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Aspiring business owners get help starting organic farms

BRADENTON — One non-profit organization is giving aspiring business owners something to think about in this economy — farming.

Florida West Coast Resource Conservation & Development announced Wednesday it is opening a farming resource center in Manatee County.

A resource center is a state and local partnership effort to create more small farming businesses and jobs in the area.

Resource Conservation & Development is partnering with two community farms to start the Center for Integrated Agriculture.

The center will open in the fall at Gamble Creek Farm in Parrish and will serve as a business resource center to help expand the local farming and agricultural industry.

RC&D estimates the Center for Integrated Agriculture will be an investment of $850,000 to $1.2 million.

RC&D is using a portion of the Manatee Agricultural Reuse Supply grant, which is $8.5 million, toward the resource center costs.

Jacob Leech, site manager for the Center for Integrated Agriculture, said the center will offer educational and training programs to teach people how to grow local, organic food.

The hope, Leech said, is that backyard gardens will ultimately develop into small businesses in the area.

“We are here to train new Florida farmers and help them launch their business,” Leech said.

“Local food is currently recession proof, and we are working hard to help people start a new business in this industry.”

Geraldson Community Farm in West Bradenton also will serve a part in the farming business education efforts.

Geraldson Community Farm, which is a community supported agriculture operation, along with Gamble Creek Farm, will serve as model farms to teach aspiring growers about agriculture and farming.

“We want to get people to come out and learn how to start farming on their own,” said John O’Connor, president of Florida West Coast RC&D.

“Maybe it will just be a backyard garden, but it will be a start.”

Laura Morton, a coordinator with RC&D, said the Center for Integrated Agriculture will work in three ways: to help create and support new business, develop a networking community to increase local food commerce and open new farms that can also serve as models.

“We focus on buy local food, which is good. But then it seems to fall off the cliff,” Morton said.

“We need to build small farmers. Not enough people now how to grow organic food.”

Gamble Creek Farms, located off Golf Course Road in Parrish, will begin offering training and educational programs for aspiring farmers.

Leech said the courses will focus on crop planting, water management, financial and risk management and marketing.

When the Center for Integrated Agriculture opens, Leech added, people will be able to have farming industry personnel assess their small business development ideas.

“We want this center to drastically increase the probability for success,” Leech said.

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