Sam O’Brien comes from a family of dairy farmers.
His paternal great-grandparents ran a dairy farm in North Ferrisburg, and O’Brien grew up hearing stories about his father’s childhood on the family farm.
O’Brien, 19, will follow in his great-grandparents’ agrarian footsteps and focus his career on vegetable farming. The Colchester resident is a student in the six-month Farmer Training Certificate Program at UVM’s 10-acre Catamount Farm.
In the program, students learn how to drive a tractor as well as grow, harvest, and market vegetables. They grow everything from radish and arugula to pumpkins and potatoes. Produce grown by the students is sold to select outlets within the UVM community.
Vegetables are something O’Brien is passionate about in his personal and professional life. He started gardening at age 12 and loves growing squash, sweet corn, potatoes, and snap peas.
Over the summer, he planted 20,000 snap pea seeds by hand at his friend’s 200-acre farm in Richmond. O’Brien has already sold about $800 worth of snap peas to City Market and Adams Farm Market. He hopes to expand his business and have additional store accounts next year.
“In the long term, I want to have a farm of my own,” he says.
O’Brien enrolled in the UVM Farmer Training Program earlier this year to learn how to drive a tractor and figure out the business aspects of running a farm.
“What I’ve enjoyed most about the program is meeting like-minded people who are here for the same reason as me,” he says. “I like working alongside everybody and enjoy how we can bounce things off each other.”
The program, which runs from May to October, is designed for people interested in learning about sustainable farming and food systems in a hands-on educational setting. Candidates include new and beginning farmers, urban and community gardeners, farm educators, and students interested in deepening their understanding of sustainable farming systems.
Graduates of the Farmer Training Certificate Program gain:
- A UVM Sustainable Farming Certificate
- Experience in organic crop production, from seed to market
- A deeper understanding of small-scale farm management
- Entrepreneurial skills to start a farm business
- A network of incredible people to provide support and guidance
“Learning the business side of farming is very important, and I’m working on a business plan now,” O’Brien says. “If you want to find all the ins and out of farming, this program is the place to be.”
O’Brien, who spends his weekends milking cows at Thibault Farm in Colchester, says he’s also learned more about himself in the program.
“I learned that I could work hard, but there are only so many 16-hour days I can put in,” he says. “I’ve learned my limits.”