The Reverie and the Reality Check

Organic Growers School hosts workshop for budding farmers

Nicole DelCogliano offers the real dirt on farming life.
Portrait by Evan Anderson

Farming isn’t dirt cheap. Nicole DelCogliano, owner of Green Toe Ground Farm in Burnsville, knows this firsthand. Not too long ago, she dropped $20,000 on a Kioti tractor. But more than money, she’s spent time carving out a living from the hardscrabble earth of the Toe River Valley — roughly 21 years, to be exact.

DelCogliano brings this experience to the Organic Growers School (OGS). Though her official title is Director of Programs and Human Resources, she’s also a long-time facilitator of Farm Dreams, an entry-level workshop designed to help aspiring farmers, well, dream about raising Brahma chickens and growing heirloom turnips.

But, as DelCogliano explains, Farm Dreams is also meant to be a wake-up call — a hard look at the sometimes heartbreaking and wallet-wrenching nature of working the land. “If you’re going to invest so much time and money,” says DelCogliano, “you should know sooner rather than later how much you want to tie your livelihood to farming.”

This Yancey County grower took a break from her veggie and flower fields to tell Bold Life more about Farm Dreams, which will be hosted this month at Creekside Farm in Arden.

Since participants probably won’t be digging in the dirt, what will they be doing?

Farm Dreams is meant to be a visioning process for people who think they want to farm. It’s meant to help people identify what they want to do and at what scale. During the workshop, attendees draw on a piece of paper what they think their farm is going to look like without any barriers. There’s plenty of time for barriers, but I want people to dream big. Then, as we progress through the course, they can hone in on what’s attainable and start crunching numbers.

It sounds like participants eventually get a reality check.

Yes. That’s why I think this is such an important class. Getting land in this area is extremely expensive, and starting a farm is capital-intensive. If people come away from the workshop realizing they would rather just have a big garden and grow on a home scale, that’s a success to me.

If folks do decide to take the plunge and start farming, do you have any tips?

I recommend that when people buy acreage, that they observe it for a full year. See how the wind operates. See what sun exposure is like. See how the rainfall behaves: Where does rainfall collect? Where is it drier? This all will help with farm design and layout.

But farming is not just about the land. It’s also an intersection of your skills and passions — what you have experience in and enjoy growing. My farm’s bread and butter is vegetables, but that wasn’t always the case. We tried all kinds of things throughout the years, like raising animals. But at a certain point, we realized that wasn’t where our heart was.

What are the joys of farming?

One of the main joys is that you’re your own boss. You get to be outside and move your body around. You get to do so many different things — farming is never boring. It’s one of the most challenging and rewarding occupations you can have.

And what’s the main challenge?

Making it work, especially on a financial and labor level.

Farm Dreams is slated for Saturday, Feb. 12, from 10am-4pm at Creekside Farm (339 Avery Creek Road, Arden). Cost is $35 to $55. To register, visit organicgrowersschool.org.

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