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Clemson graduates first class of 'New Farmers'

Posted: August 12, 2011 2:34 p.m.
Updated: August 15, 2011 5:00 a.m.

After 30 years as a national television executive, Dale Snyder is the textbook definition of a new farmer. In fact, as little as a year ago, his agricultural skills were limited to potted plants on the front porch of his house.

But no more. Snyder and his 26 classmates – including three from Kershaw County -- recently graduated from the first class of Clemson University’s New and Beginning Farmer program.

“I lived on Sullivan’s Island and I had flowers on my porch, and that was the extent of my farming experience,” Snyder said. “This is all new to me -- I really am a new farmer.”

Snyder was joined by Cathy and Mitch Taylor of Westville and Peter Wolfram of Camden as participants in the S.C. New and Beginning Farmer program, a statewide multi-agency partnership supported by the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, U.S. Department of Agriculture Grant No. 2010-03113.

Clemson is assisted by primary partners Lowcountry Local First and the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association. 

The partnership also includes the S.C. Department of Agriculture, S.C. Farm Bureau, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service and Farm Service Agency, and S.C. Young Farmers and Agribusiness Association.

The program is led by Clemson University’s R. David Lamie, an associate professor and Extension specialist at the Clemson Institute for Economic and Community Development at the Sandhill Research and Education Center.

Lamie said the program’s goal is to grow sound business managers, environmental stewards and successful marketers. The New Farmer program provides the knowledge and skills necessary to be successful entrepreneurs.

“Perhaps most importantly, we hope our next generation of farmers have a sense of pride from their participation in the agricultural community of South Carolina,” Lamie said.

The program includes an application process, workshop series, site visits to successful farms, entrepreneurship training, participation in statewide agricultural organization meetings, a mentoring program and optional internships.

Snyder now tends to a two-acre property on Johns Island where he grows asparagus, tomatoes, flowers, lettuce, cucumbers, onions and more. He has learned about compost and how to irrigate the land.

The New Farmer program has taught him agriculture-specific marketing techniques and connected him with a priceless network of fellow newbies and seasoned farmers.

“When you tie into Clemson you really tie into a wealth of resources,” Snyder said. “We’re not alone here, there is tremendous support.”

Charleston physician George Taylor and his wife, Betty, and Helen Moorefield and Snyder -- friends from a local church -- started the nonprofit farm they call Sweetgrass Garden Co-op about a year ago. 

George Taylor purchased the land, which he leases to the co-op for $1 a year. The farm’s produce helps feed local hunger-relief homeless agencies. The plan is for Sweetgrass Garden to sell part of its produce to cover expenses.

“I love the idea of feeding the homeless,” Snyder said. “Growing food to feed the homeless is even better.”

Fellow New Farmer classmate Gail Cooley started Patient Wait Farms in Piedmont. Cooley, and helped by her husband, has 60 Heritage turkeys on a 20-acre property.

Cooley started the farm five years ago, but needed a little extra when it came to the business side of running a sustainable farm. So she enrolled in the New and Beginning Farmer program.

“We didn’t have a business plan,” she said. “The program helped of focus and set long-term goals.”

And like Snyder, she suddenly had a wealth of resources at her disposal.

“There’s a whole community of farmers out there willing to help,” she said.

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