Beginning Farmer Business Training and Education Partnership Project

Final Report for ENE08-106

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2008: $135,630.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2011
Region: Northeast
State: Massachusetts
Project Leader:
Judith Fuller
New England Small Farm Institute
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Project Information

Summary:

The New England Small Farm Institute (NESFI) of western Massachusetts has been developing planning curricula for early stage and beginning farmers for many years. In this project, NESFI reached out to new-farmer service providers throughout the northeast and offered to train their trainers in its Exploring the Small Farm Dream short course and decision-making workbook and its sequel, the Small Farm Planner, a self-directed farm planning research guide. The intent was to expand the use of these tools that had proved valuable to individuals entering farming under NESFI’s tutelage.

The scope of the project was to reach out to as many provider groups as possible and invite a select number to undergo a “train the trainer” process. This process would prepare members of this sub-group to become qualified trainers in their respective geographic locales. From the trained group, an even smaller number would be invited to experience intensive mentoring for as long as a year as they instructed new farm students.

From the original 200 estimated providers, seventeen new organizations responded. University Extension Services proved to be among the most enthusiastic with multiple sites throughout their respective states. Drawing from all of the providers, thirty-six individuals participated in one of four 1½ day Explorer trainings and became qualified to instruct beginning new farmers using the NESFI materials.

Eleven of the trainers engaged in a process whereby they were mentored by experienced consultant-trainers over a period of time. This was largely a coaching/support process and was customized to the needs of the individual trainer.

Following these steps, all participants were invited to a gathering of Explorer trainers. Sixteen trainers (Eleven from the Northeast Region) joined together in Malvern, PA to discuss best practices and their interests and needs for the future. They represented twelve organizations from seven states and two Canadian provinces. They concluded with four major recommendations for future “train the trainer” activity:
1. Develop a network for Explorer providers – with both in-person and online capabilities.

2. Establish an Explorer certification program.
3. Engage in follow-up surveys of graduates to measure impact.
4. Establish a method for updating and delivering Explorer training materials.

Performance Target:

The project performance target envisioned that thirty (30) service providers would self-select from the initial group of 200 throughout the northeast. These 30 would agree to partner with NESFI in order to offer Exploring the Small Farm Dream and Small Farm Planner decision-making and planning tools in a 2 ½ day training and dialogue on constituency characteristics, needs and interests. One third of this group, or ten (10), would choose to participate in a year-long training practicum that included mentored practice in planning and delivering these courses/programs to new or incipient farmers. The final phase of the proposal included a wrap up, one-day “best practices” session to be attended by the 30 practitioners.

Introduction:

Over the past generation, there has been increasing interest in small scale farming in the northeast. One of the first groups to identify and advocate for increased education and services to burgeoning (as well as existing) farmers has been the New England Small Farm Institute (NESFI), headquartered at a former Massachusetts state farmstead in western Massachusetts. Over the past 10 years, NESFI has researched and developed various training processes for the population of new farmers, eventually developing a collection of tools for new and emerging farmers.

The aim of this education partnership project was to identify and mentor service providers (trainers) around the northeast in the use of these farmer-tested business training and education tools. The project was intended to build on established relationships that had developed around NESFI’s Exploring the Small Farm Dream Program, a suite of learning tools that includes an Exploring the Small Farm Dream short course and decision-making workbook and its sequel, the Small Farm Planner, a self-directed farm planning research guide.

NESFI intended to approach the approximate 200 organizations listed in the Growing New Farmer Northeast Service Providers’ Consortium with the intent of delivering “train the trainer” services to a subset of providers and then more specific mentoring assistance to a smaller group of these trainers.

Cooperators

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  • Kate Hayes

Milestones

Milestone #1 (click to expand/collapse)
Accomplishments:

Publications

Milestone I: Outreach to 200+ regional providers; sub group of 30 elect to join the project as “Project Partners” to deliver the “Exploring the Small Farm Dream” short course and/or mentoring aspiring or early-stage farmers in self-study of the “Explorer” workbook and new “Small Farm Planner” planning research guide.

Milestone II: The 30 partners will attend a 2½ day regional classroom training or receive one-to-one mentoring.

