Focusing on Beginning Farmers

Final Report for ENE08-107

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2008: $71,640.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2010
Region: Northeast
State: Vermont
Project Leader:
Beth Holtzman
UVM Extension - New Farmer Project & Women's Agricultural Network
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Project Information

Summary:

An estimated 70 percent of US farms will transfer to new owners over the next 15 years, and many older farmers will retire without an heir to take over the farm. The education and technical assistance the next generation of Northeast farmers will need for success is likely to be quite different than their counterparts in the past. A continuing challenge for service providers is identifying and delivering services relevant to this pivotal audience of beginning farmers. This project successfully increased agricultural service providers’ understanding of the challenges facing beginning farmers, and then supported participants to improve delivery of services to beginning farmers. Fifty-two (52) agricultural service providers from a broad range of agencies and organizations learned about beginning farmer needs through a series of fishbowl style focus groups in which 50 farmers participated as “instructors.” The project then provided mini-grant incentives to stimulate changes in service delivery.

Twenty-four service providers collaborated with 27 farmers to develop, implement, and evaluate 13 mini-grant projects. Reports from the13 mini-grant projects show that participants used skills and information they gained through the project to adapt existing programs or implement new initiatives that collectively educated 584 beginning farmers from eight Northeast states. These projects increased farmers’ knowledge of production, labor management, marketing, business management, financial management, and land tenure arrangements.

In follow-up evaluations, 210 beginning farmers reported acquiring new skills or doing something differently to improve their farm operations as a result of their participation in the project mini-grants. Some examples of on-farm changes and improvements reported include: 34 farm operators used an improved NOFA-VT web-based service linking farmers with apprentices; 10 farmers made changes in nutrient management on their farms using information learned about soil testing/results interpretation; 15 farmers who attended workshops about marketing options helped create a Rutland Growers Collaborative, exploring market approaches such as a multi-farm CSA and collaborative marketing to restaurants; 42 farm seekers in Vermont completed a Farm Seeker Form in the Land Access Database (LAD), created through a project-supported mini grant, to efficiently communicate their needs to service providers and connect with more people and support services.

Additionally, the mini-grant projects developed print and electronic resources and tools that continue to be available to farmers and agricultural service providers, and have been accessed by an estimated 1900 people.

The knowledge gained through the focus groups and a survey of 382 farmers informed several subsequent projects that have attracted over $1 million in competitive grant funding. A key theme that emerged is that beginning farmers need a more coordinated approach to service delivery. That idea was incorporated directly to the design and approach of the University of Vermont’s Extension New Farmer Project, which provides a web-based central access point to organizations, services, and educational opportunities for Vermont’s farm entrepreneurs (http://www.uvm.edu/newfarmer) and the Vermont New Farmer Network project funded in 2011 by the USDA Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program. The New Farmer Network is piloting an integrated, holistic coaching, education, and technical assistance approach that meets individualized needs of new farmers while maximizing the efficiency of service providers.

This project found the mini-grant process to be an effective way to both provide incentives to service providers to try something different, and to monitor learning and outcomes. We believe the approach could be easily incorporated into other professional development projects.

Performance Target:

Within a year, 20 of the 40 agricultural service providers who participate in the project will make at least one change to their programs and/or the way they work with beginning farmers to address the specific stakeholder needs and priorities documented by the focus groups. Additionally, six service providers will collaborate with farmers to develop new programs that address needs identified by the focus groups. Follow-up surveys of those who participate in these adapted and new programs will be used to evaluate improvement in their access to land, capital, or community support, or determine if they gained new production, marketing or business skills as a result of participating in the program.

Introduction:

With the average of farmers in the US now over 57 and continuing to rise, cultivating a next “generation” of successful farm businesses is critical to the future of the Northeast’s food and agricultural system. In Vermont, for example, the number of principal farm operators over the age of 65 is four times the number under 35 (2007 Census of Agriculture). If farming is to continue to contribute to the Northeast’s rural economic development, food security and open space, there must be new farmers who are willing and capable of keeping the land in productive and profitable agricultural use.

