MOUNT VERNON, Mo. – “Grow Your Farm” sessions for beginning farmers start Feb. 20 at the University of Missouri Southwest Research Center auditorium in Mount Vernon, Missouri.

MU Extension, through a grant from USDA Office of Advocacy and Outreach to help veterans, Latinos and socially disadvantaged persons who want to farm, offers the program to increase agribusinesses and enterprise development.

Karen Funkenbusch serves as director. Debi Kelly, Eleazor Gonzalez and Patricia Barrett serve as co-directors.

The USDA 2501 grant helps beginning farmers and others evaluate and plan their farm enterprise. Participants attend a set of practical seminars and field days to learn from MU specialists, farmers and agribusiness operators. The grant comes at a critical time, Funkenbusch said.

More than 300,000 veterans are expected to return to their rural Missouri roots in the next decade. “Many of them will seek work in agriculture,” she says. Latinos also represent one of the fastest-growing populations of new farm operators.

Session topics:

Feb. 20. MU Extension agricultural business specialists Jim Spencer Jr. and Jennifer Lutes speak on “Identifying Values and Creating Goals.”

Feb. 27. MU Extension natural resources engineer Bob Schultheis and Spencer give a session on “Walking the Farm.”

March 6: Longtime MU Extension livestock specialist Eldon Cole shares his expertise on “Assessing Opportunities.” Spencer also offers insight on this topic.

March 13: MU Extension specialists Wesley Tucker and Spencer cover “Rural Legal Issues.”

March 20: Lutes and Spencer share information on “Planning the Farm.”

March 25: A farm tour will be held from 1-4 p.m.

March 27: “Keeping Track of Finances” will be discussed by Lutes and Spencer.

April 3: Spencer discusses “Marketing Farm Products.”

April 8: Attendees will tour a farm from 1-4 p.m.

April 10: Spencer and Lutes give farmer presentations. A potluck dinner will be served.

There is a reduced fee of $35 for veterans, Latinos and those from socially disadvantaged groups. There is a $130 fee for two attendees from the same farm, and a $25 fee for each additional person from the same farm.

For more information, persons interested may contact Jim Spencer at spencerjr@missouri.edu or 417-581-3558. Registrations are due by Feb. 15 by sending a check to MU Extension in Christian County, 105 N. Second St., Ozark, MO 65721.

USDA helps fund this program as part of an $8.4 million set of grants to 24 states through the Outreach and Assistance for Socially Disadvantaged and Veteran Farmers and Ranchers Program, also known as the 2501 Program.

As part of the grant, MU Extension also will offer “Understanding the Alphabet Soup of USDA Programs” near military bases and areas identified by USDA as “StrikeForce” and “Promise Zone” initiatives.