A Tri-State Expansion: Educator Training using the Farm Beginnings Model

Final Report for ENC04-083

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2004: $74,856.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2007
Region: North Central
State: Minnesota
Project Coordinator:
Catherine Twohig
Land Stewardship Project
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Project Information



This project was designed and written to work with educators and communities to expand/replicate the farmer training program, Farm Beginnings. Farm Beginnings is a program available through the Land Stewardship Project in Minnesota. This successful training program works with beginning farmers and with farmers wishing to transition to more sustainable methods of farming. The Minnesota program recently completed its tenth year of programming in Minnesota, and more than 400 individuals have participated, with over 60% now farming.

Project Objectives:

Performance Targets

Two courses were offered in Illinois in different geographic areas and through different organizations. These were the Central Illinois Farm Beginnings (collaboratively sponsored by the University of Illinois and Land Connection), and Stateline Farm Beginnings, sponsored by the CSA Learning Center near the state line of Illinois and Wisconsin. Farm Beginnings courses were also launched in Southeast Nebraska and Southern Missouri.

Each of the four 2005/06 Farm Beginnings courses was reported as very successful by participants, facilitators, and communities. Central Illinois and Stateline Illinois offered and successfully completed courses in 2006/07 and will offer Farm Beginnings again in 2007/08 for a third year. Nebraska did not offer a course in 2006/07, but hopes to offer Farm Beginnings in the future. Missouri, while reporting success for their initial course, opted not to offer Farm Beginnings beyond the pilot year. Further detail on each site is included in the following narrative.


Educators from Illinois, Nebraska and Missouri were interested in the Farm Beginnings model and the desire to offer courses in these respective states, based on the Farm Beginnings program. A SARE Professional Development grant was written to develop a pilot “train-the-trainer” program to expand the Farm Beginnings course model beyond Minnesota to other states and national programming.

The initial planning, development, and training was begun in November, 2004 (See SARE - ENC04-083: 2005 Annual Report).
Four new Farm Beginnings courses were launched in the fall of 2005.

Education & Outreach Initiatives



Methods/Initial Training – Year One

The initial training and transfer of program practices was designed to share both the broad overview and history of the Farm Beginnings program, while also passing on the specifics of individual classes and practices. The materials and experience were based on that of the Minnesota based program. An overarching feature of training was the emphasis on the need for a Farm Beginnings program to be grounded in the philosophy that it be a “community-based, community-supported program. The Farm Beginnings program history was that of being started by community farmers and launched through LSP, a grassroots membership organization. With this background, the initial training provided time for individual program representatives to work in their own groups to begin the planning for the community assessment and development piece of their FB course.

The intensive 2 ½ day training conducted in Minnesota was followed by topical conference calls with multiple participants from each site. These calls centered on the specifics of the community assessment (including development of local steering committees, farmer participants, community involvement, etc.), as well as the specific course topics and delivery of the class sessions.

A site visit was conducted by FB staff in each of the four new FB communities. The site visits included review and individual final planning for the upcoming FB course. Four new Farm Beginnings courses were launched in Illinois (2), Missouri, and Nebraska in Fall of 2005. Topical conference calls to share class experiences, as well as one-one calls with LSP staff continued as the course proceeded during the first year.

Outreach and Publications

training materials) was redesigned into three separate pieces. Communities interested in the Farm Beginnings model in the future would first receive materials that introduce the model to a community; a second stage would be a Farm Beginnings community assessment process and workbook to determine if a community was ready or how it could become ready to support a FB program. The third stage would be hands-on training in the individual lessons and overall presentation of a Farm Beginnings course.

Finding: A more detailed, all-in-one training manual was needed for the actual class sessions. This should be more of a teacher manual on the overall design of the classes (class objectives, materials, learning expectations); with additional information on each lesson.

Modification: The training materials were redesigned, including a separate Facilitator’s Manual that is detailed and includes lesson plans, activities and handouts for each session.