Beginning farms are defined by USDA as those in business for less than 10 years. In Vermont and adjacent counties in Massachusetts, New York and New Hampshire, there were about 4,000 farm operators with less than 10 years’ experience, about 29% of the total (USDA 2007 Census of Agriculture).

Some of these individuals are sons and daughters taking over existing family farms. But many beginning farmers are first generation farmers who come from non-farming backgrounds. They include young people who may have an agricultural education or apprenticeship experience and choose farming as a career, individuals seeking a change of profession, and people establishing a second career after early retirement. They come with a broad range of production, marketing and business management skills, are interested in many different full- and part-time agricultural enterprises, and these tend enterprises tend to be more market-oriented and entrepreneurial than their historic counterparts.

An ongoing challenge for agricultural service providers is identifying and delivering programs and services that help this clientele overcome the often substantial challenges of establishing new farm businesses. These include access to financial capital, land, markets and production, and business management information and expertise. Vermont’s beginning farms have a collective market value of over $85 million, and they manage about 22 percent of Vermont’s farmland. However, these farms represent just 12 percent of the market value of agricultural products sold in the state.

This project worked to assist in more successful farm establishment by: 1) improving service providers’ understanding of beginning farmers’ needs in our region; 2) providing incentive funds to stimulate these professionals to adapt service delivery and pilot new programming that is more responsive to those needs; and, 3) developing a Northeast regional corps of service providers better skilled at assessing stakeholders’ needs and using that information to develop programs. The project built on previous collaborative efforts to support beginning farmers and provided a fresh assessment of beginning farmer needs and greater attention to specific needs in different locales.

To these ends, we conducted a survey and four fishbowl style focus groups to obtain both quantitative and qualitative data about the needs of beginning farmers. In each focus group, a group of farmers (aspiring, beginning and established) discussed the kinds of services they have found helpful while a group of agricultural service providers participated as observers/listeners. The focus groups were facilitated, and discussion focused on areas in which education and technical assistance can affect farm establishment success.

Interest in the focus groups and participation exceeded our expectations. A total of 50 farmers and 52 agricultural service providers participated. Participating farmers represented a range of enterprises in terms of the crops and livestock they produce; the size of the operation; and their tenure, skills, and experience. We included individuals who represented each stage of the beginning farmer experience – from aspiring farmers through start-up to established farmers, up to about 12 years in business – to reflect a variety of perspectives on characteristics of services that contribute to beginning farmer success. Farmer participants were diverse in terms of gender (more or less evenly split between men and women), age (early 20s to mid 50s), and agricultural background (people from non-farming backgrounds who have chosen farming as a career, “jr gens,” and career changers).

Participating service providers represented a broad range of agencies and organizations that offer programs relevant to beginning farmers. These included: Extension (11 people); USDA-NRCS, FSA, and Rural Development (11 people); representatives of state government (7 people); representatives of land trusts (2 people); a variety of nonprofit business development and farmer organizations (14 individuals); educators and college professors (5 people); and consultants to foundations and private funders (5 people). Among service provider participants, 32 were women and 20 were men.

We asked our farmer participants to focus on what has been effective – and to imagine new programs, services and approaches that could be successful. Discussion explored ways programs could increase impact with beginning farmers–by changing the outreach approaches, times and locations of programming, content changes, and coordination and collaboration with other service providers. The model encouraged partnerships and collaborative development of new ideas both among service providers and between service providers and farmers. Twenty-four service providers collaborated with 27 farmers to develop, implement, and evaluate13 mini-grant projects that reached 584 farmers from eight Northeast states.

Milestones

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

Publications

Milestone 1

Proposal Milestone: Using data collected in pilot focus groups conducted in 2007, the project advisory group develops the framework and questions for the focus groups and a web-based survey.

Accomplishment: In the fall of 2008, the project advisory group developed the framework and questions for the focus groups. At that time the project team decided to conduct the survey after the focus groups were completed so that the survey could be used to confirm information gleaned from the focus groups.

Milestone 2:

Proposal milestone: 60 farmers and 80 service providers respond to outreach conducted the web-based survey and focus groups.

