Doug Fabbioli is concerned about the future of the rural economy, as urban sprawl expands from metropolitan areas into farm fields and pastureland. The Virginia winery owner decided to be part of the solution and founded The New AG School, the school’s mission is raising the next generation of farmers.
Farming, the hardship and joy
Being a farmer is hard work, but Fabbioli says if young people knew the joys and fulfillment of farming, they’d love it. But to succeed – they will need specialized skills.
That’s what Fabbioli is hoping to teach at his new school. The goal is to fill the immediate need for farm workers, but also to prepare future leaders, those who can to be mentors and teach new people how to do this down the road.
The New AG School attracts a wide range of students.
“We have some younger folks that are either right out of high school or even in high school,” Fabbioli says. “We have some folks who are out of college that are saying, ‘Gee, didn’t really study what I wanted and I can’t find that job I was looking for, let’s see what this farming is, and maybe I want to go further on that. ’ We also get folks that are a change life point that maybe in their 40s, or 50’s and say, ‘I have land, I want to be a farmer now, I’m ready to do something else. ”
The tuition-free program takes a step-by-step, hands on teaching approach.
Olga Goadalupe Alfoseca says joining the program helps her find the right career path. “I learned a lot of stuff like (planting) hops and raspberries. My dream is maybe I can plant my own plants and start my own business.”
Liam Marshall-Brown who quit college finds farm work interesting and engaging. “It’s fun,” he says. “I mostly did restaurants before. I was a host or inside the kitchen. You feel trapped after a while, doing the same thing over and over and over again. It’s just nice to be outside. Pretty much you’re doing something new every day, not exactly the same. I like being outside more.”
But, not all the work is outdoors. Students go through a curriculum of five different modules, covering everything from cleaning and sanitation, horticulture, hospitality, to leadership and entrepreneurship.
And the training is not complete until they learn about the machines they use every day; how they work and how to fix them.
And as you might expect from a vineyard owner, wine making is also part of the curriculum.
Winemaker Meaghan Tardif is a mentor at the school… she teaches students winemaking – and leadership skills.
“My favorite part about being a mentor is I always give the student a chance to teach someone else.” Tardif explains. “Leadership is everywhere. It’s not just in the work. It’s not just your employees, but it helps you throughout your life.”
Cultivating dreams, saving land
The experience has inspired Marshall-Brown to find a future in agriculture.
“I would like to be that, but I still have a lot to learn to be able to do that. Hopefully I’ll get there and I’ll run my own farm one day and have people work under me.”
That pleases Fabbioli, who says it’s good for the community to have more farmers.
“This is a wealthy community,” he notes. “We are actually one of the richest counties in the nations. The goal for folks in Loudoun, on a state level or on a community level is to save the land, is to save the green space in western Loudoun County. We can do that by farming, but we need more farmers very much. So giving people the opportunity to learn, put more people to work. It may also keep the cars off the highways because they’re living locally and they’re working locally.”
That’s what the New AG School hopes to do — grow the next generation of dedicated, skillful farmers.