Final report for ENE17-148
The Whole Farm Planning in the Northeast Program was a 3 year program (2017-2020) for Agriculture Service Providers attended by 25 participants from 8 Northeast States (New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Vermont, New Hampshire, West Virginia and Maine). The program taught Whole Farm Planning (WFP) using Holistic Management practices providing participants with a systems approach to teach WFP to farmers they work with. The program’s education was driven by a solid understanding of the complex relationships between economic, environmental and social factors.The program had a profound effect on its participants, both professionally and personally. The program also had a measurable effect on the farmer clients that the ag service providers service.
Whole Farm Planning is a risk management strategy that gives farmers tools to manage profitable and ecologically sound businesses. From 2005 – 2012 Northeast SARE funded 25 Agricultural Service Providers in similar training, however fewer than seven are still employed and assist farmers. A new demand was identified by agricultural service providers to build skills in WFP and risk management decision making.
The Whole Farm Planning in the Northeast program included a combination of existing curriculum and pedagogy created by Holistic Management International and the Center for Agricultural Development & Entrepreneurship. Additional tools and approaches developed by instructors were used to train participants.
As part of the program, participants were required to work with 5 farms one-on-one or form learning communities with groups of farmers and teach what they learned as a way to more fully integrate the training.
Participants learned WFP strategies including (a) goal setting and strategic decision making; (b) farm design and land planning; (c) financial planning, enterprise selection, and strategic farm investment; (d) marketing and business planning, (e) effective leadership and labor management, (f) the four ecosystem processes and monitoring.
The program consisted of three 2.5-day in-person sessions in upstate Hamilton, NY, and two 4-week on-line courses. In-person sessions included content knowledge and effective instruction techniques. The sessions were interactive and resulted in increased knowledge, tool development and enhanced teaching skills. Online sessions were self-paced, addressing time constraints ag educators face, and had assignments and activities to reinforce the learning. Feedback and evaluations were used throughout the program to structure and improve the learning and program. The program had 4 mentors who held support calls on-on-one or with their mentee group. There were monthly support calls with the project leader to keep participants supported through sharing best practices and challenges. Each participant worked with farms to apply the knowledge and skills they learned in the sessions.
Nineteen participants completed all aspects of the program. Through a thoughtfully guided interview by their program mentor, seventeen of these participants responded to questions about their gained knowledge and skills from the program, learned topics they focused on in their work with farmers, materials/tools they created to assist in their work with farmers based on their wfp learning, recommendations to other ag service providers, and what wfp means to them.
Overall, participants reached the following numbers of farmers over the 3-year period:
- One-on-one visits: 621
- Workshop/conference attendees: 1,583
- Number of farmer-to-farmer learning communities formed: 7
In addition to the impacts this program had on the farmers who the Ag service provider participants were working with, perhaps the best indicator of the success of the program has been the impact it has had on participants’ personal lives, many of whom are farmers.
Ashley Pierce of Cornell Cooperative Extension of Albany NY says, “The training has really helped in my personal life with my farm. The improved planning helped me to streamline what I do, improve my grazing, and I made the decision to add a poultry enterprise. I had done poultry in the past which had been a bit unsuccessful financially. This time the planning helped me make it a more productive and worthwhile enterprise.”
25 agricultural service providers will be trained in Whole Farm Planning. They will complete Whole Farm Plans with 125 farmers who manage over 4,000 acres. The goal is to increase farm environmental health, economic viability, and the quality of life of the farmers and those with whom they work.
Whole Farm Planning is a risk management strategy that gives farmers tools to manage profitable and ecologically sound businesses. From 2005 – 2012 Northeast SARE funded 25 Agricultural Service Providers in similar training, however fewer than seven are still employed and assist farmers. A new demand was identified by agricultural service providers to build skills in whole farm planning and risk management decision making.
Our program includes a combination of existing curriculum and pedagogy created by Holistic Management International and the Center for Agricultural Development & Entrepreneurship. Additional tools and approaches developed by instructors will be used to train participants.
This three-year program will train 25 participants throughout the Northeast SARE region to use a systems approach to teach whole farm planning to farmers they work with, driven by a solid understanding of the complex relationships between economic, environmental and social factors. Participants will work with five farmers each to develop whole farm plans enabling them to establish and maintain sustainable farm enterprises and management practices.
Participants will learn: (a) whole farm planning strategies including goal setting and strategic decision making; (b) farm design and land planning; (c) financial planning, enterprise selection, and strategic farm investment; (d) marketing and business planning, (e) effective leadership and labor management. These topic areas were derived from an on-line needs assessment survey completed by 79 agricultural professionals. In addition, the survey also directed the educational approaches desired.
The program consists of three 2.5-day residential sessions augmented with two 4-week on-line courses. Residential sessions include content knowledge and effective instruction techniques. The sessions will be interactive, involve farmers, and result in increased knowledge, tool development and enhanced teaching skills. Online sessions will be self-paced, addressing time constraints agricultural educators face, and have assignments and activities to reinforce the learning. Feedback and evaluations will be used throughout the program to structure the learning.
The overall training will use pre-session assignments, decision cases, on-farm activities, a learning community of farmers, and program mentoring. Each participant will work with five farms to apply the knowledge and skills they learn in the residential and on-line sessions.
The 79 Agricultural Service Providers who participated in an on-line survey before the project to assess needs will be provided information and applications by email to announce this project. Also, we will send all Northeast SARE State Coordinators our information to pass along to their colleagues. As a non-profit ourselves, we have relationships with agricultural non-profits across the northeast. Holistic Management International will also use their contacts to provide email addresses as well.
As the Milestones identified, our project will utilize a combination of three 2.5- day in-person workshops, two 4-week on-line courses, participant pre-session preparation, assignments & plan development, farmer engagement, monthly support video-conferences & co-learning opportunity, and written training materials.
Forty-one participants identified this combination as their preferred learning approach in the needs assessment surveys that were completed. Sixty-seven (86%) of the survey respondents said they would commit to working with 5 farms over the 3-year project period.
Our educational approach begins by bringing together participants in the first residency session to form a community, get informed about the projects expectations and resources, and build skills through interactive educational sessions in whole farm planning including goal setting, and strategic decision making. The combination of annual in-person residencies, on-line courses, participant assignments, farmer engagement and monthly phone conferences provides effective, diverse learning methods that are practical given participants’ time constraints.
In Holistic Management International’s Western SARE Grant, they trained 40 agricultural service providers using on-line educational methods. They found low attrition rates and high satisfaction. (Attachment: 2016 WSARE Final Report.doc). We intend more economical on-line courses using similar distance learning methods. Key Individual Phil Metzger was a lead instructor in the Western SARE project.
Whole Farm Planning, Goal Setting and Strategic Decision Making
- Identifying farm assets and key decision makers
- Creating a whole farm goal for effective decision-making
- Using key testing principles for making sustainable decisions
Farm Design and Land Planning
- Mapping future infrastructure development
- Defining key natural resource, production and social issues
- Holistic and permaculture design principles
- Financing your land plan
- Preparing maps and overlays
Financial Planning, Enterprise Selection, and Budgeting
- Developing effective financial monitoring system
- Identifying profit needs for the farm
- Developing farm investment strategies to increase profitability
- Determining best enterprise(s) for a profitable operation
- Cash flow budgets
- Strategies to meet financial challenges
Business and Marketing planning
- Selecting market channels
- Conducting market research for a marketing plan
- Assessing consumer trends, target markets, and potential competition
- Assessing the value or uniqueness of your product or service
- Writing a business plan
Leadership and Labor Management
- Time management
- Effective communication
- Legal considerations
- Getting the most out of your labor force
- Recruiting and labor retention
- Effective performance management techniques
Service providers received support from the Project Leader, Project Assistant, and Instructors. The monthly video conferences were a primary vehicle to support participants as they learn and work with farmers. Additionally, the annual surveys collected data on needs and methods to offer support. Participants received an educational information binder, which was augmented during the project.
1. 150 agricultural service providers receive an invitation for enrollment in whole farm planning training.
With our networks from program director Sarah Williford, having coordinated programs for beginning farmers with Holistic Management International (HMI) for 9 years, and the help of HMI’s contact list, our original 79 TSPs who answered our survey, individual technical service providers’ (TSP), and our networks throughout the Northeast, we promoted the Whole Farm Planning in the Northeast program to 60+ organizations. Approximately 20 of these organizations have had a TSP staff member with previous interest in Whole Farm Planning. We researched and reached out to various organizations between Maine and Delaware who’s TSPs might have interest in this program and contacted them via phone and email.
2. 50 agricultural service providers complete the application for enrollment.
Our application was sent out along side our promotion/ description of the program.
The application asked for:
- Basic information- Name, Organization (Extension Agency, National Resource Conservation Service, Not-For-Profit, Farmer/Educator, Other), Address, & Contact Information
- A 500 word description of why you want to participate in this program.
3. 25 accepted agricultural service providers receive a packet of educational materials on whole farm planning.
The acceptance process to the program took into account, using a created matrix, this criteria:
- location of person
- area of expertise/focus as an technical ag service provider (TSP)
- kind of organization you work with
- number of years as a TSP
- previous experience with whole farm planning and holistic management
- whether you are farming or have farmed
Our aim was for diversity in all of the matrix areas.
Other contributing factors to acceptance of applicants were their general enthusiasm for learning. How they believed this program could and how they wanted it to benefit their work and their clients (farmers) lives. If they had support from their organization and/or personal relationships to make the commitment to this program.
