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The demand for locally grown food continues to grow despite a faltering economy. Direct sales from farms to consumers grew 215% from 1992-2007. The average farmer in North Carolina is 57 years old and looking forward to retirement. Area leaders are focusing on a need for new farmers to meet the demand for locally grown food in North Carolina.

More and more families are looking at ways to supplement their incomes and put their land into something productive. Cooperative Extension leaders are hearing questions such as, "I have some land that I want to do something with... but I don't know what. Can you tell me what I can grow and make some money?"

In response to these situations, Cooperative Extension Agents from Catawba and other nearby counties have developed The Foothills Farm School, a training program for beginning and transitioning farmers. The six-month educational program focuses on operating successful small-scale, sustainable farms.

The school offers six seminars taught by agricultural professionals, which give farmers the tools to develop sustainable farming operations. Session topics include business planning, marketing, and fruit and vegetable production, among others.

The school also includes six field trips to working farms, led by innovative, experienced farmers and agricultural professionals. Participants learn low-cost, sustainable farming methods in a range of production systems, including fruits, vegetables, livestock, and specialty crops.

Classes will meet at the Catawba County Extension Center at 1175 South Brady Avenue in Newton, on the first Tuesday of the month beginning in January from 6 to 8:30 pm. Farm field days will typically be on the fourth Thursday of the month from 9 am to 3 pm and will take place at various farms throughout the Foothills.

Space is limited. Registration deadline is Friday, December 6, and costs are as follows: one person, $250; two people, $300; families of three or more, $350.

For more information, contact your local Cooperative Extension Service by visiting or call 828-757-1290.