A few of the major conclusions are listed below, along with the modifications that have been made to the training and materials:

Finding: Initial training was designed and conducted to combine an orientation to the overall FB program, begin the initial community assessment, and introduce the individual lessons of the program.

Outcomes and impacts:


•Four Farm Beginnings courses launched in 2005/06 in three different states
•54 families and approximately 80 individuals participated in these four courses
•Third year programming continues for two IL sites, and probability for Nebraska site
•Interest and steering committee involvement generated by Nebraska from educators in South Dakota and Iowa
•Additional interest from regional educators has been registered in Missouri, Illinois, and Nebraska. This includes informational presentations by current facilitators to regional educators from Extension, county and state agencies, and non-profits. Nebraska is currently considering FB for two sites, and Illinois has interest for a third FB course in a Southern IL site.
•All sites reported increased collaboration and development of “broad-based community involvement” including local farmers, business people, state and agency staff, non-profit staff and university extension; including other extension staff dropping in or attending FB classes
•Educators involved in this program and who participated in the training and tri-state grant reported that the involvement in this grant and program increased their professional development
•Speaker and presentation requests increased beyond MN Farm Beginnings to additional sites and successful programs
•Ripple effects created through additional media coverage, name recognition, and graduates of multiple programs.
•Farm Beginnings training protocols, including Community Assessment workbook and Facilitator handbook developed, revised, and completed
•Farm Beginnings programs networked to share best practices

Key Learning/Impact

The Farm Beginnings program has as one of its goals assisting beginning and transitioning farmers to be on the land raising crops and livestock through sustainable methods. This goal is held by others throughout the country, including educators who approached the Land Stewardship Project to work together to learn from the past ten years of experience with this successful training model.

The Farm Beginnings model is based in local community development and support and is therefore unique to the communities in which it is presented and based. While key elements of the program must be in place to insure the integrity of Farm Beginnings, it was also thought that replication would not result in a cookie-cutter approach. Through this grant and training development, those of us involved in the initial training learned from the uniqueness of each site and the partners involved at each site.

All four sites reported that Minnesota’s Farm Beginnings model is a wonderful training and template to work with when developing a farmer training program. Key elements of the Farm Beginnings program are viewed through benchmarks that include the following: the program is taught by local farmers and other community members, sustainable farming practices must be taught, all key elements of the original program must be included (Facilitator Handbook).

With this said, while it is important that the key benchmarks must be in place and that the Farm Beginnings training and model are very important to getting started, new sites should be aware that they will need to spend staff, time and money to develop and market the program specific to their own sites. There will need to be flexibility to adapt to their community cultures, training, presenters, materials, time schedules and other needs. This is now part of the revised assessment tools which help communities better understand their current infrastructure and possible needs to launch a successful and sustainable program.

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

Accomplishments - Transfer and Replication of Farm Beginnings Model

The importance of Farm Beginnings being rooted in the local community dictated that replication of the model would not provide a “cookie-cutter” type transference of the program. The important issues of the program being taught by local farmers and other community members teaching sustainable agriculture practices must be an overriding feature of each program, along with decision-making by community-based advisory committees.

Each of the four new programs followed these guidelines, and each took on its own unique qualities, rooted in different communities, as well as different collaborative efforts. The following details these programs:

Central Illinois Farm Beginnings

Central Illinois’ program is a collaborative effort between the University of Illinois and a local non-profit sustainable agriculture organization, Land Connection. This collaboration has proved to be very successful. The course is co-facilitated by educators from both organizations. Resources from both organizations, both human resources and other, contribute to this program. The Central Illinois program is now completing its second year, and is currently planning its third course to begin in Fall, 2007.

Stateline Illinois Farm Beginnings

The Stateline Farm Beginnings program was introduced into the non-profit organization and farm, CSA Learning Center. The Center and Angelic Gardens is a hands-on farm center that already had a farm mentoring program. The training program was expanded to include the “classroom/business planning” portions of Farm Beginnings. Stateline is now completing their second year, and is planning its third course for Fall, 2007.