We had people from 10 Northeast states applied: ME, NH, VT, NY, CT, MA, PA, MD, WV, & RI. We accepted participants from each of these states except for the two applications from RI (a farming couple) mainly because it sounded like the time commitment would be challenging for them.
State participant count:
4 PA, 9 NY, 3 ME, 4 VT, 4 NH, 2 MA, 1 WV, 1CT, 1 MD.
The organizations represented in our accepted applicants are: Farm Service Agency (FSA), Maine Farmland Trust-NFP, NFP-National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT), Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE), Western PA Conservancy, Annie’s Project with Cornell Cooperative Extension, NFP- Small & Beginner Farmers of New Hampshire, University of West Virginia Extension, University of New Hampshire Extension, Extension- University of Maine, Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont (NOFA-VT), National Resource Conservation Service (NRCS), Groundswell Center for Local Food and Farming, NFP- Farm Alliance of Baltimore, Cornell University, NFP- Vital Communities, Pennsylvania Conservation district, NFP-Maine Organic Farmers, Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture (CISA), Connecticut Edible Ecosystems, LLC – Consulting, & Walking Onion LLC.
We successfully were able to accept applicants with a diversity for all our matrix categories.
Here are the organizations represented for this program in their states in a table format:
|ME||Maine farmland trust NFP|
|NY||CCE Albany County|
|PA||western PA conservancy|
|NY||CCE Annie’s Project|
|NH||NFP- Small & Beginner Farmers of NH|
|ME||Extension- university of ME|
|NY||Groundswell Center for Local Food and Farming|
|MD||NFP- Farm Alliance of Baltimore|
|VT||NFP- Vital Communities|
|PA||PA Conservation district|
|ME||NFP-Maine Organic Farmers|
|CT||CT Edible Ecosystems, LLC – Consulting|
|VT||farmer/ educator, walking onion llc|
|PA||Penn State Extension|
4. 25 Participants attend the first 2.5-day residential session to build their skills in goal setting, strategic decision making, and effective education methods.
We had a great 2.5 day residency in upstate NY titled Whole Farm Planning, Goal Setting and Strategic Decision Making. Our participants, Ag Technical Service Providers (TSP’s), traveled from all over the northeast all the way from Maine and West Virginia and states in between. The two experienced and engaging instructors were Phil Metzger from Norwich, NY, Whole Farm Planning Consultant: formerly with Central NY RC&D and Certified Educator with Holistic Management International and Sarah Williford from Walton, NY, instructor, consultant and practitioner of holistic management. The instructors did a good job of using a mix of teaching/learning techniques, meaning a balance of large group, small group and individual work was included.
Agenda to the day can be found here: https://drive.google.com/open?id=15q8WdnN-7RSbzPHaH697TvV71poI-mVL
Objectives covered included:
- Identifying farm assets and key decision makers
- Creating a whole farm goal for effective decision-making
- Using key testing principles for making sustainable decisions
The key knowledge participants learned was:
- How to define resources they manage: ecologically, socially, and financially (a triple bottom line). And who is making decisions with them.
- How to put into practice planning for the future they desire considering the whole of their lives: whole life planning considerations being ecological, social, & financial.
- How to consider components toward whole life planning and how to aid their farmers in doing the same. Components include values, behaviors & systems, and future vision which creates what is called a whole farm goal or holistic goal. Personal practice of this is powerful and lends itself to having experience & stories that then are extremely beneficial in their teaching and aiding farmers.
- How to make decisions using a testing matrix. Test specific opportunities or problems towards their whole farm goal using a decision making matrix that uses the triple bottom line components.
- How to monitor these decisions and create monitoring criteria.
- What to do next to continue this practice and improve how they benefit farmers.
The decision making matrix described above can be found here: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1qj_DK9o-drFoHpVT5hZtpQ8OATFnlvLAz4raAq-2f7A/edit?usp=sharing
A major new skill/ability the participants left with was knowing to ask their farmers they are committed to for this program as well as farmers they work with day to day in their jobs what their values are, what they have & want, and what they are managing towards before offering expert advice.
The participants received a binder of educational materials on whole farm planning and were later mailed 2 text books: At Home with Holistic Management: Creating a life of Meaning by Ann Adams & Holistic Management Handbook by Jody Butterfield, Sam Bingham & Allan Savory. The 4 participants who couldn’t attend were mailed materials and caught up via 2 conference calls and an assigned mentor: Seth Wilner, a whole farm planning trainer at the University of New Hampshire Extension.
Class follow up: Sarah Williford set up a Whole Farm Planning Folder is set up for participants to access Reporting system and educational materials including worksheets and powerpoints. A facebook page is set up for communication among participants, instructors and mentors. We also use email to communicate.
Communications with CADE: Sarah set up a Google Drive folder in CADE’s google drive for CADE to access and use budget information and contacts of the participants for reimbursement of travel.
5. 25 Participants engage five farmers each to develop whole farm goals, and utilize strategic decision making, and report to the project team on their recruitment efforts.
January 26th 2018: 28 Participants engaged in our first monthly video conference for Q&A and support, we recorded the call for those who couldn’t make it and for review if people needed to listen to it again. One of the main questions that came up was if we could have a pre-made agreement for the farmers and the Ag service providers to commit to that would describe what to expect from one another. We have since created this. The Ag Service Providers all seem very motivated and have at least 3 farmers they are working with now and some have 6 farmers. Their written reports are due Feb. 10th 2018, and our next support call is Feb. 23rd, 2018.
By the end of the whole program in Oct. 2020, we interviewed all of the participants about effectiveness of the program and greatest benefits. Each of them was most greatly moved by creating whole farm goals with their farmers. Learning how to listen and observe for values. There is more about this in the summary of the program.
One quote from a participant says “I am able to connect more with farmers now than ever before because I used to only talk about technical issues without looking at the compound problem. It makes me more human and trustworthy when working with farmers. I never took values and goals into planning before because I had never been trained or taught how to. This course helped me to put it all together. Now farmers are telling other farmers to talk to me. I feel a deeper sense of connection to my farmers and they trust me. The implementation rate for conservation practices has gone way up.”
6. 25 Participants engage in monthly video conferences throughout the year for Q&A and support.
Our monthly video support calls began at 1 hour. We quickly lengthened it to 1.5 hrs. in order to give time to hear from each participant. Each person shares how it is going with their farmers and shares best practices and challenges. Sarah Williford offers support on the challenges people face. Example, in April 2018 after our Land Planning webinars, participants were struggling with how to move forward with a land plan during the farmers busiest time of year. Sarah recommended “connect with your farmers and just listen to what they have to say about their desires for their land and improved efficiencies and patterns for their business on their land. Take notes and come back to these notes after our winter financial planning session. Having documentation to show that you listened to the farmer’s desires and frustrations will help build trust with them. Then with the addition of financial planning component use the winter months to create a land plan with your farmers.”
Each call is recorded and uploaded to a google drive where participants who can’t make the call can watch and listen.
7. 25 Participants complete a 4-week on-line course that builds their skills in farm design & land planning.
Larry Dyer, an instructor of organic agriculture, four-season farming, hoop house (passive solar greenhouse) management, ecological pest management, whole farm planning, local community-based food systems, taught a great 6 hr course over the span of 4 weeks. He had informative and engaging power points and was very effective in his webinar teaching. Participants asked great questions and went away with information about holistic land planning and design and how to work with their farmers in doing a holistic land plan design.
This course provided key land planning principles and practices to help participants create a whole farm land plan and make land planning decisions effectively. This approach to land planning helped them explore key infrastructure/land improvement projects in the context of a whole farm goal. Participants developed management consideration lists, land plan options and explored tool options and the return of investment of the different land planning options.
Participants were lead through these steps in learning how to engage famers in a whole farm land plan:
- Map a future landscape as outlined through the whole farm goal
- Develop a worksheet for key natural resource, production, and social issues affecting the land planning
- Create multiple land plan options
- Prioritize infrastructure development to increase productivity and profit
- Integrate land plan and financial plan to the whole farm goal
- Explore options how to fund the land plan
Topics of the 4 week course to accomplish these steps included:
- Mapping a future landscape description
- Defining key natural resource, production and social issues
- Designing for resilience and flexibility
- Understanding how to increase creativity in the design process
- Ways to use your resource base effectively in the land planning process
- Holistic and permaculture design principles
- Strategizing land planning implementation
- Monitoring a land plan to overcome roadblocks and achieve the desired results
- How to finance your land plan
- Integrating a whole farm goal and land plan with other farm plans
- Preparing maps and overlays
One exercise was this:
Ideas to Integrate
Using your Land Management Considerations Worksheet and your map, explore additional ideas you could integrate into land planning by examining each of these design principles.
- Mimic healthy ecosystems.
- Keep soil covered. Reduce tillage.
- Build/maintain soil health (reduce imports).
- Design to maximize solar energy.
- Design for ease of management—especially for daily elements like water, livestock moves.
- Design for diversity of plant and animal species.
- Design for effective use of biological tools—i.e. grazing animals
- Design for all aspects of Holistic Goal (especially keeping in mind quality of life.
- Design for flexibility (increased rather than reduced possibilities.
- Design for the specific locality: climate, hydrology, geography, topography, soils, ecology, slope, aspect, etc.
- Design for whole ecosystem/farm rather than solely for specific crops
8. 25 Participants conduct planning sessions with their five farmers during Spring 2018 to develop a written land plan using the skills they recently gained.