Accomplishment: 60 farmers and 60 service providers (approximately) respond to outreach conducted regarding the focus groups.

Milestone 3:

Proposal Milestone: 32 farmers participate as educators in four fishbowl style, facilitated focus groups with 40 service providers participating as observers/learners.

Accomplishment: 50 farmers participated as educators and 52 service providers participated as learners in four fishbowl style, facilitated focus groups. During the focus group, notes were taken on flip charts and the session was either recorded or detailed notes were taken (or both). Within two weeks of the focus group, service providers participated in follow-up conference calls to share reflections of their experience and discuss options for addressing beginning farmer needs. Notes and transcripts from each of the focus groups, lists of attendees and notes from the follow-up conference calls were made available to all participants to use in developing mini-grant proposals. All these materials are available at http://www.uvm.edu/wagn/fobf. As we reported last year, participation by out-of-state service providers was less than we had originally anticipated.

Milestone 4:

Proposal Milestone: 150 farmers and 60 service providers participate in a web-based survey. Project team members summarize and analyze data from the focus groups and share recommendations with all project participants.

Accomplishment: The survey was conducted in the spring of 2011. 440 people from 9 Northeast states responded. Of total respondents, 381 were farmers and 48 were agricultural service providers. Overall, results from the survey confirmed the findings of the focus groups.

Milestone 5:

Proposal Milestone: Teams of project participants develop projects to adapt service delivery to beginning farmers. The project team funds 10 projects, six within Vermont and four in other Northeast Region states.

Accomplishments: Thirteen $1000 mini-grants were awarded. Project coordinators were from 2 states and involved farmers and service providers in eight Northeast states.

Milestone 6:

Proposal Milestone: Eight of the mini-grant teams successfully complete their project and report on results, which focus on impact on beginning farmers.

Accomplishments: All 13 mini grant projects completed their plans of work and all reported positive impacts on farmers and/or agricultural professionals who work with beginning farmers.

These projects reported conducting beginning farmer education, technical assistance or stakeholder assessments with 584 individuals, and positive impacts with 210 beginning farmers or agricultural service providers who work with beginning farmers. Print and web-based resources that were produced by these mini-grant projects were accessed by a total of 1899 people during the project period, and continue to be available via the Internet.

Performance Target Outcomes

Performance target outcome for service providers narrative:

Outcomes

Overview

As evidenced by the content of the mini-grant proposals, the focus group process helped service providers identify ways they could modify service delivery or implement new programs or services that would respond to specific stakeholder needs and priorities documented by the focus groups. The mini-grant approach also successfully encouraged collaboration and partnerships. Twenty-four service providers collaborated with 27 farmers to develop, implement and evaluation 13 mini grant projects that reached over 575 Northeast farmers during the project period. Additionally, the mini-grant projects developed print and electronic resources and tools that continue to be available to farmers and agricultural service providers, and have been accessed by an estimated 1899 people. Follow-up evaluation surveys of participants in these initiatives show that 210 gained new knowledge or skills related to land access, production, marketing and/or business management that contributed do a change or improvement in their farm operation.

The information and knowledge gained through the focus groups and survey has informed and helped several subsequent projects that have successfully attracted over $1 million in competitive grant funding.

The information contributed directly to the design and approach of the University of Vermont Extension New Farmer Project (launched in 2009 through an internal competitive grant process) and the Vermont New Farmer Network project funded in 2011 by the USDA Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program.

Survey and focus group findings clearly indicated a need in Vermont for a more coordinated approach to service delivery that helps beginning farmers access the right service at the right stage of farm and business development. At all focus groups, participants linked success as a beginning farmer to their ability to access education and support in multiple arenas, ranging from business planning and management to land access, legal and regulatory issues, production and marketing. However, many complained that because service delivery is split among so many agencies and organizations, it can be time consuming and frustrating to navigate the labyrinth of programs. “A centralized point of access to what’s out there . . . [That] would be really useful,” one participant suggested, “because it’s sort of scattered everywhere…Trying to track down all those folks and find out what they’re doing—it’s an alphabet soup. You don’t even know whose door to knock on and which phone to call.”