As of June 30, 2009, Milestones 1 and 2 of the project had been achieved and, in fact, exceeded. Thirty-six service (36) providers in the Northeast elected to join the project and participated in one of four train the trainer sessions.

Milestone III: A sub-group of 10 providers will elect to participate in a year-long training practicum or mentored practice in planning and delivering the full Explorer short course and/or guiding self-study users of Explorer and Planner tools.

By December 31, 2010 phase III was complete. Eleven (11) trainers were mentored over the next year.

Milestone IV: The core group of thirty (30) will attend a one-day “best practices” follow-up session (one in each subregion) and undertake ongoing peer review of Partners’ Program Delivery Guide incorporating best practices and lessons learned.

In order to wrap up the project, NESFI invited new and established sponsors and instructors to a gathering at the Penn State University campus in Malvern, PA to share best practices and to determine the level of interest in maintaining a network of “Explorer” providers. Sixteen individuals representing twelve organizations from seven states and two Canadian provinces attended the November 19, 2010 event. Nine others expressed interest in participating but were unable to attend that day.

Performance Target Outcomes

Performance target outcome for service providers narrative:

Outcomes

a. Outcome Data and Discussion:

NESFI reviewed program offerings of 307 New Farmers Northeast Service Providers and invited 57 to participate in a train the trainer process. Seventeen provider groups responded; some had multiple offices (e.g., Penn State Extension); some were from outside the northeast service area. Subsequent training sessions were held in partnership with NOFA-NJ, Penn State Cooperative Extension and University of Rhode Island (URI) Extension. These three sessions were in addition to a project kick-off training held at NESFI in June 2008. In all, 36 service providers from 8 Northeast states participated in four train-the-trainer sessions.

Throughout the recruitment and information dissemination stage of the project, NESFI used and expanded its online website, www.smallfarm.org as the primary method of communications.

Although the original project plan was to hold 2½ day trainings in two regions, the “dry-run” held by NESFI in 2008, determined that 1½ day sessions would better meet project and participant goals. By reducing the number of days for regional trainings, NESFI was able to respond to the requests from Penn State and URI Extensions for dedicated trainings in those states, thereby doubling the number of sessions sponsored to four from the originally planned two. In addition, working through existing umbrella organizations, such as the extension services, proved to have the positive impact of more efficiently contacting and organizing potential trainers than would have been possible by working with individuals only.

Eleven (11) of the trained providers underwent a more intensive process of being mentored in the delivery of course material over an extended period, although it was not necessarily in the year-long process anticipated. The approach to mentoring the instructors who attended the train-the-trainer sessions was tailored to each individual. Project staff and consultants provided minimal coaching in the case of five (5) Penn State University Extension educators. Program mentors were, however, in contact with each before, during and after their first courses to ask and answer questions about course delivery and management. A course mentor provided telephone and email guidance to the four-instructor (4) team in Rhode Island and also sat in on a class session to provide feedback. The most intensive mentoring experience occurred in New Jersey where an experienced course instructor provided one-on-one guidance to a new, young farmer instructor (1) throughout course planning and also sat in on the classes to provide feedback.

The project secondarily resulted in eight courses offered through Penn State and URI Cooperative Extensions to 120 aspiring farmers. In addition, NOFA-New Jersey added a new trainer to their roster, enabling them to offer more courses in the future.

A final goal of the project was the participation of the trained project partners in a “best practices” follow-up session. NESFI invited new and established sponsors and instructors to a gathering in Malvern, PA to share best practices and to determine the level of interest in maintaining a network of “Explorer” providers. Sixteen individuals representing twelve organizations from seven states and two Canadian provinces attended the November 19, 2010 event. Nine others had signed up but were unable to make it to Pennsylvania at that time of year.

The detailed report on the conference is provided as an attachment.

Best practices discussed during the morning session included the following topics:
• Applicant screening
• Optimal number of students for a class
• On-line option?
• Length of class/momentum/assignments/final presentations
• Setting course fees
• Improving teaching skills
• Follow up with course participants and connections with other services

Requested Follow-up

The afternoon session focused on the ongoing needs of participant/trainers who wanted to provide the Explorer program. Participants were asked what they needed in terms of a network?