During the April 2018 support call it became clear that most participants were seeing what busy lives their farmers had and that they were not in a planning space, they were in a doing space as the season began. Sarah Williford guided the participants to listen to their farmers needs on improved efficiencies for their farm. “Now is the time farmers notice the changes they need to improve their lives through land planning, but they are not stopping to write it down. You can do this for them. Through a brief call, email or follow them around while they work. Listen and take notes.” After the financial planning session, and with the notes the ag service providers have from listening to their farmers, they will be able to more effectively create a land plan, during the winter months when planning is appropriate.
Participants continued to work with farmers in creating a holistic land plan throughout the rest of the program. Some farmers needed to work on their financial plan before making decisions and moving forward with a land plan.
By the end of the program, our 17 graduates worked with their farmers on land plans, however only 7 of them listed land planning as one of the main topics that they worked on and completed with their farmers.
9. Participants complete an electronic survey assessing their needs and project status. Project Leader utilizes this information to provide necessary support.
Whole Farm Planning in the Northeast Evaluation Report executed by Ann Adams PhD, Executive Director of Holistic Management International.
Below are the Executive Summary, Key Outcomes, Program Strengths/Positive Outcomes, and Participant Suggested Program Improvements. Also some notes about additional quarterly reports required by participants.
HMI administered a first year program survey to the 27 participants of the Whole Farming Planning in the Northeast program in collaboration with CADE. Twenty-two respondents completed the survey for an 82% response rate. Eight states were represented in the survey responses which included: NY, PA, NH, VT, ME, MA, CT, and MD. Respondents worked for: NRCS (1), Extension (6), and NGOs (15).
Responses show that there was a very high shift in participant perception of their ability to help the producers they serve in implementing Whole Farm Planning. Whether they are helping with on-farm goal-setting or land planning (100%) or on-farming decision (95%), these participants have gained improved skills in helping facilitate the learning and implementation of these planning processes.
The participants have also spent considerable time engaging in these various planning processes with their own scenarios to further deepen their practice, knowledge increase, and ability to facilitate. Ninety percent had completed a whole farm goal and have also experienced improved decision-making on their farms and within their agricultural educator professional activities.
Ninety-five percent of participants also felt that they had forged relationships through this program that has positively impacted them as an agricultural professional.
The evaluation tools we developed were from previous tools we had created from our other programs as well as getting feedback from the Program Director, Sarah Williford, and mentors in the program.
While there are improvements that could be made to the program, overall satisfaction and increased knowledge, behavior changes, and tangible outcomes for participants were very high as noted both in response to yes/no questions and comments given.
Percentage of Respondents
As a result of this program, do you think you have improved your ability to help a producer develop a whole farm/ranch goal (holistic goal)?
As a result of this program, do you think you have improved your ability to help a producer develop a land plan?
As a result of this program are you better able to serve the producers you work with?
As a result of this program, do you think you have improved your ability to help a producer test on-farm/ranch decisions?
As a result of this training have you forged any relationships that have positively impacted you or your farm/ranch or job as an agricultural professional?
Have you completed, partially completed, or modified a whole farm/ranch goal?
Have you experienced improved decision-making?
Have you practiced testing on-farm/ranch decisions with the Holistic Decision Testing Questions?
Have you completed, partially completed, or modified a land plan as a result of this program?
Have you experienced better ability to determine resources available to you?
Have you been able to provide producers with improved ability to prioritize land planning investments?
Have you been able to provide producers with improved ability to incorporate social, environmental, and financial considerations in the plan?
As a result of this program have you increased your network of professionals assisting producers in sustainable agriculture?
Have you experienced clearer sense of what your farm/ranch is managing towards?
Have you experienced more efficient use of resources?
Have you been able to provide producers with improved communication and agreement among decision makers in developing the land plan?
Program Strengths/Positive Outcomes
Participants found the format of the program to be well developed overall. They particularly were appreciative of the mentor component which allowed them to get support from seasoned agricultural professionals with a depth of knowledge and experience with Whole Farm Planning, but also to have small group learning opportunities with their peers within the mentor facilitation. They felt they gained a lot from the peer to peer learning from their colleagues and from their mentors. Having the full depth of Whole Farm Planning (all aspects of the farm explored) was also a critical piece in these conversations. These conversations have broadened participants’ understanding of farming issues at a variety of scales and to explore and understand new farming practices.
Participants also felt like they had been given a facilitation tool that helped them connect and communicate more effectively with producers and understand the values behind their decisions to better support them effective decision-making.
Participant Suggested Program Improvements
Participants definitely preferred site-based learning to online, although there was a variety of feedback on how to best structure that site-based learning, the desire for more in-person time was requested. While the mentoring was helpful, some participants felt they needed even more tools on how to support farmers in a facilitative role without doing all their work. More facilitation tools and planning example templates to have farmers completed was requested. Participants also suggested more structured on the large group calls that happen between sessions to provide more focus on skill-building and tool/resource sharing.
Participants did struggle with not having the whole curriculum up front as they began working with their producers because the nature of Whole Farm Planning is the interconnection of all farm plans. If participants only had learned one module they would then have to tell their producer that they could help them in time with another module after they learned it. Likewise, if they had just learned a module and were not fully confident in their ability to implement the process, it was difficult to help a producer through that process. While some participants wanted the whole curriculum up front this was not something others wanted. Having the mentor groups to help people through their challenges helped, but was still uncomfortable for some participants. In particular, some participants wanted the financial planning module up front because this planning process is of such interest to many farmers. There was some suggestion of additional resources for participants who want to learn some of the modules in advance so they can integrate these processes more quickly. Having the modules more tightly spaced up front was a suggestion offered.
Note: Since the report feedback we have
- supplied participants with the whole curriculum in paper/binder form and electronic form.
- provided additional worksheets that are to use as facilitation tools/guidelines.
- provided additional worksheets & templates for TSP to use when working with farmers.
- surveyed participants on desired focuses for the Support Calls to help with skill-building and tool/resource sharing.
- Encouraged participants to create new tools, worksheets and power point presentations that incorporate what they have learned with what they already use and know works when they work with farmers. Participants have been doing this. More info about this in the Summary and Outcomes of the program.
TSP’s also submit quarterly reports to Sarah Williford and their assigned mentor. We respond to these reports and work with the TSP’s and support them as needed through emails, phone calls, and in person meetings.
The questions we ask on these reports are:
Name of Participant
Name of Farm/Farmers
Report for Month/Year
- What questions did your farmer have for you? What challenges are they having?
- How did you use your newly acquired knowledge and skills from your training to help this farmer?
- From your new whole farm planning knowledge, in your opinion what additional support might your farmer need?
- What are some objectives that your farmer has noted or that you have discerned? What whole farm planning knowledge and skills that you have attained will you use to assist them?
- What help do you need from the project leader, your mentor, or instructors? Do you have additional comments?
10. 25 Participants attend second 2.5-day residential session to build skills in financial planning, enterprise selection, and budgeting.
We had a reinvigorating Holistic Financial Planning course taught by Crystal Stewart, Cornell University Cooperative Extension, and Jean-Paul Courtens, Whole Farm Planning practitioner, Roxbury Farm. 21 students attended and 4 who were absent will be taking an online course to catch up. We covered a 9 step holistic financial planning process and focused on enterprise budgets after getting a good feel for what participants needed most guidance on in working with farmers on financial planning. We had 3 live case studies to work with that got the TSP participants to have a “with your farmer at the kitchen table” experience doing financial planning. Sarah Williford received great verbal reviews during and at the end of the course. Participants left re-energized and ready to work with their farmers. The financial planning really brought all we’ve been learning so far together.
Please find agenda here: https://drive.google.com/open?id=1bBz_oYJPHDdFezochMJhJ4JmM-thJbwM
And here is an image of the 9 steps for Holistic Financial Planning:
9 step financial planning process
11. 25 Participants conduct planning sessions with their five farmers during Winter 2018-2019 to develop a farm financial plan.
The participants continued working with their farmers on financial plans through to the end of the program. All of these topics intertwine with one another and financial information and goals help the farmers make more wholistic decisions for their farms:
- Whole farm Goal Setting
- Decision Making
- Financial Planning
- Land Planning
Progress depended on frequency of meetings TSP’s have with farmers as well as the farmer’s personal progress.
Participants submit quarterly a Record of Assistance to Farmers chart that highlights which steps are completed for each farm they are working with as well as their own practice in these areas. The Record consists of categories of the whole program’s topics and includes markers in the financial planning of:
Enterprise Analysis Budget
Weak Link Analysis
17 participants accomplished financial plans with at least 1 of their farmers. 20 participants use enterprise analysis, balance sheet and weak link analysis with their farmers and at least 6 TSP’s developed their own tools or worksheets that incorporate holistic financial planning into the financial tools and teachings they were using prior to this course.
Our 4 mentors worked more in depth with participants who were struggling or had interest in learning holistic financial planning in more depth. Some participants do financial planning as their job, while others were brand new at it. One mentor worked with their cohort in depth as a small group, while others worked one on on with participants. We even have one participant who will be presenting to the rest of us through and Oct. 2020 webinar her teaching the 9 steps of financial planning after doing an in depth one on one learning with her mentor. The best way to really learn is to teach!
