Public Profile: Stuart O’Neill, Executive Director, Rogue Farm Corps
Rogue Valley Messenger: What is the Rogue Farm Corps?
Stuart O’Neill: Rogue Farm Corps trains and equips the next generation of farmers and ranchers through hands-on educational programs and the preservation of farmland. Many [first generation farmers] are aware of the looming crisis in agriculture, as the average age of farmers continues to rise, and what that means for the future of farming and our food system. According to a report that RFC co-authored with Oregon State University and Portland State University last year, we can expect to see up to 64 percent of all farmland in Oregon change hands in the next 20 years. What happens to that farmland as it transitions is vitally important to the future of our economy and our food system.
RVM: What is the difference between the internship and apprenticeship programs?
SO: RFC’s Internship Program is designed to be an introductory opportunity for those with little or no experience farming. Interns will spend an entire farming season living and training with one of our host farmers, learning the basics of farming and gaining a real-world experience that cannot be replicated in a classroom. In addition to the hands-on learning, interns will participate in a series of classes and farm tours.
The Apprenticeship Program is set up to be the “next step” for those that want to continue building their skills and experience. Apprentices will dive deeper in the business side of farming while gaining managerial level skills on the farm. Apprentices can spend up to two full farming seasons on a farm with a mentor, taking on increasing roles of responsibility for managing systems and people. Course work is focused on advanced agricultural skill development and business and entrepreneurial development. Graduates of the Apprenticeship Program are well poised to find management level employment opportunities in farming or to begin the journey of starting and running their own farm business.
Both of these programs are offered in the Rogue Valley, the South Willamette, the Portland Metro area, and Central Oregon.
Folks who are interested in becoming an intern or apprentice can read more about our programs and how they work on our website at roguefarmcorps.org. We still have numerous positions available for the 2018 season so apply today!
RVM: What is your favorite part of working with RFC?
SO: I get to work alongside some of the best and most dedicated farmers in the state. I am constantly inspired by how persistent and resilient the farmers we work with are. And I am incredibly proud of the staff and board that I am surrounded by. RFC is filled with folks who aren’t afraid to roll up their sleeves and get the job done. And I am inspired by all the farmers, supporters, interns, apprentices, food system advocates, and allies that are pulling together to change the world and transform agriculture from the ground up.
RVM: What future projects is RFC currently looking at?
SO: Continuing to build up our Apprenticeship Program and making connections between program graduates and retiring farmers is key to our future plans. Working together with statewide allies, RFC is working to build a pathway for beginning farmers to connect with opportunities to learn, train, gain access to capital and land, start and run successful businesses, and sustain those businesses for the long haul. It is a huge project! Yet we are well on our way. If you want to get involved and help us transform agriculture, get in touch. We need your help!
RFC is hosting a number of succession planning and access to land workshops across the state this year as well. These workshops are geared to retiring farmers needing to plan for succession and new and beginning farmers who are looking for land to start a farm. To stay connected to all the upcoming workshops as they are scheduled, follow us on Facebook.
The people trying to start farming are up against the most anti farm county and state government, we have ever experienced.If any farmland and farms are still here in 20 years, we will thank the new farmers and ranchers for being the toughest and smartest people agriculture has ever seen. I am lambing the best sheep in Oregon tonight, 4321 Royal crest road, Medford. Packs of coyotes have me surrounded, but the dogs and big ewes have the upper hand, beautiful lambs from 39 years of breeding. I do not have any one to hand them over to, just like our land , barns, tractors, and skills.