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Reyna Riddle / Photo Lee Riddle of Jasper is one of several new farmers speaking at NexGen Farming Institute's first educational event January 21. He and wife, Reyna, started Riddle Family Farms in 2021, and created the farming institute to teach others. NexGen received USDA funding for the four-part series, So You Want to Be a Farmer?, and tickets are available at NexGen Farming Institute's Facebook page. Pictured are Mr. Riddle holding Avery, a purebred Berkshire pig, and his son, Liam, 5.

“So You Want to Start a Farm?”

Local non-profit offers class for new, would-be farmers

Four-part seminar-series begins Jan. 21 with focus on land acquisition

By Jennifer Paire, Contributing Writer

            Agriculture and real estate experts from North Georgia will show new and aspiring farmers how to dig into land acquisition opportunities at NexGen Farming Institute’s first educational event on Jan. 21, 2023.

            Part of an initiative to groom a new generation of farmers, “So You Want to Start a Farm?”  is the first in a four-part series sponsored by the USDA and speakers will include representatives of the agency’s farm programs and new farmers.

            The event is from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Hinton Community Center, 9261 Highway 53 in Jasper with lunch included. Tickets can be purchased for $15 on NexGen Farming Institute’s facebook page, and discounts are available for veterans and women farmers.

            The non-profit and educational series were created by Jasper hog farmers Lee and Reyna Riddle, who established Riddle Family Farms in Jasper in 2021 using a regenerative organic farming approach – a low-capital strategy that rehabilitates the soil and surrounding ecology to create an environment for healthy, pasture-raised, organic food.

            Their hogs eat, root, wallow and fertilize their way through paddocks bounded by two strands of electric fencing, tilling the soil and saving the Riddles money on expensive farm equipment and infrastructure. The majority of the Riddle’s 45-acre farm is wooded and once cleared by the hogs will host cattle. The farm is also home to a combined flock of more than 100 free-range, egg-laying chickens and pasture-raised meat broilers participating in the regenerative process by fertilizing and controlling pests.

            “We want to educate as many people in the community as we can about what we do, and we have partnered with five or six local veterans associations hoping to find and help veterans transition out of the service and into farming,” said Lee Riddle, a U.S. Navy veteran.

            “I think that with the Navy and military overall there’s a lot of bureaucracy involved but there’s a lot of training and motivation to lead and be a self-starter and take pride in what you do,” said Mr. Riddle. “I think that directly translates to farming and the nice thing about farming is you don’t have to deal with all the bureaucracy because you are the king on your own land and you can take what you learned and apply it to farming and not have to deal with all the red tape.”

            In addition to the Riddle’s story, attendees will hear from dairy farmer Joey Roland of Jasper and Caleb Arnold of Ever Wilder Farm in Ellijay, an educational plant sanctuary offering featuring native medicinal and food plants and rare wildflowers.

Expert speakers will include:

            Sharon Swagger, USDA-NRCS state easement specialist, who will talk about funding opportunities that can help with land trusts and other essentials such as fencing and water supplies.

            George Kimberly, executive director of the Mountain Conservation Trust of Georgia, a group that can provide lower cost land with previously negotiated easements.

            Lori Martin, vice president of Norton Realty Group and specialist on farming property in North Georgia, who will share the 2023 Farm Land Real Estate Outlook for the region.

            Shantelle Turner, FSA farm loan manager, a division of the USDA offering loans to farmers and ranchers.

            Lori Martin, a real estate veteran with more than 25 years experience in North Georgia,  said she doesn’t expect land to depreciate this year but the real estate market could provide a sweet spot for beginning farmers looking for smaller tracts of land.      As interest rates rose last March national home builder groups, which had been gobbling up property in response to housing shortages,  paused land acquisition efforts opting to focus on developments underway.

            “The industrial areas are still moving but that is not where most hobby farmers are buying,” she said. “In Pickens County there are a lot of large farms but not a lot of farming because the residents are older so we have big tracts that are opportunities to parcel and sell smaller sections targeting the under 50-acre buyer.”

            Other industry leaders will include Ag-Pro, a John Deere dealer in Jasper, Pickens County  Extension Agent Justin Fellenbaum, a representative of the local Cattlemen’s Association and Southern Brush, which offers forestry and tree removal in North Georgia.

            Part 2 in the series is planned for April and will feature Tyler Harper, Georgia’s new Department of Agriculture Commissioner, and farm equipment demonstrations.

            For more information contact Reyna Riddle, nexgenfarminginstitute@gmail.com, 770-891-7251.

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