Mentoring Today for Tomorrow

Final Report for CS08-061

Project Type: Sustainable Community Innovation
Funds awarded in 2008: $9,348.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2010
Region: Southern
State: Mississippi
Principal Investigator:
Ben Burkett
Indian Springs Farmers Association
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Project Information


The Indian Springs Farmers Association provided mentoring in agriculture to persons in southern Mississippi. Twenty persons were interviewed; however, 12 participants were selected for the “Mentoring Today for Tomorrow.” The selection process was necessary because the cooperative is preparing the next generation of farmers for the preservation of the Indian Springs Farmers Association.

The cooperative used funds to cultivate a new cohort of agricultural leaders. Through training and mentoring in diversified areas of agriculture, the participants received on-the-farm and off farm training. Workshops in crop production, marketing, value-added production, leadership, and cooperative training were held over a one-year period.

A total of 12 workshops were conducted. Four workshops were conducted by Alcorn State University Extension Program and the Mississippi Small Farm Development Center. Two workshops were held by the Mississippi Association of Cooperatives and six workshops were conducted by the Indian Springs Farmers Association. Agricultural professionals have learned farming through instructions and the classroom setting; however, few have actually worked on a farm. The same holds true for farmers. Few have learned agriculture and crop productions from a book or matriculation in an agricultural program; however, the combination of education and training application greatly increased the participants understanding of agriculture. The participants also had the opportunity to meet with local and state elected officials and the directors of state USDA agencies.


The Indian Springs Farmers Association proposed to cultivate a new generation of agricultural leaders, through training and mentoring in diversified areas of agriculture. The continuation of the 32 year old cooperative is reliant on the achievements of this project as small farmers retire from agriculture. The cooperative created this mentoring program to provide its participants an enriching experience to agriculture, an introduction to farming for hopeful continuation in the rural community of Petal, Mississippi.

The purpose of this project was to equip a young generation with the necessary tools to lead agriculture as today's farmers retire. At the Indian Spring Farmers Association, the members range in ages from 45 to 75. In the state of Mississippi, the average age of farmers is 57.2 years in 2002. In 1997, the average age was 55.3 years. The 2002 national average age is 55.3 years, as compared to 54.0 years in 1997. Justification for the project is demonstrated as the proposed activities would cultivate a new generation of agricultural leaders that have trained and mentored in diversified areas. The existence of the Indian Springs Farmers Association is reliant on the achievement of this project as more small farmers retire for various reasons. Many farmers raised children on the farm; however, the child would leave the farm as an adult. However, agriculture is not as it was fifty years ago. Agriculture and technology have entered into a relationship that has produced offspring such as precision farming. The blend improves the production quality and effectiveness for food and fiber production, food security, and sustainable systems. This venture is a continuation of the Indian Springs Farmers Association's mission to improve the economic and social well-being of limited resource and specialty crop farmers. The member-farmers help maintain the integrity of natural resources in south Mississippi. The objectives of the cooperative are to:

1. Establish an organized processing and marketing facility;
2. Assist farmers in establishing a conservation cropping system; and
3. Train farm youth by growing specific crops and encouraging youth to stay on the farm.

The Indian Springs Farmers Association, Inc. began in 1978 with 8 members as compared to the cooperative having 30 stockholders and 12 patrons today. Indian Spring was incorporated in 1981 with the assistance of the Federation of Southern Cooperatives. The cooperative is a marketing and buying cooperative for farmers operating farms ranging in size from 10 to 1,600 acres. The Association offers year-round markets for the vegetable crops of its members and patrons. Members range in age from 45 to 75. Mentoring today for tomorrow allowed the Indian Springs Farmers Association to nurture the development of participants’ abilities and community support for creating and growing job skills, financial wealth and income. The participants are thoroughly trained in agriculture: input procurement, production, harvesting, post-harvest handling, and consumption. However, agriculture is multi-faceted. The persons participating in the project were advanced students in the business aspect of farming.

The Association serves a six county area of Mississippi, including: Forrest, Perry, Jefferson Davis, Lamar, Marion and Covington counties. Members operate their own farm and bring their crops to the Association's facilities for packing and shipping, which was built in 1996. Some crops are field graded and packed; however, the facility is used for grading and packing vegetables under contracts with various corporations. The facility is equipped with a cooler for storage, washing tubs, sorting tables and other equipment for processing the produce from cooperative members. Principal crops include assorted greens such as kale, bell and jalapeno peppers, greens, peas, squash, watermelon, corn, okra, culinary herbs and other vegetable crops suited to the area.

Project Objectives:

The overall goal of the project was to provide technical assistance to the Sheeplo Community that would strengthen the capacity of the cooperative and the farm families and youth to achieve life-long learning and productivity. Mentoring and training was conducted in several areas: Leadership development, Board development, and Membership recruitment/ development. To attain such development, Indian Springs used funds to complete the following objectives:
1. Recruit persons to increase membership with the Indian Springs Farmers Association, Inc.
2. Establish partnerships with Alcorn State University, and other local, state, and regional agencies.
3. Conduct intensive training in the following areas:
a. Production
b. Farming
c. Agricultural Technology
d. Marketing
e. Farm Financial Management
f. Salesmanship
g. Leadership (Community, Local, State and Federal Levels)
h. Board of Directors


Materials and methods:

The implementation of this project braced the Sheeplo Community and Petal, Mississippi. The Indian Springs Farmers Association is a strong pillar in the community and the existence of the cooperative is necessitated by the recruitment of new members and the continuation of farming. The following approaches and methods were used to accomplish the objective and goals of the project.