The UVM Extension’s New Farmer Project developed a web-based central access point to organizations, services, and educational opportunities for Vermont’s farm entrepreneurs (http://www.uvm.edu/newfarmer). The site serves as a “virtual toolshed” that beginning and aspiring farmers can use to build their information base, knowledge and skills to succeed. It connects users with an array of online and on-the-ground resources, from fact sheets and guidebooks to courses, workshops and webinars all geared to assist in farm development. Since the website’s launch in early 2010, it has had more than 5,000 visits from 1938 visitors, with Google Analytics data showing that many visitors return frequently to the portal. Of the total visitors, 173 have signed up for more regular communication and or specific assistance/support. Approximately 45 percent were start-ups (1-3 years in business, 30% are explorers and aspiring farmers and 21% are re-strategizers and establishing farmers (4-7 & 8-10 years in business). Additionally, about 30 agricultural service providers from around the nation have subscribed to project newsletters and bulletins.

Information gained through this project also informed the collaborative approach the member organizations of the Vermont New Farmer Network are pursuing through a 2011 USDA Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP) grant. The network is currently piloting an integrated, holistic coaching, education, and technical assistance approach that meets the individualized needs of new farmers while maximizing the efficiency of service providers. A goal is to balance centralized coordination between and across member organizations with the need for flexibility at the local and organizational level.

Finally, knowledge and experience service providers obtained via their mini-grants has provided a foundation for several larger initiatives. The Cheshire County (NH) Conservation District used information it gained through its mini grant as a foundation for a successful SARE grant to support labor and workforce needs for beginning farmers. The Land Access Database (LAD) mini-grant project provided knowledge and experience that enabled the project coordinator to serve as an advisor to a group of 25 New England-based service providers making up the four task forces of the USDA BFRDP-funded “Land Access Project” coordinated by Land for Good. That project developed a similar linking and listing service to be launched in June 2012. NOFA-VT has shared the knowledge it gained through its apprentice linking mini grant with other NOFA chapters.

“The $1,000 mini-grant award enabled NOFA-VT take steps for improvement of our website and on-line matching service,” said NOFA Technical Assistance Coordinator Lynda Prim. “These improvements have led to NOFA-VT serving as a model for other NOFA’s who are in the development stage of creating their own apprentice on-line matching services. With the improved functionality of our apprentice on-line matching service we were able to take a lead in supporting other Northeast NOFA’s by being able to provide an example of a complete and supportive formal apprenticeship program that matches prospective farmers with established farmers including: programs that provide apprentice social-networking opportunities, learning tools to support apprentices and host farm mentors, increased understanding of the legal requirements of host farm apprenticing, mentor workshops on effective on-farm education, and advanced apprentice education.”

Highlights of impacts of the mini-grants are discussed below by topic area.

Labor and Workforce Issues

Labor and Workforce issues emerged as important issues at several of the focus groups. Two mini-grants addressed these issues. Farmers at the focus groups identified access points for information exchange, quality labor, and educational and membership opportunities as one way that service providers could help support beginning farmer success. NOFA-VT used mini-grant funds to pilot a new clearing house website to link apprentices and willing workers at multiple levels of the beginning farmer scale, with more established and experienced farmers including other beginning farmers needing help on their farms. In the first season of operation, 34 farm operators and 144 apprentices used the web-based linking service. In response to a follow-up evaluation survey sent to this population, 14 farm operators and 13 apprentices responded. Of those, 9 farmers and 9 apprentices indicated that the website helped them identify a good fit. All the apprentices and all but one farmer said that they would use the site again.

Among the ways farmers said that the apprentices contributed to the farm operation included: “being responsible or valuable labor, having an enthusiasm or curiosity about farming, having an interested in continuing education and researching topics or writing articles for their farm newsletter, and insightful, enjoyable companionship as well as being an inspiration.”

