MORRIS -- By the time he was 20, Nolan Lenzen had already completed a dairy management course at a local college and launched a farming career in partnership with his father and grandfather. They were milking 90 cows in a tie-stall barn and cropping 300 acres near the south-central Minnesota community of Watertown. Some might say it was a family-farming dream come true.
"We had three generations on the farm and way more work than we knew what to do with," Lenzen said in a news release. In fact, barely two years out of high school, the young farmer was already feeling a bit burnt out. So in 2001-2002 he took the Land Stewardship Project's Farm Beginnings course in hopes of picking up some innovative business management tips as he struck out on his own.
Lenzen is an example of the changing face of Farm Beginnings, according to Nick Olson, an instructor for the program. When the course was launched in southeast Minnesota 15 years ago, most of its students were young people just getting started in farming. But in recent years, the class has attracted people of various ages and backgrounds.
"We've found that Farm Beginnings is not just a way for young farmers to get started, but can be an effective tool for people from a variety of backgrounds who want to take a second look at where they want to go," said Olson, who farms near Litchfield.
Olson expects the 2012-2013 Farm Beginnings class to yet again be full of people at different stages in their farming, and non-farming, careers. Farm Beginnings still has a few spots remaining for its Morris class, which will begin this fall.
According to the news release, Farm Beginnings participants learn goal setting, financial planning, enterprise planning, marketing and innovative production techniques. Classes are led by farmers and other agricultural professionals from the community and meet approximately twice a month throughout the fall and winter.
Even after Lenzen and his wife Vanessa found that conventional dairying produced little, if any, profits despite the great investment in time and money, they felt there was still a future for them in farming. Farm Beginnings' emphasis on business planning and creating support networks with existing farmers doing things out of the mainstream gave Lenzen the confidence to eventually pursue a system of farming he had been attracted to since high school: grass-based dairying.
"I don't think I would have started on my own if I hadn't gone to the class," said Lenzen, who now has a successful grass-based organic dairy operation in Todd County. "It kind of gave me the push to go off on my own and do things my way."
The Farm Beginnings course fee is $1,500 per farming partnership (flexible payment plan and partial scholarships available). For more information, see www.farmbeginnings.org or contact Karen Benson at 507-523-3366.