Growing Specialty Crops
Farmers transitioning out of animal agriculture have numerous options for crops they can grow. Your choice of crop(s) should be based on your individual situation and should consider surrounding markets, climate, and labor input required.
Below you’ll find resources to learn more about several specialty crops that may be suitable for cultivation on your farm. Many of the crops listed incorporate some aspect of indoor growing or processing in order to make use of existing infrastructure you may have on your farm. Note that some crops will require infrastructure conversion or updates for successful cultivation.
To provide a basic understanding of sustainable agriculture, the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program offers three self-paced online courses: Sustainable Agriculture Principles and Concept Overview, Strategic Farm/Ranch Planning and Marketing, and Agricultural Ecosystem Management.
The Grower’s Library hosts a variety of webinars, instructional videos, articles, and planning tools that cover fruits, vegetables, herbs, flowers, and organic growing.
The Appropriate Technology Transfer for Rural Areas (ATTRA) program hosts a library of sustainable-agriculture resources. Topics related to growing specialty crops are linked below.
The Transition to Organic Partnership Program offers direct farmer training, education, and outreach activities through a network of organizations partnering to support organic farm transitions. Unsure where to start? Use their map feature for your state to determine which partner to contact.
ATTRA’s website features a topic section devoted to organic farming, with resources on organic certification, production methods, marketing, and more.
Growing Specialty Mushrooms
Cornell Small Farms Program offers numerous resources for specialty mushroom cultivation, including courses and trainings, book and media recommendations, a grower listserv, information on suppliers, and food safety guidance. It has also developed a downloadable harvest-to-market guide, which covers postharvest handling, sales, business planning, and decision-making for successful specialty mushroom production.
The National Hemp Association is a nonprofit organization that supports the growth and development of the national hemp industry. NHA’s website houses resources, a blog, and information about events and conferences.
eCornell offers an online course in hemp cultivation through the Cornell Certificate Program. This course covers hemp biology, propagation, indoor and outdoor cultivation, disease and insect management, and harvesting.
Agroforestry is a set of indigenous land-use practices combining agriculture and forestry to create flourishing interactive agroecosystems. The benefits of these practices are greater environmental resilience, improved water quality, diversified agricultural production systems, increased wealth in rural communities, and so much more. The USDA promotes and supports agroforestry practices, such as alley cropping, forest farming, riparian forest buffers, and windbreaks.
The Savanna Institute is a nonprofit organization working with farmers and scientists across the Midwest to conduct research, education, and outreach to support the adoption and development of diverse perennial agroforestry systems. To learn how you can adopt an agroforestry system for your farm, download the Savanna Institute’s simple and direct infographics here.
ATTRA offers information and resources on the six main types of agroforestry practices in temperate climates, such as in the United States: alley cropping, silvopasture, windbreaks, multistory cropping, riparian forest buffers, and forest gardening.
Supporting Pollinator Habitats
This project works with farmers to help promote the growth of high-quality pollinator habitats on well-managed farmland to support pollinator populations. The U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service funds this project through a conservation innovation grant.
The Xerces Society provides free services, compensation, and grants for growers interested in working on pollinator conservation and becoming Bee Better Certified.
Stockfree Farming is a farmer-founded organization committed to helping farmers adapt and thrive. While the organization is Scotland-based, their list of 100 stock-free initiatives provides an excellent starting point for farmers anywhere who are looking for alternatives to livestock farming. They provide multiple case studies highlighting each of the three paths toward stock-free farming: growing crops for human consumption, restoring native trees and ecosystems, and starting diversification enterprises.