Jacksonville, FL — In 2021, the Duval Soil and Water Conservation District introduced the Start Farming Mentorship program to support new farmers by providing tours of local farm operations and onsite workshops about sustainable practices, including water conservation, composting and permaculture. The year-long program, made possible by a $2,500 grant award from the National Association of Conservation Districts and volunteer mentors, selected 15 applicants to explore farming opportunities in Duval County.
“In an urban district like ours, new farmers often have not grown up on the farm, so it is essential that they have mentors to provide advice and guidance,” said Jennifer Casey, Chair. “Beginning farmers will now have the opportunity to explore diverse farm operations and learn how sustainable regenerative solutions like composting, permaculture and rainwater catchment can help them overcome some of the challenges of starting a farming endeavor.”
Over the course of the year, participants took guided tours of four farms, from an urban farm in a food dessert to a rural commercial operation. In addition, each received a Sustainable Solutions Kit valued at over $150 which included a rain barrel for water conservation, a compost kit, and seed to attract beneficial pollinators.
“What I’ve found is there is no substitute for first-hand experience and seeing things with your own eyes," says participant Don DeStephano. "I read a lot on the internet, but seeing composting in action and no till gardening and farming, and learning about programs I wasn’t aware of…I’m very grateful and pleased I was a part of it.”
Beyond the training, participants had the opportunity to network with the local agricultural community and with agency personnel offering conservation funding assistance to growers and producers.
About Duval Soil and Water Conservation District:
Duval Soil and Water Conservation District promotes the responsible management and conservation of natural resources by delivering conservation technology and education to local landowners and users and by promoting the wise use of land and best management practices that will conserve, improve and sustain the natural resources of Duval County.