Learn how to successfully manage a small-scale vegetable farm. 

Degree requirement: no degree required
Semester: Spring, fall
Program length: January 23- December 15
Format: In-person
Estimated Cost: $6,000 per year
More detailed information below.

The Illinois Small Farm Manager Certification Program is a year-long professional development training program. It strives to give the participants the skill sets and tools to be able to successfully manage a small-scale vegetable farm.  The participants will work together in the process of planning and implementing a vegetable farm. They will collaborate to do all crop and rotation planning, farm design, as well as the processes of planting, maintaining, harvesting, washing, handling and marketing vegetables. These processes will develop horticultural, managerial, organizational, business and marketing skills while field trips, classroom lectures, activities and discussions will develop the intellectual knowledge that will provide the theoretical foundation for the practices used on the farm.

Running a farm requires a wide range of specialized skills, if you are looking to work in local food networks you will benefit from any number of the skills that you will develop in the program.  If you are looking to start a new career in food production or are interested in expanding the skills you already have, this program will teach you tools to use in the field, in the office, with your staff and at market.  These tools will help you to be able to operate a farm business or become an invaluable team member in an already existing organization.

Students listening to an instructor at the sustainable student farm
Two students working in a field
Body

Program Structure

  • Apprentices will, with the support of the program staff, run their own farm and market the vegetables at a local farmers market as well as through a small CSA. Apprentices will be able to keep the proceeds of their sales to help offset living costs.
  • There will be a primary topic each week that will initially support the participants in developing a farm plan and will continue to give them context as well as a framework to make their farm more successful. These topics will be presented by program staff, U of I faculty, extension professionals, regional farmers, and experts. Presentations will usually be paired with readings, videos, or podcasts to give more in-depth and diverse perspectives as well as with an activity to practically apply knowledge or further our thinking on the topic.
  • There will be field trips to local food organizations and farms that will give participants opportunities to learn about different farmers’ systems and begin to develop a network with the organizations and farmers in our region.
  • Participants will have the opportunity to do certifications to increase their breadth of knowledge and marketability (FSMA, Safe Food Handling, Pesticide application, etc.)
  • Participants will develop a farm plan and business plan of their own.
  • Anyone completing this program will have the option to use a farm incubator space at our facility for a year to start their farm business.

    Program Learning Outcomes

    • Develop business plans and structures that will set farms up for success in the markets of their choice. 
    • Understand the social and environmental context and consequences of agricultural practices in order to make informed decisions on how they would run a successful and conscientious agricultural business.     
    • Draft farm planning documents to support a smooth growing season. 
    • Implement farm planning and record keeping documents to improve farm operation. 
    • Develop an awareness of, and begin mastering, the physical and organizational skills to work on and operate a farm  
    • Understand the principles and practices of how to keep plants, soil, people and ecosystems on and around your farm healthy  
    • Develop awareness of Eco-systemic thinking in your farm system and your place in the greater community  
    • Build connections with local food system organizations. 
    • Demonstrate efficient task management based on physical and operational systems 
    • Understand how to effectively develop and maintain records to evaluate the success of the operation

    Advance Your Career

    Running a farm requires a wide range of specialized skills, if you are looking to work in local food networks you will benefit from any number of the skills that you will develop in the program. If you are looking to start a new career in food production or are interested in expanding the skills you already have, this program will teach you tools to use in the field, in the office, with your staff and at market. These tools will help you to be able to operate a farm business or become an invaluable team member in an already existing organization.

    To Apply

    Please send a message of interest by Oct. 15 to our program director, Mr. Matt Turino (illinois-ssf@illinois.edu), describing why you are interested in the program and what skills and experience you would bring to it (previous experience not required, but a bonus).

    Areas of Employment

    • Farmer
    • Farm Manager
    • Food Access Organizations
    • Farmers Market Manager
    • Local Food/Farm Support Organizations
    • Garden Coordinator
    • Food production and processing