Nebraska Farm Beginnings

The University of Nebraska is the lead organization for the Farm Beginnings program in Nebraska. Other collaborators include: The Center for Rural Affairs, and Nebraska Sustainable Agriculture network. Nebraska had a very successful first year course in 2005/06. A decision was made to alternate the geographic sites and communities for the class, beginning the second year. While a strong steering committee and community presenters were established, recruitment for the second year course did not meet expectations. However, there are two communities very active and still interested in offering future Farm Beginnings courses.

Missouri Farm Beginnings

The Missouri Farm Beginnings course was through the University of Missouri, with the course being offered through a county extension community (West Plains) with broad county extension council support. The course was very successful in 2005/06. The local extension agent who facilitated the course found wonderful ripple effects through offering the Farm Beginnings course. One of these “ripples” was that individuals and groups not formerly acquainted with local extension educators entered through the Farm Beginnings course but also now learned about extension and the work being done throughout the state.

A decision was made to not offer the Farm Beginnings course in Missouri for the second year. University of Missouri Extension continues to work with beginning farmers and courses are offered through University Extension that continue to focus on sustainable practices, but also teach conventional and large-scale production practices.

Site Visit Summary

A Farm Beginnings staff member from LSP visited each site and interviewed facilitators of each course. She also had the opportunity to meet and visit with class participants in most sites, as well as attend a Farm Beginnings class in both Missouri and Central Illinois.

The hands-on site visits were helpful, because it allowed for adjustments to be made to more fully meet the needs of grant partners in the tri-state program. The visits were conducted in late winter, early spring of 2006.

LSP staff and members presented the initial training based on their years of experience designing, coordinating and facilitating the course in two rural geographic areas of Minnesota. This included a strong emphasis on the importance and critical need for community assessment and local involvement and participation in the Farm Beginnings course. The training materials were also developed through experience with the Minnesota-based course. The initial training was developed as a pilot with the intention that it be planned, implemented, monitored, and revised in a cyclic manner.


Future Recommendations


It was a grassroots effort of local farmers in Southeast Minnesota who asked the question “Who will be the next generation of farmers?” and approached the Land Stewardship Project with the idea of a training program for beginning farmers. LSP, through collaboration and funding with many partners, is now in its tenth year of Farm Beginnings courses. LSP is a non-profit membership organization and this strong membership base from communities throughout Minnesota has been important to develop, sustain and build a strong Farm Beginnings program.

Each of the four new Farm Beginnings sites had unique resources and collaborative efforts that varied from one another and from the Land Stewardship Project. Central Illinois Farm Beginnings is a University of Illinois collaboration with the non-profit Land Connection; Stateline Illinois added Farm Beginnings into a well-established farm and non-profit; Missouri adapted Farm Beginnings through the University of Missouri, but offered the program through a county extension site; Nebraska was a collaboration of the University of Nebraska local extension site, a non-profit already working with the Heifer livestock loan program –Center for Rural Affairs, and the Nebraska Sustainable Farming group.

Each of these programs brings unique resources to their Farm Beginnings courses. These include: LSP’s community development work and a base of members who contribute to the program as presenters, steering committee members, development work and overall support; the University of Illinois, Nebraska and Missouri strong infrastructure and experience in University extension staff, programs and expertise; established non-profit organizations with excellent reputations in sustainable agriculture, including Land Connection, CSA Learning Center, Center for Rural Affairs, and Nebraska Sustainable Farming Association.

As the Farm Beginnings programs continue to network on experiences, best practices and further development; it will be important to review the different organizational structures and collaborative efforts to determine how these affect programs. Land Stewardship Project Farm Beginnings, Central Illinois FB, and Stateline FB each have active programs and yet each operates from a different organizational structure. This provides a very good opportunity for future research and study.

Finally, the grant funding for the Tri-State Expansion of Farm Beginnings was sought because educators heard the request and desire from individuals and families who “want to farm”. The above statements outline the accomplishments, challenges and learning from this project. The communities represented in the four successful programs of Year 2005/06 are very important to the success, as are the strong, committed individuals who moved this work forward.

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.