One participant writes “This was the first time where I was working one on one with farmers and they were willing to share their financial information and goals. We haven’t in the past sat down and worked with farmers looking at the whole business. As I finish this course, this is the direction I want to go and I am getting support from Penn State to do that. Farm Management Educator. Currently, I am the only educator in Penn Extension who is trained in Holistic Management. Being a part of the program will help me raise more awareness about this process.”
12. 25 Participants participate in monthly video conferences throughout the year for Q&A and support.
In January 2019 Sarah Williford took a survey to get ideas of what may be most beneficial to use our support calls for in addition to what we have been doing. She suggested guest speakers: TSP’s with whole farm planning experience and farmers working with a participant willing to share an issue they face with the group and be a case study on the call. We have decided to do both of these.
In Feb. 2019 we had Elizabeth Marks, NRCS biologist and HMI certified educator as our TSP/whole farm planning guest speaker. She shared a Powerpoint of key factors that she focuses on during site visits with farmers. There was time for questions from participants about situations they have found challenging.
13. 25 Agricultural service providers complete a 4-week on-line course building skills in business and marketing planning.
On the dates of March 7,14, 21 & 28 for 1.5 hours each class, totaling a 6 hour course, participants learned about holistic marketing and business planning from Cindy Dvergsten of Colorado. Cindy is a holistic management practitioner since 1993 and teacher since 1995. She is a life long farmer of a myriad of animal enterprises as well as hay and vegetables. Her teaching and work is usually with Native Americans, primarily Navajo, new and beginning farmers, local food systems and non-profits, and folks who are involved in family based agricultural operations.
Topics included for this course included:
- Key business model and planning concepts,
- The various direct marketing channels and opportunities and challenges of each,
- The importance of market research for developing a marketing plan,
- Pricing and promotion,
- Understanding your competition,
- Resources for business planning,
- The value of business and strategic planning.
Agenda and power points for the course as well as a the Smart Goals worksheets can be viewed here:
Cindy’s power points were loaded with information and exercises that provoked lots of good questions and sharing from the participants. Cindy had participants use a real farm for all of the class exercises. Participants chose either their own farm if they are farmers, or a fabricated example of something they would love to farm if they were a farmer, or one of their farmers’ farms or enterprises.
Three of the exercises that were especially effective for learning were How to do a target market analysis, creating SMART goals, and doing a SWOT analysis.
Example of SWOT analysis slide below:
Participants finished the course with a tremendous amount of information to continue absorbing and worksheets that they have worked with themselves and understand in order to bring these same theories and exercises to their farmers.
14. 25 Participants conduct planning sessions with their five farmers during Spring 2019 to develop a written marketing and/or business plan using their recently gained skills.
We have 22 regular participants at this point. Those who are not involved anymore still occasionally stay in touch and have had a variety of reasons to discontinue their learning with us, including life changes & busyness.
Our active participants have been working with their farmers continuously. Some became a bit overwhelmed with the magnitude of marketing learning. The project leaders and mentors have encouraged the participants to stick with some foundational information for marketing including choosing target markets. And to remember that their holistic goals are their guiding lights in decision making around all aspects of holistic planning, including marketing and business planning.
Each participant is working with their farmers at a necessary pace in order to create the most effective behavior influences. Their work with farmers in marketing and business planning will be ongoing until the finish of this program. And most likely and hopefully beyond that!
We had a support call where 2 participants shared working with their farmers on testing a decision. One participant who works with CISA in MA shared with the group a tested marketing decision: MA has mandated all egg farms to raise cage free eggs. The largest egg producing farm in MA is now transitioning to cage free and is working on how to market their product during the transition while some of their eggs are raised cage free and some are not yet. Ordering cartons in bulk is important for them financially, as well as being honest and true to their customers. In the final test, they decided to see if they could request an order from the carton company for 1/2 the order to say cage free and the other 1/2 to remain the same. They are fully transitioning to cage free by the mandated date and keeping the size of their operation the same.
15. 25 Participants complete an electronic survey assessing their needs and project status. Project Leader utilizes this information to provide necessary support.
A Year two survey was conducted and reported by Holistic Management International.
Below are some of the key outcomes from Year Two of the Program:
Key Outcomes from Year Two
Percentage of Respondents
Participants thought they were better able to serve the producers with whom they worked.
Participants improved their ability to help a producer develop a financial plan as a result of this program
Participants experienced increased confidence in ability to provide financial planning support for producers
Participants experienced improved ability to incorporate social and environmental goals into financial planning
Participants experienced increased confidence in ability to provide business planning support to producers
Participants forged new relationships that have positively impacted them or their farm/ranch or their job as an agricultural professional
Participants thought they had increased their network of professionals assisting producers in sustainable agriculture
Participants improved their ability to help a producer develop a marketing/business plan
Participants improved ability to incorporate production planning with market opportunities
Participants experienced improved ability to discern and mitigate risk for farm businesses
Participants experienced improved ability to prioritize marketing objectives and action items
Participants experienced improved communication and agreement among decision makers in developing a financial plan
Participants experienced improved ability to discern the most profitable farm income streams
Participants experienced improved ability to prioritize financial investments
Impact of Program on Participants
From both a quantitative self-reporting perspective and the qualitative responses provided, there was significant impact perceived by the participants of the program. Key impacts included: improved decision-making, improved ability to facilitate discussions about producers’ decision-making, and understanding and utilizing a whole systems approach to empower farmers.
The report is very helpful for the project leader, Sarah, to read and receive feedback and make necessary changes to structure or clarifications to the participants.
There was positive feedback comments for the project leader and mentors.
There was positive feedback for the subjects covered by instructors and for the instructors themselves.
As project leader, the area that is most useful for me is the feedback regarding suggested changes in the program.
One participant says, “More emphasis on supporting students to develop an individual work plan for how to use HM tools and content in the context of our individual workplace expectations and constraints. We all work in different agencies and settings, and the nature of our work and relationships with farmers differs. As a result, the expectation that we would all work with 5 producers to implement all of the Holistic Management modules that we learned about turned out to not be very realistic. It might have been more practical to ask each of us to develop an educational program that would utilize the tools and content that we learned to meet the needs of our specific farmer audiences.”
In mid-NOV 2019 my budget reallocation request was approved by SARE and includes adding new milestones to this program. We will be having 3-4 regional residencies as well as 2 online zoom in-depth learning calls. During this time, one or more of these learning opportunities for our participants can include, creating an outline of a learning plan that can be used to work with farmers now and in the future of their work.
Other comments/ suggestions included lack of clarity around what is expected of them, timing of calls and classes not working for some participants and wondering how it was chosen, and questions about the order in which we learned the subjects. Also, one encouraging a different online learning platform.
These are all easy to connect with participants about and create clarity and aid them to feel empowered as a participant of this program. I recently gave a demonstration at the Leadership and labor Management Residency on how to use google drive to most effectively access their portfolios, their commitment paperwork, and all of the class material and power points.
Some of the best comments received in this section were:
“I think it has been an excellent program, well coordinated and implemented from start to finish. I feel, as a result of participation, this I have a new skill set and a network of colleagues to call on for support.”
“I love this program and am sorry to think that we are approaching our final year.”
16. 25 Participants attend third 2.5-day residential session building skills in leadership & labor management.
A Picture of our Group. More photos below the text.
We had an amazing Final whole group residency. 16 participants attended and 2 are catching up online and with their mentors. Seth Wilner of UNH taught this 2.5 day class on Leadership and Labor Management. He is an instructor is very in tune with the class. He is very engaging and insists on participation through is continuous interaction with the whole group. His extensive knowledge and practice with whole farm planning along with his energetic teaching and humor kept everyone strongly engaged as a solo instructor for our entire two and a half days.
The Agenda for the weekend included:
- Practical application
- In action – Farmer panel
- Next Steps moving forward
We were able to allot time for review based on participant needs and requests in person and through info gathered from the Sept. 2019 survey report conducted by HMI.
A major accomplishment that happened during the review and wrap up of the course was that the participants really grasped how Whole Farm Planning as a tool can benefit their work as TSP’s and how to use what they’ve learned in this program to better their work.
Seth covered DiSC personality assessments, that each participant took a test for ahead of our class time, and how this can improve leadership on the farm through understanding oneself, co-decision makers and laborers on the farm.
Seth’s dynamic and digestible powerpoint can be found here:
Participants had many essential take aways from the weekend including:
- Increasing their ability to effectively help farmers implement Holistic Management and understanding Whole Farm Planning as a tool.
- Effective education concepts, adult learning.
- Outreach methods
- Increased conceptual understanding of the modules you covered to date
- Increase ability to assist farms improve their leadership systems
Here are pictures of some notes we made during group learning:
2 active participants were not able to attend and are catching up online and with their mentors.
|Friday evening’s Farmer Panel|
|Good small group work!|
17. 25 Participants conduct planning sessions with their five farmers during Winter 2019-2020 on leadership and labor management strategies and complete their Whole Farm Plans.
Our leadership and labor management session take aways are really focused on adult learning including reflective listening skills, observation and communication techniques. Adult learning techniques demonstrated extremely effective when asking the participants how they are now working with their farmers on leadership and labor management.
The value setting and decision making that participants learned in session one of this program has infiltrated their learning and working with their farmers.Now when working with their farmers, looking at leadership and labor management strategies begins with identifying decision makers on their farms.
In our final interviews of our program. All 17 graduates said something about how adult learning knowledge from our leadership and labor management session has improved how they work with farmers.
