The future of farming in Appalachian Ohio

The Whole Farm Planning & Mentoring program matches beginning farmers with individual mentors for 10 weeks of guidance in planning their farm busine.

Appalachian Ohio is home to an ever-growing population of citizens pivoting to more sustainable lifestyles. Some might consider Athens County the leader of this change in the region, which is largely due to the very well-developed local food system that it and its surrounding counties have built together. 

Paul Harper is the owner and operator of Woodland Ridge Farm & Learning Center in Athens. A man of many hats, he is a retired teacher and administrator, former auctioneer, and is now the owner of just under 50 acres of land which he has been farming on since 2012. Woodland Ridge supports its community by expanding access to food raised on a local farm while providing educational opportunities that demonstrate how it can be done in a way that regenerates farmland and fortifies the resilience of local food systems. 

This spring was Paul’s third year participating as a mentor in Rural Action’s Whole Farm Planning & Mentoring series. The Sustainable Agriculture Program at Rural Action is all about getting beginning and existing farmers the support they need to continue their work for the community, and their Whole Farm Project does just that. The mentoring series is just a small piece of that mission. 


Bryan Hinkle, a resident of Perry County, was Paul’s mentee in this winter’s series. Inspired by food insecurities and supply issues in the wake of COVID-19, Bryan and his family began raising meat, eggs and honey with hopes of having excess for their community. The mentoring series provided an opportunity to get Briar Bush Farm on the map. An ideal match, Paul and Bryan already have plans in the works to continue their partnership outside of the series. 

The Whole Farm Planning & Mentoring program is a 10-week series that matches 15 beginning farmers with 15 mentors and leads them through the process of planning their business. For Bryan, it served as an opportunity to find community in a group of farmers that are all “in the same boat.” Paul described it as “a safe place” to share your ideas and get feedback, setting practices and building a support network that extends beyond the series itself. 

Currently, Paul and Bryan are collaboratively raising meat chickens for market, and planning for a Homestead Chicken Harvesting Workshop at Woodland Ridge Farm in early June. If you’d like to find out more about what Paul and Bryan are up to or how you can plan a visit, check out Woodland Ridge Farm & Learning Center on Facebook or contact them directly (contacts below). 

Are you a farmer in or around Appalachian Ohio? Are you interested in becoming one? Rural Action’s Whole Farm Project can help you. In addition to hosting the Planning & Mentoring series, we offer an array of other support for new and experienced farmers alike, including educational workshops and individualized resources. To learn more, visit

Emily Elam is an AmeriCorps volunteer at Rural Action, where she works with sustainable agriculture including the Chesterhill Produce Auction.

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