The Neversink Farm Course, A Review (with Bonus PDF)

The Neversink Farm Course, A Review (with Bonus PDF)

Earlier this week, the Neversink Farm Course went live. Upon the release of this post, there are only about three more days left to register! And few weeks ago, Jackson and I got week to cruise around this thing and get a glimpse of all the online farm course has to offer.

register for the course

BUT, before we get into that, if you have been eyeing the Neversink Farm Course and want to sign up, please use our link. We are—in full disclosure and in the name of “Hey, this helps the show!”—affiliates. Conor has been a supporter of our work from the beginning and we are, likewise, a huge supporter of his work (and tools, but more on the tools at a later date). So, with that said, if you do choose to sign up, please use our link and Conor will kick some money back to No-Till Growers.

[Note that Jackson and I are both going to add to this review. Just know that all the smart stuff was totally written by me, Farmer Jesse. Except for what Jackson has to painstaking edit to make me sound like a literate human being, which is practically everything. Sharing editorial access is fun ;]

The Good

Being able to step onto a successful farm like this at any point in the season is the real genius of the masterclass in general—when you have a question about irrigation or greenhouse tomato production, for instance, you can log in and get a quick lesson from a successful farmer who has proven his knowledge on the subject (and the course is never too busy to address your questions). How helpful is it to visit other local farms in the middle of the season to get a look at how they are doing things? THIS is exactly what the Neversink Farm Course feels like. It is easily navigable, all the of the vanities are laid out, the techniques and processes are fully documented, and you can easily scroll down below most videos or reference the supporting documentation (of which there is a ton) on your smartphone to get a quick answer (i.e. spacing, sourcing, steps, et cetera). He not only goes into great detail on how he does essentially everything on his farm, but why as well. And he just keeps adding to it, season-after-season.

Here are some of my, farmer Jackson, favorite parts of the course…
One, he provides extremely detailed information about the financial aspects of Neversink. One of the questions, arguably inappropriate, in the back of my mind when listening to other farms/farmers doing innovative or educational work is, “but, are you able make a living?” and “does the system work holistically?” Conor straight up addresses it, laying out everything from labor to return on investment for infrastructure. The farm model he has developed stands on it’s own two feet and gives prospective farmers an good look into the financial world of a thoughtfully developed and well run intensive small farm. Smal farms must be profitable to be sustainable. However, this is not a farm finance course! You shouldn’t expect these numbers year one! Taking the course in conjunction with a farm finance course, though, would be deadly.

Two, task tickets. I’m now in love with task tickets. Even if you don’t have labor—aside from yourself—on the farm, the task ticket mentality is a great tool for simplifying and standardizing any task on your farm. Even though we, ourselves, have limited outside labor, we’ll be implementing a simplified version of it to make sure each job is done thoroughly, consistently, and “returned to zero” before the end of the day. A little piece of paper could turn our to be a powerful—and cheap—tool for increasing the productivity of our farm. If you have a few employees, this system alone could pay for the course in saved time and efficiency.

Three, how the pieces fit together. It’s easy to see how most every decision he’s made on his farm is not made in isolation. For instance, and one we all know well, how the gridder spacing works in conjunction with the widths of the heads for the mutineer. How his entire cultivation system is designed to be easily understood and carried out by other employees. How does spacing effect ease of cultivation while maximizing space? [Side note: if manual cultivation is a pain point for your farm, as it is mine, you’re in for a treat] Or, how one process for getting a task done makes the next step easier. Where does doing an extra step now save two—or more—steps later? Reading between the lines… err, videos… gets you thinking about how the seemingly disparate pieces of small farms can, and need to, work together.

Last, and this goes unsaid, the Neversink farm is beautiful. It has come about under lean thinking that the place in which you work should be enjoyable. Clean, well organized, human-centric spaces are easier and more pleasurable to work in, and you work better in them. Conor goes into great detail not only about how he keeps his farm weed-free, but also how he’s incorporated cultivating the beauty of his farm into it’s daily and weekly routines. It has definitely inspire me—and given me a few tools—to do better about keeping my farm beautiful for the upcoming season.