One participant says:
“Many people come in for help without knowing the right questions to ask, so part of our job is to dig down to understand what they really need.”“Now I don’t just give people answers; I build relationships with them. “
“The way that farmers come to me, they generally come with an idea they have in mind – an idea or a challenge. One of the hardest parts of my job is figuring out what a farmer really needs, since they’re often asking for something different. After developing holistic goals with ~10 farms, I have started to instinctively know everything I need to ask about them and their business to understand where their logjams are, in order to get to a point of understanding their strengths and weaknesses so I can suggest the best possible next steps for their specific context. It took me working with a few farms to realize that essential principles of HM have been the most useful for me.”
Based on feedback from our participants in our last survey, we have made changes to our program to continue education on topics we've covered where folks are having challenges. In mid-November 2019 Northeast SARE approved budget reallocation resulting from additional learning provided to the TSP's. We will be holding 3 regional residencies, most likely in ME, NH, NY & PA. As well as 1-2 webinars through zoom to aid participants in deepening their understanding of the subjects and materials they've learned so far.
We then needed to change plans yet again due to Covid-19. Please see next milestone.
This Milestone is about our Ecosystem Process Webinar.
Due to Covid- 19 we were unable to follow through with our plans of meeting in person 3 times. Northeast SARE approved a budget reallocation based on this need for change. Milestones 19-21 are these now:
19) We will have one webinar on Ecosystem Processes.
20) We will create Whole Farm Planning tip worksheets as a group that TSP's can use to work with farmers as well as other TSP's.
21) Mentors will conduct interviews with each of their mentees. We will listen to what participants benefited from most greatly and work with them in areas they felt challenged. We will have a participant review of this program.
Our Ecosystem Process webinar given by Elizabeth Marks was in response to a request by some of our participants and was optional for participants to attend. Understanding ecosystem processes is crucial to whole farm planning. So those who wanted to have a better understanding of how to identify biological signs of a healthy or unhealthy ecosystem processes joined the webinar. We had 12 participants. We had a dynamic conversation and lots of learning.
We discussed healthy and unhealthy signs of Water Cycle, Mineral Cycle, Biological Community Dynamics, and Energy Flow.
Here is the powerpoint:
We will create Whole Farm Planning tip worksheets as a group that TSP's can use to work with farmers as well as other TSP's.
We had a wonderful meet-up of our Northeast mentee group in VT on Oct. 14th, 2020. 5 participants came in person along with their mentor Seth Wilner and myself, Sarah Williford. 2 participants joined for part of the day on zoom. We worked together as a group to read through what all participants said and pull out and discuss main impacts from the program and main obstacles participants had. It was beneficial for people to notice commonalities in the main impacts and obstacles.
Here is more detail from our day:
We opened by going around and each sharing some things we were hoping to get out of the day. Input desired for the day included:
- Resources people are using and how people are presenting information.
- Learning about new tools people have developed and used.
- Stories of what people have done
- Just wanting to see faces and connect with peeps
- Learning about how much people have bent and manipulated the HM model and how its worked.
- A desire to learn more about financial risk management educational approaches
We then jumped in, with a backdrop of beautiful fall scenery, mountains in the distance, and a dozen-ish Belted Galloways grazing away a few hundred yards away at our host and participant Nancy’s farm.
We broke into groups of two and read excerpts of inputs taken from the 17 interviews you all participated in.
We were looking for themes about how this program impacted the participants and how that could guide input/advice and resources you would give to any TSP colleagues seeking to learn about a holistic approach to whole farm planning (WFP).
- Many noted how listening for both what people were saying, and what they were not saying, was a theme and something they gained.
- Building relationships with farmers/producers was another key area that peoples’ skills and perspectives advanced.
- We discussed limits our work put on some because their job involved other things such as technical assistance on production topics, supervising others who did the farm visits, or writing specific plans such as a food safety plan. In these cases, its difficult to do any such HG, decision making, whole farm planning etc. Yet tenets of HM and the skills and perspectives learned still seep in, just to a more limited degree.
- When providing technical assistance or other focused specific services, simply having a holistic perspective and having the multiple lenses of financial, environmental, and social (quality of life) has allowed folks to be more impactful than just making a recommendation.
- We again had a rich discussion about WFP and Holistic Management (HM) and taking liberty with HM and incorporating other processes. This was fun and could have gone on for some time. In summary:
- An HM foundation, infused with other approaches and tools, works well to develop some portion, or a full out whole farm plan.
- Nonviolent communication techniques are one such beneficial additional set of tools
- Financial analysis, ratios and benchmarks are another helpful set of tools
- Even just a few testing questions can be helpful
- Changing vocabulary when applying HM based on the gender, age, ethnicity, experience, commodity, or other factors can be helpful when working with farmers
- Finding a way of leaving the deep, therapist-like sessions “at the office” and turning it off is a skill one needs
- Stealth HM was discussed, meaning not formally using it, but gathering input so you can infer their values, resources, log jam, etc.
- An HM foundation, infused with other approaches and tools, works well to develop some portion, or a full out whole farm plan.
- We also discussed that the ideas of forging relationships and active listening and incorporating financial, environmental and social aspects into all the work we do with producers seems like common sense and second hand now. Yet since so many mentioned it as an impact, it likely was not a common approach to doing one’s work beforehand. Some shared stories about past colleagues who did not utilize such an approach and even didn’t support such and approach.
Jason joined us after lunch and shared a tool he developed and uses. The tool applies a SWOT analysis to the HM chain of production categories (natural resources/solar conversion, product conversion, market conversion). The SWOT elements are in rows while the HM Chain of Production elements are down columns. It provided a way of exploring a farm’s enterprise, their whole operation, or making projections for future enterprises.
We then brainstormed questions we could use in our work with farmers to help build relationships and gain insight and information (subtly and/or directly)
See below for brainstorm.
We closed our day with a discussion on how we all stay together. Email was definitely panned. Some liked Facebook, some weren’t so keen on that. Some Google gig was discussed. No solutions, just a desire to stay together.
Here is our brainstorm:
10/14/20 Brain storm to use Whole Farm Planning on site visits: What to ask your farmers during a site visit. And how to observe things with out asking questions.
What is the biggest risk to your farm?
How happy are you on the farm?
What’s your comfort level with debt?
Do you have a succession/transfer plan?
Do you know the trend of farm net worth? Does someone know?
Any farm certifications?
Is there off farm income/benefits?
Does the farm meet your family’s financial needs?
How is your family involved in the farm?
What are your goals for the farm/business?
Where do you want to be in X years? (Number changes new farmer vs. established, etc)
Can you increase production?
Can you sell everything you produce?
Do you own the land/have a lease?
Do you know your COP(s)?
Talk to me about the time management/efficiency of the farm.
Do you have a back-up plan if the farm doesn’t make it?
Do you have to own the farm? Can you meet your goals working for another farm?
Look for physical health (stooped over, etc)
Look at ergonomics of systems (ie.wash/pack area)
What rejuvenates you?
Do you have days off/take vacations?
What do you do with down-time/off-season?
Family plans (kids, grand kids)
Look for bare ground, capping, etc.
Look at condition of equip and buildings.
What energizes you about the farm?
What drains you about the farm?
What are/Do you have record-keeping systems?
Look for signs of good/bad communication.
Who has a stake in the farm?
Ask for org chart.
Look at body language (relaxed/tense)
Community dynamics (neighbors, relations)
Who so you look to for advice?
Type and quality of equipment.
Are you good at prioritizing?
Are you good at delegating?
Where on your farm do you lose money?
Do you have SOPs?
What does employee training look like?
If you can’t work, who can take your place?
What is your best skill?
What are your skill gaps?
Is production increasing or decreasing?
Is soil health increasing or decreasing?
How’s the water supply and quality on the farm?
Where are the property boundaries?
How are you with technology?
Is someone good with accounting/technology?
Look at farm layout/infrastructure.
Ask the farmer Where is south?
Mentors will conduct interviews with each of their mentees. We will listen to what participants benefited from most greatly and work with them in areas they felt challenged. We will have a participant review of this program as our final report and summary.
Three mentors and project leader Sarah Williford had a few zoom calls and worked out a guide to use when interviewing the participants of the program. We had Ann Adams of HMI add suggestions before we went ahead with the interview process. The compilation and report of all of the interviews executed by mentor and educator Elizabeth Marks and finished by project leader Sarah Williford is primarily what the Summary and Outcomes section of this report is made of. Below are the questions we asked the participants.
The Guidelines and questions for conducting the interviews:
Program impact – Over the next half hour let’s discuss the impact this program has had on you as an agricultural service provider. How have you changed as a result of what you have learned? What skills and tools have you gained? In these next questions try to ferret this out in a structured way.
- Thinking back to before you joined this SARE PDP and reflecting to the present, let’s discuss how this program has changed your approach to your work.
- To jog your memory:
- Has the subject matter you cover in your job changed or expanded? If so, how?
- In your normal work, do you go about it differently?
- Ask different questions?
- Have different approaches?
- Do you use different questions and approaches methods? How do these methods influence the results?
- Have you created any new materials (or use ones you received from your training) to support changes in your approach or work endeavors? How do these influence your engagement with farmers and what they get from the interaction?
- To jog your memory:
- Intake forms?
- PowerPoint Presentations?
- Fact sheets
- How many farmers have you worked with or reached, in whole or part, utilizing whole farm planning (HM) as a result of this program?.
