A Grange of One’s Own

A new social gathering place and idea exchange is taking root and branching out—on farmers’ computers.  The newly launched Virtual Grange is an online community and information hub for beginning farmers, managed by Stone Barns Center.

It’s an essential tool to bring beginning farmers together to think creatively and solve some of the toughest problems facing agriculture today.

“The farmers in our network are really excited,” says Nena Johnson, director of Stone Barns’ Growing Farmers Initiative. “There are online resources out there that touch on some topics useful to beginning farmers, but not a one-stop-shop like this.”

Historically, far-flung American farmers gathered in the local grange hall to socialize, organize and share experiences. (“Grange” means farm, from the medieval Latin “granica,” or grain.) But as small farms disappeared over the past several decades, so too did these community meeting places.

Today, beginning farmers embracing sustainable agriculture need a new type of grange hall—one that can connect them with growers down the road and around the world. Eager to transform our food system, many of them soon discover how isolating that work can be on widely scattered farms. But with the Internet, distance is no longer an obstacle, and farmers can meet in the Virtual Grange.

The initial content on the new website, a spoke off the main Stone Barns site, has been honed through pre-launch feedback from eight farmers around the country, who also helped kick-start the Virtual Grange's forums. Over time, we anticipate that at least half of the site’s content will be created by farmers through discussion and information-sharing. “We want the feeling and vibe to be coming from the conversation section and forums,” says Nena.

Farmers can easily jump into a conversation. Once you create an account, you can post a question, start a thread or respond to others’ questions. Conversations are organized into five topics: mineral, vegetable, land and business, animal and tools.

The inaugural launch includes news stories on biochar, record-keeping for sheep flocks and the Slow Tools project.  Video tutorials demonstrate forced-air composting and the identification of small-engine parts.  Bloggers will soon be invited to showcase farm innovations, mentorships programs and give their boots-on-the-ground perspectives. Each month, a poll asks a timely question, so we can gather informal data to help beginning farmers. And the Virtual Grange is also the new home of the Young Farmers Conference and other programs of Stone Barns’ Growing Farmers Initiative.

Whether or not you farm, come explore the Virtual Grange and see what beginning farmers are dreaming up and doing.  www.virtualgrange.org