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Farm School Farming 101

Farming 101
Introduction to Small-scale
Regenerative Farming

Six-week Course, two days/week
ield Labs Saturdays 9am to 4pm at Wild Willow Farm
Classes Wednesdays 7pm to 9pm in central San Diego

2018 Course Dates

Winter 2018 Jan. 6 to Feb. 17
Spring 2018 Mar. 17 to April 28
Fall 2018 Sep. 29 to Nov. 10

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Tuition: $700 (includes $100 enrollment fee)

Tuition includes textbook. Enrollment Fee is non-refundable. You are not enrolled until the Enrollment Fee is paid. Early Enrollment Discount deadine is two weeks before start of classes.

Wild Willow Farm's Farming 101: Introduction to Small-scale Regenerative Farming course offers students an introduction to techniques and strategies for small farming or agricultural advocacy, or to simply grow more of their own food.

This six-week, two-day-per-week course is offered several times each year. With a horticultural and practical focus, students learn about soil fertility; tool use; till and no-till strategies; composting; sowing and transplanting; principles of irrigation; and pests, pathogens and beneficials. The last class is a discussion about building farm resiliency and a farm's relationship to many systems we must interact with: governmental, social, commercial, educational and regulatory. Classes are held in the South Park neighborhood of San Diego (near 30th & Juniper) on Wednesday evenings, with field classes and labs at Wild Willow Farm on Saturdays. This course is a prerequisite to becoming a Tier 1 Farming Student.

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Volunteer Internships

Volunteer Internships

We accept a few volunteer interns who are ready to commit to at least three months of learning at Wild Willow Farm, and are ready to grow into budding new farmers and/or good food community advocates. This is an immersive program that provides a share in the farm bounty, free attendance to all Wild Willow classes and programming during the internship, one-on-one mentorship with our farmers, and opportunity to work as a tour guide and trip leader. You must apply at least 30 days before the course starts.

Internship Dates 2018

Spring: Monday, January 29 to end of May
Summer: Monday, June 4 to end of August
Fall: Monday, August 13 to mid-December

Program Requirements

2 to 3 days per week (min. 12/hrs/week M, W, Th, F)
Commitment to attending classes (some Wed evenings, all Saturdays when Farming 101 is in session)
Timely arrival and excellent communication skills
Willingness to work hard and contribute to the team
Ability to take initiative and assume responsibility
Drive to learn about growing food and being an ecological steward
Desire to deepen your connection with your food

Interested applicants should e-mail Cathryn "Cat" Henning at no later than one month prior to the internship start date.

Syllabus and Class Schedule

Farming 101: Introduction to Small-scale Farming

First Day Orientation

Welcome, Course Scope, Introductions.
Opening Lecture: In the Spirit of Organics



Tour of Wild Willow Farm


Distinction between different agricultural models: (industrial, conventional, transitional, organic, sustainable, regenerative); ethical farming; regenerative farming practices; food miles; benefits of locally produced food; reduction of purchased inputs.

Lesson 1

It Starts with the Soil

Intro +
Ch. 1, 2, 7


Making & using compost, mulching, sheet composting, cover cropping.


Compost is proof that there is life after death. Students will be introduced to the benefits and use of compost, and will understand that composting is the cornerstone to soil, plant, and human health. Working in our Living Lab, students explore aerobic high-temperature, active, and static composting techniques, while building a compost pile. The farm’s “recipe for success” is emphasized, including greens & browns (Nitrogen & Carbon), water, air, and volume. Vermiculture, and the use of compost tea is also introduced.

Lesson 2

Growing Fertile Soil

Ch. 3


Farm tools — proper use and care; evaluating soil texture and moisture; bed preparation; mechanical and manual tillage; compost tea and extract.


“Feed the soil to feed the plant.” This class emphasizes the importance of building and maintaining fertile soil to ensure healthy plants. Topics covered include building fertile soil through the use of organic matter and low-till practices, and understanding the role that the microbiology of the soil and plants have on soil fertility. Students will examine soil and evaluate texture and moisture, as well as soil type. The Living Lab will teach proper bed-preparation techniques with the least amount of soil disturbance. Wild Willow Farm’s Complete Organic Fertilizer recipe will be shared, as students prepare the mixture out of locally available products such as animal feeds. Focus will also be on the description of farm tools used in small-scale and handcrafted farming, that leans towards a goal of no-till farming methods.

Lesson 3

Propagation & Planting Techniques

Ch. 4, 5


Direct sowing and transplanting; starting seeds; planting practice.


Getting plants off to a healthy start is critical to successful crop production. Students will learn the fundamental concepts and practices used in propagating crops from seed. In the Living Lab, students will practice mixing potting soil and potting up plants, while understanding how to use a propagation nursery and green house. Also highlighted is how to grow and determine high quality starts, and growing starts from cuttings and divisions. Students will discover a number of different direct sowing methods, proper seed bed preparation for different varieties of crops, and inoculants necessary for living soil. Planting practice with seeds and from plant starts will include proper depth, spacing, and maintenance for good crop establishment.

Lesson 4

How Water Moves through the Soil

Ch. 6


Efficient irrigation practices.


The best place to store water is in the soil. This class addresses the quantitative and qualitative approaches to delivering water efficiently and effectively through an irrigation system. Students will experience the water situation in Southern California and determine sources of water in an arid climate. Topics will include how water moves through soil, the mechanics of an irrigation system and how it operates, how regenerative farming methods increase the water retention capabilities of soil, and water conservation techniques through building organic matter in the soil and appropriate plant spacing. The Living Lab will tour students through the irrigation systems at Wild Willow Farm. Students will learn to put together automatic irrigation valves, install drip irrigation systems, learn irrigation design concepts, and identify effective repair and maintenance strategies.

Lesson 5

Integrated Pest Management

Ch. 8


Identifying pests and pathogens and beneficials.


Increasing biodiversity is key to the health of any garden ecosystem. Students will become aware of the principles of Integrated Pest Management, and understand the delicate balance of microbes and insects for plant health. The class will highlight a plant-positive approach to pest control, to host both beneficial and predatory insects, and students will learn how to create a habitat for beneficials to thrive. Students will take part in a Living Lab farm walk to identify pests on crops, and also beneficials that are on or around crops. Mammalian pest management methods of exclusion will be emphasized, and the proper use of gopher traps. Students will also be introduced to the fundamental concepts and basic skills needed to prevent, identify, and manage plant pathogens.

Lesson 6

Building Resiliency into Your Farm


Saturday, August 19

Exploring permaculture practices and observing the farm with a holistic eye, plus a visit to our beehives. End of course pizza party and class photo.


A more resilient agricultural system is needed, especially in the face of climate change. We explore principles small farmers have established to be more resilient, as in the ability to bounce back quickly from a disruption, permaculture practices, rain harvesting methods, establishing reasonable expectations of your farm, realizing your resources, and holistic farm management that pertains to animal husbandry. Future farmers have the opportunity to research their local market and business model, and students are introduced to the array of landholding models such as sole proprietorship, partnership, LLC, nonprofit, or cooperative. The culminating Living Lab experience will showcase a tour of Wild Willow Farm’s bee hives and honey harvesting.

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Ongoing Farm School Programs

Continue your farming education in our tiered, year-round School for Sustainable Farming program, with classes, hands-on mentoring and skill development. Click here for more information