Let’s break them down as follows:
- One-on-one visits
- Workshop/conference attendees
- Small group/cohort
- What did your work or presentations focus on?
- What differences has your work made for the farmers with whom you’ve worked?
- To jog your memory:
- Business plans developed
- Financial plans
- Marketing plans developed
- Land plans developed
- Changes in enterprises
- Changes in market channels
- Increased profits
- Reduced expenses, including choosing not to do something as a result of your work
- Improved quality of life through shared values, improved communications
- Improved efficiency through new systems and behaviors
- Changes to farm layout and infrastructure
- Enhanced environmental conditions through covered soil, or other new practices as a result of your work
- Enhancements to record keeping systems
Curriculum Development – Some participants have desired to create a curriculum to help ag service providers work with producers in a holistic manner.. In helping to guide how this might look, let’s discuss the questions below.
- If you were training a new ag service provider, based on what you know, what advice or recommendations would you give them?
- Are there steps you would recommend to follow?
- Are there specific things you listen for in your work before making recommendations?
- What tools or materials would you provide them?
- What have you used that was effective?
- What have you developed that you would share
- What does whole farm planning mean to you? How does it come into play in your work?
- If you mentioned it above, no need to repeat.
Milestone Activities and Participation Summary
Educational activities and events conducted by the project team:
Participants in the project’s educational activities:
Through a thorough question guided interview process with 17 of our participants we gathered significant data and quotes.
The program had a profound effect on its participants, both professionally and personally. The program also had a measurable effects on the farmer clients that the ag service providers service. The three most common benefits of the program include:
-Paradigm shift on how to work with farmers resulting in more effective assistance.
-More well-rounded ag service professionals who are able to assist farmers on a variety of topics from identifying goals to financial planning to land planning.
-The ability to help farms make better decisions and improve farmers’ thinking.
In total, the following number of farmers were provided enhanced service:
One-on-one visits: 621
Workshop/conference attendees: 1,583
Number of farmer-to-farmer learning communities formed: 7
Additional Notable Impacts:
Ashley Pierce is pursuing more training by becoming a Certified Educator with Holistic Management International.
Maria Graziani is the only person in Pennsylvania trained in Holistic Financial Planning and will be incorporating it into her program.
Bonnie Collins is seeking to integrate Whole Farm Planning concepts into the curriculum for Annie’s Project. This needs to be approved at national level but she is a member of the sub-committee that determines the curriculum so has some leverage to do this.
What became clear at looking at the interviews was not only did the program have significant impact in the participant’s professional life and how they interacted with farmers, but it greatly influenced their personal life as well. Many of the participants also have farms and they were able to put into practice what they learned on their own farm.
Perhaps the biggest paradigm shift that was consistent among participants was how they approach farmers. Before the class, most participants would arrive on a farm, assess what they thought the farmer needed, provide technical assistance, and then leave. After the program, the participants listen to farmers, understand their goals, and help improve their thinking.
Below are excerpts from interviews of the participants about how the program impacted them and the farmers they serve.
For several of the participants, the training came at the perfect time as professionals started or transitioned into jobs with more responsibility.
Ashley Pierce said, “The SARE Professional Development Program came at a pivotal point in my career. Prior to starting the program, I was an extension educator working at the county level. Currently I am the Commercial Livestock Senior Resource Educator with the Capital Area Agriculture and Horticulture Program for Cornell Cooperative Extension. Now that I am an educator working on a larger scale, I can have a wider impact on the farming community.”
“Taking the program has completely changed the way I work with farmers. Now when I go to a farm, I take more time to figure out the root cause of a problem they are having rather than address the symptoms. For example, a farmer approached me who had a lot of weeds in the pasture. He wanted to know what he could plant or what herbicide to use. In the past I would have gone along with his line of thinking and made those suggestions. However, now I ask, “What is the root cause of the problem?” “Why are these weeds proliferating?” “What conditions are in place to make it favorable for these weeds to grow?” The root cause of the problem in this farmer’s case was his low stock density and slow paddock rotations. I ask “why” 5 times to try and drill down to the root cause and fix that problem instead of symptoms. Another farmer wanted to add a livestock enterprise and I led them through the testing questions. They made the decision to get sheep. After having sheep for some time, they were encountering problems with the enterprise. We went through the testing questions again and were able to make the clear decision that the sheep were not for them. Without the testing questions, they would have struggled on with the enterprise. By using the testing questions they were able to make the decision and have no regrets. The testing questions helped clarify what was right for them.”
“When I meet with a farmer, I try to get everyone to figure out what their goals are. I take a step back and understand better myself what their goals are, what are their values, and what is their vision. I now often find myself asking the testing questions. Is there anyone who is going to be upset by this action? What is the root cause? Which option contributes the most to your overhead costs? Is it addressing your weakest link?”
“I enjoy educating people about holistic management and dispelling myths about HM. Some people think it is “organic” or “grass fed”. Within the Holistic Management framework you can be a conventional producer using a variety of methods. HM is a planning and decision-making process using a farmers own core values and vision.”
Liz Coakley from the Groundswell Center for Local Food and Farming has found that she uses Whole Farm Planning with beginning farmers. The program’s small group conversations helped her focus on herself as a service provider, which was not how she often thought of herself. She said, “I have started to subtly ask more of the goal-based questions, trying to tease out people’s motivations much more than I used to.”
When Stevie Schafenacker started the program, she had been working for Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture (CISA) for 9 months coordinating workshops and doing outside consultations. She said, “One thing that had been emerging was that despite being a farmer, I didn’t have a philosophy around the approach to technical assistance. I wanted to be able to have a basic understanding of an approach that could help me put a foot in the door to get to know farmers. I did feel that if you could connect with farmers on a personal level, it made it possible to work with them on their business. So when I read about Whole Farm Planning it seemed really great, like a very personal approach to working with farmers.”
“The basic principles of Holistic Management I use almost every time I meet with someone. The program has enabled me to ask the right questions before I even start to think about what resources I should provide to them. I’m able to offer more effective 1-on-1 consulting by establishing a holistic goal with them.”
“The way that farmers come to me, they generally come with an idea they have in mind – an idea or a challenge. One of the hardest parts of my job is figuring out what a farmer really needs, since they’re often asking for something different. After developing holistic goals with 10 farms, I have started to instinctively know everything I need to ask about them and their business to understand where their logjam is in order to get to a point of understanding their strengths and weaknesses so I can suggest the best possible next steps for their specific context.”
Cornell Cooperative Extension employee and dairy farmer Jennifer Koval observed, “I would say I’ve become more of a listener when talking to farmers. I ask more questions to find out about the issues affecting them, rather than immediately thinking about solutions. I think a lot of times it's easy to assume what a challenge or problem is based on your own personal experience and biases before even getting to meet with a farmer. What I like about Holistic Management, is that it teaches you to ask questions and helps the farmer achieve their goals rather than promote a certain approach to farming.”
“The biggest surprise for me was learning about the “social” piece. In Holistic Management, we learned about the three-legged stool that farming rests on: social, financial, and environmental. Even if two legs are strong, the stool won’t support you without the 3rd leg. Many farms have 1-2 strong legs. I learned in this class how to strengthen the 3rd so that the farm doesn’t crash down around the farm family.”
Jason Lilley was hired four years ago with the University of Maine Cooperative Extension to support farmers in a very broad sense. He said “It has started to click that we just need to ask “Why?” more frequently. When farmers say, “Hey I want to know what’s the best cover crop” or “What should I be giving my livestock?” we should respond with questions about their motivation. Many people come in for help without knowing the right questions to ask, so part of our job is to dig down to understand what they really need.”
Jason works with a lot of beginning farmers who have just gotten on their land. He says, “They’ll come in the office and say something like, “I want to grow lavender.” They seem totally set in their decisions; they’ve seen some blog that says it’s the best thing to do. If I tried to dissuade them by saying that the market isn’t there, or some other grower says it’s not a good choice for this microclimate, they wouldn’t listen to me. They would be able to write it off as my opinion, and if it doesn’t jive with theirs, they just discount it. But when I start asking questions and help them in their thought process, I am building trust and relationships with them. I give them steps to take to determine if this is really the best option, and they start to discover for themselves whether lavender is really the best option for them. Now I don’t just give people answers; I build relationships with them. “
Liz Camps from the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service in NY said, “I learned how personal events affect the farm and influence adoption rates of conservation practices. This class helped me to merge my professional and personal life. Before, I kept both in separate compartments that would rarely overlap. The program taught me the importance of brining personal experience into my profession to be able to connect with clients on a deeper level and understand their needs. I never had taken values and goals into planning before because I had never been trained or taught to. This course helped me to put it all together. I’ve now become a sounding board for farmers. I see my role is to give them confidence, connect them to other farmers, and above all, listen. I don’t just impart technical information and return to the office. Instead, I tell them, ‘I’m here for as long as you need me.’ Now farmers are telling other farmers, ‘Talk to Liz.’ I feel a deeper sense of connection to my farmers and they trust me. The implementation rate for conservation practices has gone way up.”
“I ask better questions now with the farmers I work with. What is the weakest link? What is the root cause of the problem? What are your goals? Comparing options and gut check are also favorite questions. Sometimes NRCS doesn’t do that and encourages me to go in a different direction. I now stop, back up and address issues the smart way. I am sure to give the farmers this information even if it is not required by my agency. Even if we don’t address the root cause at the time, I identify it and then eventually the farmers come back 2-3 years later to fix things.”