Apprentices and farm workers said the positions gave them greater knowledge, exposure to various methods and ways of thinking, and that they learned new details every day. One apprentice said, “I learned more about working on a small-scale organic farm than I could have ever gotten out of a book or workshop, and forged real relationships with the farmers, their friends, and other interns. Even if I don’t become a farmer, I know more about what farms need and how to connect them to the public consumers because I spent so long working hand-in-hand with both.”

Stakeholder Assessments

Two organizations used mini-grant funds to conduct additional stakeholder needs assessments to learn more about beginning farmers needs in specific locales or to address specific issues. The Hannah Grimes Center and Cheshire County NH Conservation Districts used mini-grant funds to conduct stakeholder assessments using methology similar to that employed in focus groups. Both organizations used the focus group information to adapt their programming and to inform other agricultural service providers in their region.

“Participating in the Focusing on Beginning Farmers project laid a critical foundation of knowledge that the Hannah Grimes Center and Monadnock Region service providers continue to build upon. We were able to assess where farmers in our region were struggling and where they were finding assistance. From this project, we went on to create the Farm Business brochure – highlighting the organizations that provide direct support to farm businesses. We continue to publish our Farm Focus e-newsletter that goes out to 300 contacts, focusing on some of the needs identified at the Farm Focus Groups. . . . We continue to work on developing effective programs for farmers that fit into their busy schedule. We partnered with the Cheshire County Conservation District & UNH Cooperative Extension to develop a series of five workshops on season extension and energy efficiency, that also covers the financing and feasibility of new farm projects.”

Production Knowledge and Skills

In southern Vermont, farmer participants identified the need for specific, individual, on-farm technical assistance, in particular, service that would help them manage costs, increase productivity and improve resource conservation. In response, two mini-grants provided free soil sampling/interpretation services to 20 beginning farmers. The goal was to increase farmers’ understanding of the soil characteristics on their farms, and appropriate management practices and amendments to build fertility and minimize nutrient run-off. Of the 21 farmers who participated, 10 reported making changes in nutrient management on their farms. Changes included: purchasing different amendments, changing application rates, changing application times, implementing a multi-year soil-building plan, using soil testing on a more routine basis.

Participating in the project “has affected our choice of soil amendments,” wrote one participant. Said another: “Until the soil testing, I was unaware as to how much phosphorous was in one of our vegetable beds due to the fact that we took over another farmer’s work.” Another farmer remarked, “Without the testing, we may have added more manure in the spring, adding to nutrient run-off.”

Access to Markets and Marketing Skills

In the Rutland area focus group, participating farmers identified the need to increase access to markets and marketing approaches as an arena where support from service providers could significantly enhance beginning farmer success. Farmers expressed an interest in learning about innovative collaborative efforts underway elsewhere in Vermont that are showing promise in effectively and efficiently marketing products. There was interest in food hubs, multi-farm CSAs, co-marketing, co-branding, and other emerging efforts to build profitable direct and wholesale markets for growing businesses. Two mini-grants addressed this topic by offering a series of workshops whereby Rutland area beginning farmers could learn from farmers and nonprofits in Chittenden County who have developed some of these marketing options. As a result, 15 farmers participated in the creation of a Rutland Growers Collaborative, exploring market approaches such as a multi-farm CSA and collaborative marketing to restaurants.

Beginning farmers at three of the four focus group sites indicated an interest in technical assistance delivered in electronic or online formats, particularly due to the difficulty in balancing an off-farm job with in-person workshops or farming events. The Raw Milk Webinar Series mini-grant worked to help beginning farmers who are not currently served by bulk dairy resources to learn about raw milk handling best practices. The project developed and posted on the web materials that address the legalities of selling raw milk in Vermont, including proper sanitation procedures, liability reduction check lists and management of high somatic cell counts for milk-producing. The project also conducted two webinars on raw milk, explaining Vermont regulations regarding sales and sanitation and cleaning procedures for dairy equipment and proper milk cooling to minimize bacteria growth. Both webinars were made available for later download at the UVM Extension Beginning Farmer Project website. Handout materials were also posted on the site. Outreach about these new materials was conducted with 1100 people via the Vermont Pasture mailing list; 297 unique visitors accessed the raw milk handling and marketing information on the web; 33 people participated in the webinars; and farmers who responded to follow-up surveys from the webinars indicated that they are using information they in their farmer operation.

