Saturday On The Farm

Free classes on Saturdays, hands on training, networking… Saturday On The Farm is attracting more and more people. There are those who are in the ag industry but who wish to enrich their knowledge and skillset, some want to look at the opportunities as a side gig and then there are others who have land and who want to learn how to farm on it. This is how the New Ag School’s fresh free initiative has been serving many ag purposes and building an ag community, one farmer at a time.

Doug Fabbioli: “Agriculture done right is a lucrative business”

It is always easier to connect to the land when you get your hands dirty. Agriculture is one of those skills and arts that cannot be taught or learned in the books. Maya Angelou, who was an American poet, singer, memoirist, and civil rights activist, once said “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel”. The same applies to agriculture.

You might forget what you are taught in the classroom but you will never forget what you learned in the fields. This is one of the main objectives of The New Ag School’s fresh initiative, Saturday On The Farm. Doug Fabbioli, The Executive Director of the Non-Profit Organization believes that giving more people the opportunity to “connect to the land” will help grow the much needed new generation of farmers.

The goal of Saturday On The Farm is really exposure. We want to give the opportunity to people to see what it really is like to work with the land. I like to say that the New Ag school is an Extension of Virginia Cooperative Extension(VCE). The VCE program in Loudoun County provides education and technical information to agricultural and horticultural producers about recommended practices and techniques including agricultural production, commercial and community horticulture, pesticide application safety, as well as recreational farming, etc. But we are constantly trying to innovate in our approach and methodology. Our organizations logo reads: Growing tomorrow’s farmers today. And we are really talking about raising those future farmers”, explains Doug Fabbioli.

The New Ag School has developed a Mentors Development Program, where professionals in the Ag industry with a solid track record in their respective fields have been trained according the mission, vision, values and culture of the New Ag School about how to be a mentor: “Being an expert at something does not automatically mean that you will be great at teaching it. That is why before we certify someone as a New Ag School’s mentor, we make sure they go through our training first. And it has been some of these mentors, including myself, who have been ensuring the Saturday On The Farm classes that consists of in-class session and experiential learning on the farm”.

After getting a taste of what it really is to work in the ag industry people usually like it or hate it. There are no in-betweens. Those who like it will feel motivated to continue, whether it is to study agriculture and look at it as a career path or career change or simply start that garden project they have always wanted. One thing is sure, it saves them the time, money and trouble that they would have faced. if they went the traditional way, only to then regretfully realize that farming and agriculture is just not for them. If they choose to continue, the New Ag school acts as a facilitator in connecting them with mentors that can ensure their advanced training and even help them in finding a summer job or a gull time job in the Ag industry.

“Technical skills are great. Consolidated with soft skills, they are even better”

He goes on about how the New Ag school’s program encompasses the hard skills and the soft skills necessary to thrive in the Agribusiness. Farmer and vintner at Fabbioli Cellars, he insists that Agriculture done right is a lucrative business: “I say is and not can be, because like any other business agriculture is a business that will bring money to the table if done right. For generations, us farmers have kind of shot ourselves in the leg by constantly complaining about how hard farming and agriculture is and how we hardly make any money. Yes, farming is hard work and you are not going to become rich overnight, but with the right mindset and strategy, agriculture done right is a lucrative business. We will always need food”.

Keeping this in mind the New Ag School’s existing program has five modules General Horticulture, Farm Equipment and Safety, Cleaning and Sanitation, Hospitality, Leadership. The modules are delivered and monitored online and also delivered and implemented through in-class training sessions, which includes soft skills training such as Communication Skills, Conflict Resolution and Work Etiquette, etc.

Knowing how to do the job and getting the job done is two different things and it takes the right mindset and attitude to be able to get the job done, because it involves self-discipline, working within a team, etc. That is why soft skills are important. It prepares youngsters who are looking to work in any field to the professional world and can change the sometimes, archaic mindset of people who are already in the professional world.

What’s next?

Saturday On The Farm is the showcase of the New Ag School. It is completely free. The costs are fully absorbed by the New Ag School, with the support of sponsors such as Fabbioli Cellars the Lucketts Ruritan Club and donations. Starting January 2019, every Saturday has been an opportunity to learn a new craft in agriculture, from apple and pear tree pruning to arboriculture, viticulture and hops, etc.

“Agriculture is vast. It does not consist of only one thing to do or stick to or of only one product. Bed and breakfasts, farm wineries and breweries, craft cheeses, baby goats petting or yoga, diversity and innovation is the way to go to survive in the industry. Yes, people will always need food but they will look for what best suits their needs and wants. So, it is important to remain competitive. This is what we want to teach people, specially youngsters, who are now almost solely encouraged to study and get a job in the IT sector. Everything is connected and nothing is possible without agriculture. Agriculture is science. Agriculture is technology”, highlights Doug Fabbioli.

The mainstream media surely did not help either. It unfortunately is always the story, photography or footage of the miserable and struggling farmer that makes it into the news. Success farming stories are reserved to the specialized publications. This is also another objective of the New Ag School. The Non-Profit organization also acts as an advocacy group. By raising awareness about what working in the agriculture and farming industry is really about, they wish to promote the industry, break the stereotypes and give back to farming and agriculture its former glory. After all, farming & agriculture is one of the oldest professions and deals with some if not the most basic human need.

“We are here to create and serve the community through mission, vision and values that are connected to the land. We are looking to create more training programs, for example modules like Animal Husbandry and Fencing. In 2020, we will be starting our full program which aims at training and giving summer job opportunities to young people between 16 and 21 years old. They will be completing all existing five modules within three months. The program will be delivered online and in-class. And they will receive a certificate. We are planning to have three batches split over the year in 2020 and the registration will be opening soon”, shares the Executive Director.

This program’s main objective is to connect each successful participant to summer job opportunities in the industry. They will be trained and groomed to be efficient and productive in their chosen respective fields, which will make them a great element and increase their chances of being hired for a summer job or later in life.