Alex Foliard with Maine Farmland Trust commented, “I felt I had technical skills to answer a specific question a farmer may have but no knowledge of the big picture. Now I can help them make decisions that are good for them and I’m more grounded in what the farmers need. I now spend more time getting to know the farmer instead of trying to figure out what are the most profitable crops markets.”
Alysha Trexler said,” I am a biologist by education but grew up farming. Currently I work for the Western PA Conservancy (WPC). I write nutrient management plans and work on watershed protection projects such as installing riparian buffers, conducting stream surveys, research and sampling for the protection of endangered aquatic species, and do education events, Western PA Conservancy (WPC).
Taking the class has taught me the value of listening to the farmers and customers I work with. I listen carefully now to what is important to them, their goals and problems they are having on the farm even if it isn’t resource related. I tended to be empathetic and compassionate with the farmers I worked with before the class, but now I recognize the value of it. I feel much happier knowing what I am doing is the right way to do it. This course has given me permission to be more personable with farmers as a way to better help them. I act more as a sounding board for them.
The class has also taught me how to improve a farmer’s thinking by asking the right questions and looking at the farm as a whole. For example, when I talk to them about their soil samples for their nutrient management plan, I can talk about using manure or improving soil health as a way to improve their fertility.”
The program made professionals much more well-rounded in providing technical assistance in areas where participants had little prior training such as financial, business, and land planning. Elaina Enzian from University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension, said, “I would not be doing business planning if not for this course.”
Bonnie Collins who works for Annie’s Project with Cornell Cooperative Extension commented that the program is so impactful that “Once you learn Whole Farm Planning you can’t put the genie back in the bottle. You can’t NOT use it.”
Jason Lilley from the University of Maine Extension said, “We always want to jump to the helpful ‘definitive’ answer but the concept of slowing down, asking why, figuring out what a farmer is really asking or really needs is so important. A lot of times, farmers are asking a question to get a quick fix to a problem, but most times there’s a bigger underlying issue that needs to be addressed.” Now he listens for “what farmers are NOT saying.”
Mary Kate Wheeler from Cornell said, “I’ve learned to listen between the lines.” For example, a new farmer came to her with the wrong proposed solution to a problem he had (i.e. how do I set up an LLC?). He just wanted her to give him the technical answer about the steps to create an LLC. But Mary Kate asked him a bunch of questions and ultimately helped him determine that he was asking the wrong question and an LLC wasn’t what he needed at all.”
She said, “Before you help someone implement a solution, you need to back up and help them think more broadly and holistically about their context – resources they have, decision makers involved, underlying goals and values.”
The advice she had for agriculture service providers is, “Anytime a person calls you with a solution they want you to help them implement, be very skeptical!”
Maria Graziani, a Senior Educator with Penn Extension said, “Talking to farmers about their values and their future vision has been the biggest shift for me. Even if I don’t use the term, I’ve started talking to farmers about goal development and pairing personal goals with business goals. I talk to them now about involving the decisions makers and making sure they incorporate anyone who is essential in their business in the planning. It has been satisfying seeing the farmers I work with recognize for the first time a co-owner as an important decision maker even if they have been a silent partner in the past. For example, I worked with a farmer in a long-term lease on another farmer’s land. I encouraged her to sit down and talk with the owner and talk about her long-term goals of farming the land in a regenerative way. It was a game changer for both of them. Now the farmer leasing the land is working on purchasing it.
It is human nature to avoid the hard, long term goal conversation and incorporate others into decision making but the process of identifying the decision makers and your values and future vision in the Holistic Goal encourages the producers I work with to progress without as much fear or trepidation or blind spots.”
“This was the first time where I was working one on one with farmers and they were willing to share their financial information and goals. We haven’t in the past sat down and worked with farmers looking at the whole business. As I finish this course, this is the direction I want to go and I am getting support from Penn State to do that. Farm Management Educator. Currently, I am the only educator in Penn Extension who is trained in Holistic Management. Being a part of the program will help me raise more awareness about this process.”
“The thing I learned that has been the most helpful is creating a Holistic Goal and tying it to financial planning. The testing questions have been instrumental in thinking more critically about expenses. Many farmers I work with haphazardly make purchasing decisions and Holistic Financial Planning provides a process to decide if a haphazardly purchase is going to benefit the farm as a whole.”
Performance Target Outcomes
Performance Target Outcomes - Service Providers
25 agricultural service providers will be trained in Whole Farm Planning. They will complete Whole Farm Plans with 125 farmers who manage over 4,000 acres. The goal is to increase farm environmental health, economic viability, and the quality of life of the farmers and those with whom they work.
- 621 Consultations
- 7 Study circles/focus groups
- 37 Workshop/conference attendees in which Whole Farm Planning was a component:
Handbook for Beginning Farmers
Farm Beginnings 2018
Annie’s Project 2019 (used testing questions)
Raising Rabbits for Meat 2019
Beginner Poultry Production (2 classes in 2019)
All About Stockers 2019
Fall Round-Up 2019
CAAHP Beginning Farmer Series 2019
Pastured Pigs for Beginners 2019
CAAHP Facebook Live- Various
Adding Poultry to Your Small Farm & Beginning Poultry Production 2020
Beginning Farmer Program- CCE Ulster County 2020
Raising Rabbits for Beginners 2020
Alternative Poultry Webinar 2020
Beginning Small Ruminant Production 2020
Grass-fed Greenup – Winters 2017, 2018, 2019
Women for the Land – target audience is non-farming women landowners. They had “learning circles” training.
Mass NOFA presentation
Permaculture Association of the Northeast – 10
Biodiversity for a Livable Climate – 50
WGBH out of Boston – 300 people
Somali-Bantu Farmers’ Assoc. (group is in the process of fund-raising to buy their own property, likely as an outgrowth of their WFP work.
“Entrepreneurial vs. Holistic Thinking” at Groundswell Farm Business Class, Ithaca
“Record Keeping for Financial Success” at the NY Beef Producers Association annual conference
“Economics of Dairy Grazing” at the Dairy Grazing Discussion Group
Ag Trade Show session on decision making.
Weak link in the chain of production analysis with maple producers.
Presentation to the PA state legislators
Intake form for beginning farmers seeking assistance from the Groundswell Institute.
New Farmer School
Women in Livestock
Six Session Holistic Management Discussion Group
Pasture Walk: Custom Grazing Dairy Heifers
Dairy Grazing Discussion Group
“From Dreaming to Doing: Five Tips for Beginning Farmers” published in Small Farms Quarterly
Perennial Vegetable Gardening video
Backyard Chickens video as part of a Homesteading Series through Cornell Cooperative Extension
This data was collected through in depth interviews with each of the graduates of the program.
Additional Project Outcomes
This section is being used to highlight the Impact on Farmers from this program.
This article about this project is published in the Holistic Management International “In Practice” January, 2021 issue: Northeast SARE: Helping Farmers in the Northeast
One of the requirements of being in the program was that participants were asked to bring Whole Farm Planning concepts to farmers. They worked one-on-one with farmers leading them through all aspects of the program or utilized parts of the program. Participants also incorporated Whole Farm Planning concepts into workshop and conference presentations, videos, fact sheets, and intake forms.
Overall, participants reached the following numbers of farmers over the 3-year period:
- One-on-one visits: 621
- Workshop/conference attendees: 1,583
- Number of farmer-to-farmer learning communities formed: 7
Some of these workshops/conferences/presentations/groups:
- Handbook for Beginning Farmers
- Farm Beginnings 2018
- Annie’s Project 2019 (used testing questions)
- Raising Rabbits for Meat 2019
- Beginner Poultry Production (2 classes in 2019)
- All About Stockers 2019
- Fall Round-Up 2019
- CAAHP Beginning Farmer Series 2019
- Pastured Pigs for Beginners 2019
- CAAHP Facebook Live- Various
- Adding Poultry to Your Small Farm & Beginning Poultry Production 2020
- Beginning Farmer Program- CCE Ulster County 2020
- Raising Rabbits for Beginners 2020
- Alternative Poultry Webinar 2020
- Beginning Small Ruminant Production 2020
- Grass-fed Greenup – Winters 2017, 2018, 2019
- Women for the Land – target audience is non-farming women landowners. They had a “learning circles” training.
- Mass NOFA presentation
- Permaculture Association of the Northeast – 10
- Biodiversity for a Livable Climate – 50
- WGBH put of Boston – 300 people
- Somali-Bantu Farmers’ Assoc. (group is in the process of fund-raising to buy their own property, likely as an outgrowth of their WFP work.
Some of the materials used were:
- “Entrepreneurial vs. Holistic Thinking” at Groundswell Farm Business Class, Ithaca
- “Record Keeping for Financial Success” at the NY Beef Producers Association annual conference
- “Economics of Dairy Grazing” at the Dairy Grazing Discussion Group
- Ag Trade Show session on decision making.
- Weak link in the chain of production analysis with maple producers.
- Presentation to the PA state legislators
- Intake form for beginning farmers seeking assistance from the Groundswell Institute.
- New Farmer School
- Women in Livestock
- Six Session Holistic Management Discussion Group
- Pasture Walk: Custom Grazing Dairy Heifers
- Dairy Grazing Discussion Group
- “From Dreaming to Doing: Five Tips for Beginning Farmers” published in Small Farms Quarterly
- Perennial Vegetable Gardening video
- Backyard Chickens video as part of a Homesteading Series through Cornell Cooperative Extension
Jennifer Koval said, “Another take-away I had was that it isn’t always necessary to use the forms right away, but using the skills I have learned I will benefit from them in the future depending on the needs of the farmer and interest level- some you can keep the forms in your back pocket and build on them as your working relationship progresses.”
