Jan 10, 2014

FVCC to Offer Second Multifunctional Agriculture Course

With increased development and growth in Flathead County, farmers and ranchers are likely looking for new and innovative ways to generate farm income.  At the same time, there are more people, both year round and seasonal, in the Flathead Valley.  In Europe, farmers and ranchers have tuned in to this trend in the form of “Multifunctional Agriculture.”

This spring, Flathead Valley Community College’s “Multifunctional Farming:  Creating New Markets for Your Business” course will return after a successful launch last year.  The non-credit course is designed to aid farmers and ranchers in Montana in developing business idea to serve visitors and local markets from their farms.  Due to the effectiveness of last year’s introductory course, other institutions in Missoula and Bozeman have started similar courses using the FVCC model.

Participants in the FVCC course will receive guidance for turning regional developments into new for-profit opportunities for their farms or ranches.   Participants will learn about a variety of concepts and translate them into concrete plans for their businesses.

First-time participants will take part in a one-session class on January 16 which will serve as an introduction to multifunctional agriculture and how it can apply to their farm or ranch. Additionally, participants will learn several tools to assist them in formulating business plans.

Students who participated in last spring’s class will have an opportunity take their business plans to the next level when they join the first-time students for the four-week main course beginning January 23.  The course will provide inspiration, in-depth information, business development tools, coaching and ample opportunity to exchange ideas with other participants.

Course instructor Maarten Fischer has been at the forefront of developing multifunctional agriculture in the Netherlands and Europe over the past 12 years, and has observed successful examples such as farmers’ golf, farm based camp grounds, child care farms, therapeutic farms and local food and farm stores.  It’s a trend which he says is now spreading across the state of Montana.

“My goal is for people who took the class last year to take their ideas and businesses a step further, but people who haven’t taken it before are welcome to jump in,” said Fisher.  “Our focus is really on providing an opportunity for businesses to work together to market their new products.”

Gary Johnson, returning student and owner of The Orchard at Flathead Lake, said his experience in last year’s course was so valuable that it led him to enroll in the course again this year.

“I came away with tons of ideas,” said Johnson.  “I was able to build a more concrete business plan, and I gained the ability to prioritize my ideas and shelve the ones that do not make good business sense at this time.”

Along with growing Montana certified organic sweet cherries, Johnson has a value-added business producing Montana cherry products, a business model that embodies the idea of multifunctional agriculture.

“Having the opportunity to interact with other agricultural businesses that are also trying to grow is very enlightening,” said Johnson.  “We were able to bounce ideas off other each other rather than moving forward with our own ideas in a vacuum.”

The course will be held at different locations around the Flathead Valley.  The class will include four sessions taking place on Thursdays, January 23 through February 13, from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m.  The cost is $130 per person (plus $30 for those who take the introductory course on January 16) which includes all course materials and lunches.  To register, contact the FVCC Continuing Education Center at 756-3832.  For additional course information, contact Fischer at 260-7840.

This course was made possible by a Montana Department of Agriculture Growth Through Agriculture grant and is being held in partnership with Farm Hands/Nourish the Flathead, Montana West Economic Development and Lane County Community Development Corporation.