Land Access

Access to viable, productive and affordable land, particularly in reasonable proximity to direct markets, was cited at all four focus groups and in the survey as a formidable challenge that has been difficult to overcome for beginning farmers at all stages of development. Three mini-grants addressed this topic.

1. Land Access Database
Beginning farmers at several of the focus groups expressed a desire for a more an efficient way to find out about land access opportunities, as well as to gain greater understanding of alternative land tenure arrangements. A project-supported mini grant created a searchable database of farmland opportunities available to new farmers in Vermont, known as the Land Access Database, or LAD. Housed at the UVM Extension New Farmer Website (http://www.uvm.edu/newfarmer/?Page=vermont-lad/index.html&SM=vermont-lad/sub-menu.html) alongside educational materials and links regarding land tenure arrangements, the LAD connects land seekers with opportunities as well as information about securing affordable farmland.

As of February 28, 2012, 42 farm seekers had completed the LAD Farm Seeker Form, which enables farm seekers to efficiently communicate their needs to service providers and connect with more people and support services outside of the LAD. At any given time, the LAD currently has about 30 farming/land opportunities listed. Google Analytics tracking of visits to the site indicates that the LAD had 763 unique visitors in its first full year of operation, with nearly two thirds of those people visiting the site multiple times. A survey of first-time users of the LAD found that 100 percent of respondents said that the LAD enabled them to discover potential opportunities that they had not known about prior to visiting the LAD.

The LAD has improved efficiency from for the Vermont Farmland Access Network, a collaborative effort of five nonprofit organizations that assist with land access and tenure issues. Additionally, the experience gained via LAD mini-grant has directly informed and helped shape a similar, Northeast regional linking and listing service being developed as part of USDA BFRDP funded “Land Access Project,” coordinated by Land for Good.

2. Vermont Farm Assessment Checklist
Another challenge focus group participants identified is evaluating various parcels, particularly for rental opportunities for start-up operations. A second mini-grant created the “Checklist for Rental Land Seekers,” which is available for download at http://www.uvm.edu/newfarmer/?Page=land/checklist.html&SM=land/sub-menu.html. The checklist is a tool to help aspiring and beginning farmers evaluate prospective farm properties for lease, although beginning farmers have also found it helpful in evaluating properties that are for sale. Over 100 paper copies have been distributed to farmers, and it has been downloaded at approximately 130 times from the website.

Feedback from farmers and service providers indicates that the checklist is a helpful tool. “Service providers report overwhelmingly positive responses to the Checklist from clients,” the mini-grant coordinator reported. “One mentioned that a client had not thought about cell phone coverage at the property and who should pay for site improvements until reviewing the Checklist. Another said he will continue to use the Checklist as a planning tool for future land acquisition with clients.”

Farmers report that the checklist has helped them identify strengths and challenges with particular parcels, including things like discussing irrigation systems, who should pay for different site improvements, potential traffic issues, and other weaknesses in an existing lease, with landowners. “There were things that we wouldn’t have thought of including that we asked about and added to our agreement,” said one farmer. Another noted, “We didn’t think to ask about water access and water payment and it helped us write our lease.” A third wrote, “Now we’re on a property we assessed using the checklist and everything is going really well!”

3. Getting Started: Acquiring Land to Farm
This mini-grant project provided acquisition preparedness education technical, primarily to aspiring and start-up farmers in MA, NH, and NY. Post-workshop evaluations showed that it improved understanding of land acquisition options among 76 people and increased awareness of resources in the region that can help farm seekers prepare for acquisition.

Survey Results

Our follow-up confirming survey received nearly three times as many responses as we had anticipated, allowing for statistical analysis of the data, which was not originally planned in the proposal.

Preliminary analysis of the data generally confirms the findings of the focus groups. In total, 440 people responded to the survey. Of the total, 382 were farmers. Nine Northeast states were represented in the responses. Access to capital, land and market outlets were consistently the most relevant challenges to respondents. On-farm workshops and one-on-one technical assistance consistently rated highest in terms of farmer preferences for obtaining education and technical assistance, but a significant group of respondents indicated that they use websites, webinars, and other online sources of information as well.