The Bad

It’s just one farm. One of the drawbacks to online farm courses in general is the more specific the information, the more contextual it is. While Conor does a good job of providing general information for different contexts—like how he might change his approach to amending a clay soil as opposed to his sandy soil—it will require outside research. But, of course, you’re already referencing plenty of other material and going off of your own soils tests, at least we hope. While we feel the cost of the course is a good and worthwhile investment in farmer education, as we generally feel you should be spending more money than you probably are on continuing education every year anyway, it will not—and should not—be your only point of reference.

If you’ve watched Conor’s YouTube, you will be familiar with the pace of the videos. Though beautifully shot and extremely thorough, they are not filled with quick cuts and fancy editing. It does slow down the experience for the viewer though I (Jesse) debate with myself whether the pace belongs in the “bad” section as it allows for a different type of experience, one where the pauses offer time to examine the space around and beyond Conor, to process what he has to say, and take in the entire scene/context. Fast flashy videos may be fun to watch, and easier to watch on a time-constraint (which is not good for developing patience, mind you), but there is something rich about the pace Conor lays it out. It’s feels as much like watching a documentary as it does an educational video. That said, it will almost certainly take time to watch these videos—you can decide for yourself if that’s a negative. Sometimes, it’s good to slow down and enjoy the scenery.

Another general concern about online farm courses is discernment, but this is more on the part of the consumer of the material than the producer. Conor—and JM, and Ben Hartman, and so on—cannot meet the demand for sharing their innovations with the farming community in person. The online course simply makes the most sense. BUT, it is easy to see how these courses, taken out of context, can begin to make most farm start-ups into, well, the same farm. The information is, to a large extent, proven within their context, but based on some fundamental presuppositions you may not share. For one, he’s not a fan of compost—for good reason, and he makes a good case againast it—but I am. Be aware of your local market needs (i.e. no way can I sell a stack of radishes and salad turnips like that in our marketplace), the resources that are readily available in your region, and the personality of your farm, itself.

Correction from Conor: I do like compost. I use it extensively. I just don't like making it, as it requires heavy equipment which I do not have. Thus, I sometimes hot compost animal manure in a static aerated pile or purchase organic compost. I actually have a truckload coming this week.

[He’s right. He doesn’t explicitly say he doesn’t like compost, but makes a few good points in the course on how it can be cumbersome, as well as a few considerations for offsetting compost as a main source of soil conditioning, fertility, etc.]

The Dirty

It is worth noting that we both feel as though no masterclass like this is meant to—or can really contend with—on-farm experience in terms of education. You should get your hands dirty first to really make this investment worth it. That said, the Neversink Farm Course is an extremely useful tool for when you are investing in your land/farm or have the perspective of having done some amount of farm work. It will surely save you from costly mistakes and experimentation, particularly with infrastructure. However, everything in the video has to be kept in it’s proper context. Sure, he does well and grosses beautifully on 1.5 acres, but it’s because his market—which he has also painstakingly developed—supports it. Particularly with market outlets and crop selection, do your own local market research first!

Absolutely, at $1589 (payment plans available) this online course is an expensive tool, but unlike any other farm tool you will ever buy, the Neversink Farm Course can be used in almost every area around your farm, for life. And moreover, this tool does not depreciate, it grows. Indeed, Conor is adding new sections all the time, including a No-Till/Minimal Soil-Disturbance lesson (which we’re super stoked about), and a library (video and written) organized by vegetable. There is also a forum and Q&As with Conor to enrich the experience. Not many investments beyond, maybe, land—and that’s a well qualified maybe—will ever grow and improve for years to come.

Conor provided us with a bonus PDF to share with you to get a glimpse at the detail and breadth of the reference material within the farm course, showing just how in-depth it goes.

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