Approach and Methods
1.0 Recruit persons to increase membership with the Indian Springs Farmers Association, Inc.
1. 1 SITUATION: The Indian Springs Farmers Association is in dire need of younger persons to carry the cooperative through the next generation. The age of the membership ranges from 45 to 75.

1. 2 INPUT: Conduct membership drive; Identify farmers who will serve as mentors; Co-sponsor seminars, workshops, field trips for youth on agricultural issues; Locate summer jobs for participants.

2.0 Establish partnerships with Alcorn State University, and other local, state, and regional agencies.

2. 1 SITUATION: Various partnerships exist; however, many can be strengthen for collaborative efforts promoting sustainable agriculture in Mississippi.

2. 2 INPUT: Meet with administration of the Mississippi Association of Cooperatives, Alcorn State University Extension Program, Mississippi Small Farm Development Center, etc.; Meet with state representatives and congressmen.

3.0 Conduct training in the following areas: Production, Farming, Agricultural Technology, Marketing, Farm Financial Management, Salesmanship, Leadership (Community, Local, State and Federal Levels) and Board of Directors.

3.1 SITUATION: The project participants will need intensive training to couple the hands-on experience for the fortification of instructions in subject-matter.

3.2 INPUT: Develop curriculum for engaging youth agricultural entrepreneurial; Provide education instructional and hands-on enrichment.

Research results and discussion:

1. 3 OUTCOME: Participants will become familiar with agriculture and its benefits; persons will join the Indian Springs Farmers Association.

Twenty persons were interviewed; however, 12 persons were selected from 3 counties: Forrest, Perry, and Jefferson Davis Counties. Four farmers served as mentors for the project. The farmers collectively have farmed for 150 years and have cultivated a variety of commodities on approximately 700 acres. The cooperative sponsored 6 workshops on production, marketing, leadership, civics, and Coop 101. The participants worked on four identified farms and learned the process of growing watermelons, peas, okra, greens, peppers, and livestock. Also, participants worked at the processing facility, owned by the cooperative. These summer jobs provided the participants with some income. All compensation for labor was paid for by the farmers and Indian Springs Farmers Association. No monies from the grant were used for this purpose. Two participants will begin their matriculation in junior college this fall.

Six field trips were made to the Mississippi Association of Cooperatives 38th Annual Meeting in Brookhaven, MS; Small Farmers Conference in Jackson, MS; Federation of Southern Cooperatives in Epps, AL; Marketing Tour in Memphis, TN; Jackson Farmers Market in Jackson, MS and the Crescent City Farmers Market in New Orleans, LA. The participants had the opportunity to gain additional knowledge on production, agricultural technology, marketing, farm financial management, salesmanship, leadership at the state and federal levels, and coop training.

None of the participants have joined the cooperative yet; however, because of the success of this project, Indian Springs Farmers Association will continue this project utilizing funds from the membership and treasury. It is believed that the participants will join the Association within the next year.

2. 3 OUTCOME: Sound partnerships will be built for the cultivation of future agricultural leaders.

The future leaders have become more active in communities and have established a relationship with the Mississippi Association of Cooperatives, Alcorn State University Extension Program, Mississippi Small Farm Development Center, local and state elected officials. The project participants use staff from the aforesaid agencies as secondary resources. Education is very important; however, everything is not taught from the book. The primary resource for mentoring persons, today, to become future leaders, tomorrow, were the farmers that gave the participants on-the-job training.

3.3 OUTCOME: The participants will be cultivated into Indian Springs Farmers Association Tomorrow Leaders for insuring the existence of the cooperative.

The participants are being mentored for cultivation into the cooperatives future leaders; however, the project director, farmer/mentors, and participants agree that additional training is needed. Because the director is committed to this project, "Mentoring Today for Tomorrow" will continue for at least another year, using internal funds. This program was beneficiary to the participants and Indian Springs Farmers Association; however, during the duration of this project, additional training was identified, such as farm food safety, pesticide training and certification, farm financial management, etc. In the following year, the aforesaid training will take place to better prepare the future leaders.

Participation Summary

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:
  • The accomplishments of this project were: Recruit persons to increase membership with the Indian Springs Farmers Association, Inc. Establish partnerships with Alcorn State University, and other local, state, and regional agencies. Conduct intensive training in production, marketing, value-added production, leadership, civics, and Coop 101. Introduce agricultural technology through computer training Provide participants an opportunity to meet their local and state officials Expose participants to agriculture from the marketing, production, and business side. Provide participants an opportunity to travel to Small Farmers Conference and Farmers Markets and network with small farmers and agricultural professionals from Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee and other states.

Potential Contributions

The twelve participants seemed to have been interested in the project. It is our expectation for them to become farmers and/or major in agriculture at a 4-year college. Becoming members of a farmers cooperative and maintaining land ownership is crucial the cooperative's existence. The participants learned about the cooperative and its development, traveled to places they would perhaps have never traveled to and saw agriculture from various sides. The potential contribution would include additional cooperative members, an increase in beginning farmers, and land retention.

Future Recommendations

Our future recommendation for this project would be to extend it from a one-year program to a two-year program. The extension would allow the participants to intern with agricultural professionals at local and state agencies, assist in crop production in multiple seasons and give participants an opportunity to conduct independent study. In the study, the participant would be able to learn all they could from their mentor and then apply the knowledge in crop production in a small plot. This would allow the mentor observe the participant's learning capacity.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.