In terms of specific service provision, 80% of respondents said that consolidation of online resources would be useful to them; 73% said collaborative marketing opportunities would be useful; 62% said education and technical assistance related to land access would be useful; 83% said mentoring from a more experienced farmer would be useful; 71%said access to processing facilities would be useful; and 76% said on-farm technical assistance would be useful.

On average, respondents said that they spent about 50 hours obtaining education and training in the last 12 months, and 80 percent of respondents indicated that they anticipated allocating at least that much time in the next 12 months. On average, in the last 12 months, respondents went to 4.68 workshops, attended 2.06 webinars, and received technical assistance (via phone, email and in person) 4.88 times.

A detailed analysis of the survey will be appended to this report later in 2012.

Additional Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:
Milestone 1

Proposal Milestone: Using data collected in pilot focus groups conducted in 2007, the project advisory group develops the framework and questions for the focus groups and a web-based survey.

Accomplishment: In the fall of 2008, the project advisory group developed the framework and questions for the focus groups. At that time the project team decided to conduct the survey after the focus groups were completed so that the survey could be used to confirm information gleaned from the focus groups.

Milestone 2:

Proposal milestone: 60 farmers and 80 service providers respond to outreach conducted the web-based survey and focus groups.

Accomplishment: 60 farmers and 60 service providers (approximately) respond to outreach conducted regarding the focus groups.

Milestone 3:

Proposal Milestone: 32 farmers participate as educators in four fishbowl style, facilitated focus groups with 40 service providers participating as observers/learners.

Accomplishment: 50 farmers participated as educators and 52 service providers participated as learners in four fishbowl style, facilitated focus groups. During the focus group, notes were taken on flip charts and the session was either recorded or detailed notes were taken (or both). Within two weeks of the focus group, service providers participated in follow-up conference calls to share reflections of their experience and discuss options for addressing beginning farmer needs. Notes and transcripts from each of the focus groups, lists of attendees and notes from the follow-up conference calls were made available to all participants to use in developing mini-grant proposals. All these materials are available at http://www.uvm.edu/wagn/fobf. As we reported last year, participation by out-of-state service providers was less than we had originally anticipated.

Milestone 4:

Proposal Milestone: 150 farmers and 60 service providers participate in a web-based survey. Project team members summarize and analyze data from the focus groups and share recommendations with all project participants.

Accomplishment: The survey was conducted in the spring of 2011. 440 people from 9 Northeast states responded. Of total respondents, 381 were farmers and 48 were agricultural service providers. Overall, results from the survey confirmed the findings of the focus groups.

Milestone 5:

Proposal Milestone: Teams of project participants develop projects to adapt service delivery to beginning farmers. The project team funds 10 projects, six within Vermont and four in other Northeast Region states.

Accomplishments: Thirteen $1000 mini-grants were awarded. Project coordinators were from 2 states and involved farmers and service providers in eight Northeast states.

Milestone 6:

Proposal Milestone: Eight of the mini-grant teams successfully complete their project and report on results, which focus on impact on beginning farmers.

Accomplishments: All 13 mini grant projects completed their plans of work and all reported positive impacts on farmers and/or agricultural professionals who work with beginning farmers.

These projects reported conducting beginning farmer education, technical assistance or stakeholder assessments with 584 individuals, and positive impacts with 210 beginning farmers or agricultural service providers who work with beginning farmers. Print and web-based resources that were produced by these mini-grant projects were accessed by a total of 1899 people during the project period, and continue to be available via the Internet.

Assessment of Project Approach and Areas of Further Study:

Future Recommendations

We found that the mini-grant process was an effective way to both provide incentives to service providers to try something different, and to monitor impact and change. We believe the approach could be easily incorporated into other professional development projects. The size of the grant should relate to the scope of work to be done, and it might make sense to offer a slightly larger grant amount, depending on the objectives of the 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.