington every Saturday.
The trio has had struggles over the summer. The group lost a majority of their peas, and some of their potatoes were damaged when the frost hit the area in June. But that is part of what makes the experience real.
The program is a representation of the goal of the Old Fort’s mission to present educational opportunities for potential farmers, Adie said.
“Our goal is to get more young farmers out there into the system,” Adie said.