Aaron Newton of Lomax Farm Talks Incubating Young Farmers
The Elma C. Lomax Incubator Farm is a special place. The six-year-old, 30-acre farm in Concord, North Carolina is basically a hands-on classroom where a new generation of farmers learn the skills necessary to eventually start their own farms. One of Lomax’s former Farmers In Training, (or F.I.T.s as they’re known on the farm), is Ben Street whose produce is featured in the first episode of season 4 of A CHEF’S LIFE as Lomax Farm Coordinator Aaron Newton navigates Vivian through the farm’s daily operations. We chatted with Aaron about the future of farming and how Lomax is contributing to the preservation of agricultural work by incubating” young farmers.
Q: Aaron, what is your role and title at Lomax Farm?
I serve as the Lomax Farm Coordinator for Carolina Farm Stewardship Association (CFSA), the organization that manages the Lomax Incubator Farm. I manage day-to-day operations of the farm and help a wide variety of participants use the farm in a cooperative manner.
Q: What exactly is an incubator farm?
An Incubator Farm helps individuals interested in starting a career in farming by giving them affordable access to land, equipment, and training so they can grow their own agricultural businesses before spinning off onto their own land.
Q: How are farmers chosen to participate in the Lomax Incubator Farm?
After submitting an application and coming to visit Lomax Farm to meet other participants, CFSA staff evaluate their skill sets. Applicants then attend a 10 week class on vegetable production, a 4-week class on the business of farming and complete an internship with a farmer in our region. After completing these prerequisites they sign a land lease and get started growing at Lomax Farm.
Q: What backgrounds do the Incubator Farmers come from?
It varies widely. We have a 23-year-old who decided to postpone a degree in engineering and start farming at an early age. Other farmers-in-training are a little older and have worked in the restaurants, shipping, the arts, and other industries. It’s worth mentioning that 4 farmers-in-training and have moved their families to Cabarrus County to be closer to Lomax Farm and build their farming futures here. This is a great jump start in our effort to rebuild our local food economy.
Q: What do Incubator Farmers say is the motivation for them coming to Lomax?
All of them are giving a go at their lifelong dream of farming as a career. The Lomax Incubator Farm gives them a safe space to test out their skills and grow their customer base. Getting started in farming is expensive and this is their chance to lower that startup financial burden.
Q: How many farmers are at Lomax right now?
We have 9 farmers-in-training. We also have community gardeners, a local church congregation growing food for the hungry, a local homebrew club growing hops for their own use, beekeepers, kids coming to take tours, CFSA doing Organic vegetable production research, community college class, volunteer days open to the public and more!
Q: What's growing?
Potatoes, onions, peas, radishes, carrots, beets, rutabagas, turnips, lettuce, spinach, arugula, kale, collards, cabbage, kohlrabi, pac choi, sweet potatoes, summer squash, winter squash, cantaloupes, watermelon, peppers, tomatoes, green beans, cucumbers, okra, luffa sponges, cut flowers and more.
Q: Is Incubator Farming a national phenomenon? How many Incubator Farmers exist?
There are more than 100 Incubator Farms across North America and in fact the phenomenon is beginning to spread across the world. In the US they organize under the banner of the National Incubator Farm Training Initiative (NIFTI). In 1950 1/3 of Americans grew up on farms. Today that number is less than 2%. It is much more difficult for individuals interested in farming to start down that path because so few of them are actually growing up on farms. Incubator Farms are part of the way we’re rebuilding agricultural education in the 21st century.
Q: What are your feelings about A Chef's Life premiere party proceeds benefitting Lomax Farm and what else would you want our viewers to know about the work you guys are doing and the challenges you face?
Great tasting, healthy food supports us as individuals and supports strong communities and its starts with the hard work of farmers. With that average age of a US farmer at 59 years old, it’s imperative that we offer opportunities to the next generation of farmers who want to do this honorable work.
I speak on behalf of the farmers-in-training at Lomax Farm but also on behalf of all the other people in Cabarrus County who participate in programs at Lomax and CFSA when I say that we are immensely grateful for the opportunity to benefit from A Chef’s Life premiere party. Buying a ticket not only promises you a great time on the day of the event. It also helps us train new farmers! Thank you!