Several themes emerged from the discussion, outlined below.

1. Develop a Network for Explorer providers to include:
a. Online resources and communications;
b. Periodic gathering of trainer/providers.
2. Establish a Certification program for sponsor organizations with a certificate of participation for the individual trainers.
3. Do follow-up Surveys of graduates to measure impacts on an ongoing basis.
4. Establish a clear mechanism for delivery of Training Materials in terms of updating content, availability and cost.

This list of requests for more follow-up indicates an ongoing need for trainer assistance. Groups of trainers have emerged, particularly through universities and cooperative extensions. These groups, as well as individual practitioners, still seek a wider network to assist them in training new trainers, certifying instructors and providing consistency and support in training materials.

b. Beneficiary outcome story

Following is the experience of mentor, Pamela F., regarding her experience mentoring Jessica N. in her role as a new instructor of the Explorer materials.

Pam met Jess twice and had several phone conversations prior to the start date of Jess’ course held on March 3, 10, 17 and 24 in 2010 with a field trip on March 14. Together they gathered participant information on the students to be taking the class. Pam and Jess carpooled to each class which gave them time to prepare and debrief before and after each class. Jess relied on Pam to orient her to course materials and to help plan the field trip to be sure they were including a broad range of enterprises. Jess did well under Pam’s tutelage relying heavily on her own (Jess’) agricultural knowledge and computer skills. Other than helping her be fully comfortable with the course material, Pam’s role was one of assisting with time management.

As a result of this mentoring experience, Jess is now qualified to be an independent instructor and may, in time, mentor others.

Additional Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

Milestone I: Outreach to 200+ regional providers; sub group of 30 elect to join the project as “Project Partners” to deliver the “Exploring the Small Farm Dream” short course and/or mentoring aspiring or early-stage farmers in self-study of the “Explorer” workbook and new “Small Farm Planner” planning research guide.

Milestone II: The 30 partners will attend a 2½ day regional classroom training or receive one-to-one mentoring.

As of June 30, 2009, Milestones 1 and 2 of the project had been achieved and, in fact, exceeded. Thirty-six service (36) providers in the Northeast elected to join the project and participated in one of four train the trainer sessions.

Milestone III: A sub-group of 10 providers will elect to participate in a year-long training practicum or mentored practice in planning and delivering the full Explorer short course and/or guiding self-study users of Explorer and Planner tools.

By December 31, 2010 phase III was complete. Eleven (11) trainers were mentored over the next year.

Milestone IV: The core group of thirty (30) will attend a one-day “best practices” follow-up session (one in each subregion) and undertake ongoing peer review of Partners’ Program Delivery Guide incorporating best practices and lessons learned.

In order to wrap up the project, NESFI invited new and established sponsors and instructors to a gathering at the Penn State University campus in Malvern, PA to share best practices and to determine the level of interest in maintaining a network of “Explorer” providers. Sixteen individuals representing twelve organizations from seven states and two Canadian provinces attended the November 19, 2010 event. Nine others expressed interest in participating but were unable to attend that day.

Assessment of Project Approach and Areas of Further Study:

Future Recommendations

Results of this project show that throughout the northeastern U.S. and even into Canada, there is strong interest in developing business planning trainers for new farmers using NESFI curricula. The trainers clearly state, however, that they need more than the materials alone. They want a support system that involves ongoing training, updating of materials, communications protocols and a process that would lead to certification or identification of qualified instructors.

As owners of the Exploring the Small Farm Dream Program, NESFI is in the unique position of providing the basic element of the training. There is a need for the next step, however – one of developing a manageable network of providers. This should be a multi-dimensional and ongoing activity that would capture the best of the agrarian ethos but be grounded in state-of-the art technology. In other words, it should respect and understand the individuals and philosophies that compel persons to engage in farming in this day and age. At the same time, it must satisfy all of the demands of communications and information dissemination necessary in today’s world. It is a big project but it would go far to further the good development of the next generation of small farmers. We strongly recommend consideration of such a project.

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.