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Training the next generation of farmers at the Grange Farm School

Thursday, July 3, 2014

With nearly a third of U.S. farmers over the age of 65, it is estimated that 400 million acres of land will change hands in the next 10 years. And, although there is a growing desire among younger populations to become farmers, there are very few resources available to learn and practice the trade. That’s where the Grange Farm School comes in. Located at Ridgewood Ranch off Highway 101 just south of Willits, this residential training program is geared toward aspiring farmers who have the drive and desire to work in agriculture, but need training and hands-on experience to achieve that goal.

Since its inception in 2013, a lot of work has been done by a small but dedicated staff. Grange Farm School Director Antonia Partridge, Farm Site Manager Ruthie King, Acting Executive Director Michael Foley, Board Chair Lanny Cotler, and a group of volunteers have poured their hearts – and sweat – into getting the school off the ground.  “The project wouldn't be possible without all the people who've dreamed it, raised money for it, and spent their spare hours – and more – making it happen,” says Foley.

The school currently accepts practicum students who live, work, and learn on-site. The leadership team plans to launch the school’s core program in 2016. It will comprise a nine-month intensive training that will prepare the whole farmer, including curriculum on agricultural production skills, industrial arts, and marketing and business skills essential to a profitable farm.  The school also offers workshops on topics ranging from orchard management to greywater plumbing, hoop house construction to raising chickens.

A 1920s ranch house is currently undergoing renovation for staff housing and classroom space. There are seven acres available for crop production and livestock grazing and rotation, plus a two-acre orchard with 100-year-old apple trees.  With ample space, natural resources, and a network of experts, there is incredible potential to develop a world-class institute. The school’s leaders anticipate that it can be an independently-functioning institution within three years, but funds are needed in the short-term to build the school’s infrastructure and capacity.

Enter FundRazr, a crowdsourcing site that the Grange Farm School is using to raise capital. Although the goal is $95,000, any amount that is raised will be put to good use. The campaign ends on August 7, and the school’s leaders feel cautiously optimistic that the goal will be reached. “The most important thing is to get the campaign seen by as many people as possible,” says King. “It’s going to take many small drops in the bucket.”

The Grange Farm School began with support from the California State Grange and the Little Lake Grange in Willits, and is generously hosted by the Golden Rule community of Ridgewood Ranch. The school currently operates under the umbrella of North Coast Opportunities (NCO), the Community Action Agency for Mendocino and Lake Counties. It’s a natural fit with NCO’s mission to invest in people through community action, and NCO is deeply connected to the local food movement as well.

With so much institutional and community support, the Grange Farm School is a welcome addition to the North Coast, and has the potential to impact hundreds of new farmers and thousands of acres of farmland. To learn more or to get involved, contact Michael Foley at or (707) 216-5549. To donate, click here.