Elaina Enzian and Jeremy Delisle created a curriculum for the new farmer school based on what was learned in the class.
Ashley Pierce was particularly active in outreach and incorporating Holistic Management concepts to the people she worked with. She said, “I incorporated or taught HM concepts each time I held a workshop, educational event, or worked one on one with a farmer. In addition, I formed a HM learning community. I invited farms to apply and worked with 5 farm families (8 people total). We met 8-9 times a year for 3 years. Each time we learned something in the class I would teach that concept to the group. I taught grazing, biological monitoring, financial planning, business planning, farm/land planning, creating a holistic goal, and testing questions.”
Some of the impacts Ashley has had on the farms she worked with include:
- 1 farm has expanded from no livestock to pigs, poultry (broilers, layers, ducks, and geese), selling shares of meat and at a farmer’s market. They have continued expansion planned.
- 1 farm has expanded their farmer’s market and online sales, enhancing their marketing.
- 1 farm has expanded livestock production and direct marketing efforts.
- 1 farm did begin to direct market cut flowers, but did not sell in 2020 due to Covid. They also used the testing questions to decide to not accept funds from an NRCS high tunnel grant, as it did not align with their holistic goal and quality of life statements.
- 1 farm has used the holistic pricing model to adjust the price of their eggs in both direct sales, as well as wholesale markets
- 1 aspiring farmer decided that farming was not for him as it did not fit his holistic goal
Jennifer Koval said, “One farmer I worked with is a veteran who came to farming in his mid-30s. We talked about land planning for his 5-acre market garden. I encouraged him to apply for a cost sharing on a high-tunnel through NRCS. We also worked on a value-added state grant for a lettuce washing station and storage building. His business has grown quickly and the HM planning work I have done with him has helped.”
“Another person I worked with suffered a fire on her farm and lost her barn. I helped her with land planning and goals for the future. She had a lack of direction in how to rebuild and was undecided whether to keep expanding the animal operation or add a teaching venture. We talked about goals and grant funding together.”
One farm that Alex worked with wrote a holistic goal and went from no record keeping to using QuickBooks. They hired a CFO bookkeeper and now do bi-weekly check ins. They made significant changes to breeding and herd management practices that was informed by looking at the numbers.
Andy Pressman used the Whole Farm Planning with veterans. He incorporated the concepts into his “Arm to Farm 1.0” program.
Bonnie Collins put together a 4-session curriculum called Whole Farm Planning for her Aspiring Farmers Academy. She taught farmers the testing questions as part of the academy. She knows that one beef farmer has changed her paddocks as a result of WFP in the New Farmer Academy training.
Jason began working with maple industry at the same time he was starting the WFP program. As a needs assessment form, he put together a weak link analysis. Has given a few presentations with the same concept, and with some explanation people seem to find it really valuable. People end up feeling very confident and comfortable with their sugar bush management. On the product conversion, they see the need for increased quality of finished product, and on the money conversion, they realize they need to do a better job of tracking numbers.
Jason was most excited about work with one farmer whose parents have always grown conventional sweet corn, so she’s very ingrained in that system, but she also sees the value in taking better care of the land. So she’s been primed for change, but also stuck in the cycle of “this is how we’ve always done things.” When Jason shared WFP, she really dove into developing a HG and shared it with her sister, and both of them have started using it consistently for decision-making. Now they are working on pollinator plans, cover cropping, and evaluating if they should transition to organic production. Very much evaluating how all of this fits with their quality of life goals.
Liz worked with one father-daughter farm team that made some changes to their land plans which was directly related to the Whole Farm Planning work she did with them.
Liz is still working with a Latina farmer, who is doing an excellent job of making decisions. Liz did a land walk with her, and is also helping her write a HG. Last time they talked, the farmer said, “please give me more homework.”
The four farms that participated in the discussion group that Mary Kate formed all had demonstrable impacts and results. One farm clarified their business goals, developed a business plan for a custom processing meat business, opened that business in Feb 2020, and this will allow them to add value to their own beef enterprise. Their longer-term goal is to stop milking cows; this new enterprise is a large step in that direction.
The second farm Mary Kate worked with made big decisions about investing in equipment to make their own haylage after many years of relying on custom harvest (and having quality issues for years). They had some major changes in their lives with health issues; now have decided to sell their herd and stop milking. They are working with their co-op to transfer their milk quota with the sale of their cows. They found a lot of value in discussing their values and forming their family goal and have used it to test decisions.
One farmer in Mary Kate’s group completed a project with SWCD to do waterway conservation and buffer strip planting on 90-acre property for rotational grazing.
For one participant who is a CCE Educator and farmer, the impacts had to do with her time management and how she allocated her time to various commitments. She stopped teaching in one place to focus more time on the farm and around the house.
Everyone Mary Kate works with has made enhancements to their record-keeping systems, and sometimes production records too.
Stevie got really into adapting SWOT analysis for decision-making, so has done that with 3 farms she worked with. They all were at critical junctures in their farm business. She felt that a SWOT analysis would pull out the major themes they needed to be looking at. One of the farmers had just purchased the business from the existing farmer, and the new farmer wanted to bring back the CSA. Rather than go down the road of helping her do this, Stevie suggested a SWOT analysis around the CSA concept. It turns out the producer wanted a CSA because she wanted people back on the farm and as a way to diversify sales outlets, but she hadn’t thought about how much it would cost to keep the CSA running and whether it would pay for the current staff. Also, the previous farm business owner (still living on the farm) hated the idea of people on the farm. SWOT gave them a framework to explore these ideas.
“SWOT analysis pairs well with WFP. It gives me a good opportunity to dive into the business while also ferreting out info related to their values, desires, etc.”
Jeremy Delisle says, “Now when teaching in the New Farmer Program we present goal setting and developing a future vision and approaching it in a holistic mindset. This is huge for new farmers. Feedback from students say they think about this all the time once we teach it.”
Dan at Hippease, he started out doing it for harvesting and planting and washing and pack and it keeps going. We did a lot of work on goal setting and visioning and land planning and environmental benefits. They are cover cropping, managing soil health better, conserve energy on the farm, save money.
Another farm in Sutton, diversified livestock and blueberries and some veggies, for them they now focus on highest priority as to what to do now. Prioritize and then develop systems to make things more efficient. Went back to this farm and wife said, when is Jeremy coming back as they always get so much done after Jeremy visits. They also do enterprise analysis, sales analysis, changes enterprises a s a result.
Worksong farm – financial analysis, behaviors and systems, goals for the farm, clarify these, put in irrigation and irrigation management. Soil moisture monitoring and irrigation efficiency and applied for NRCS funding.
Nancy LaRowe One farmer is going to start a butcher shop, it’s in process,
Butcher shop person created a business plan as a result of the work
2 farms created marketing plans to expand or change market channels.
One was going to do a perennial nursery, did a business plan, financial outlook, and market assessment, now doing artist residencies. But they grow all the food themselves. So still have perennial farm going but now to produce food for agritourism enterprise.
Sometimes success meant that the people the ag service providers worked with decided not to do a particular farming enterprise or they decided to get out of farming all together.
Jennifer Koval said, “I worked with one person in-depth. Using the information from this class, they decided not to pursue their farm dreams. I helped them identify that they didn’t have the resources to pursue a farm enterprise that they wanted at this time.”
Alysha Trexler used the decision-making framework to make a tough, personal decision about her own family farm. “My sister was selling the family farm. I did an in-depth financial analysis using what I learned from the class to see if I could make a go of buying it. I hadn’t had financial planning before and this helped. In the end I had to make the heartbreaking decision that I couldn’t afford to take over the farm. While it was upsetting, I realized my heart was going to hurt either way. I either was going to lose the farm now or lose the farm later because I couldn’t afford to make it work. This helped me make the right decision and feel confident about it.”
Jason worked with a farmer that identified that she wasn’t making money. She didn’t see a way to make money and determined that owning a farm business no longer fit with her lifestyle. She sold the farm and all her equipment and supplies, moved to another state and got a farming job. Jason counts it as a success when his work helps someone stop farming, if they are not being successful or thriving.
Additional Praise for the Program based on personal success stories:
Ashley Pierce said, “I clarified that my weakest link in the chain of production for my sheep enterprise was my resource conversion. In order to be more profitable and increase my herd numbers, I needed to improve my grazing. I applied for a grant (NYS Agricultural Environmental Management funds) for fencing. Adding perimeter fencing will enable me to keep the sheep in the pasture year-round so they can spread their own manure and urine during the winter months rather than concentrate (and waste) it in the barnyard. I will also be able to improve my rotations.
The testing questions have been helpful to me as well. They brought up things I didn’t think of such as, “What is my weak link in the chain of production?” “What is my future vision?” By identifying my weakest link in my chain of production (resource conversion, product conversion, money conversion), I was able to prioritize time and money to that first. Asking these questions, I was able to override my inner stubborn voice that said I had to make something work (no matter the cost) or I “should” be doing something rather than what is best for me.”
Jennifer Koval said, “Because I am also part of a large dairy farm enterprise personally, the program has benefited me a lot in trying to mesh my own interests and beliefs with my husband’s and brother in law’s focus on the farm. The retreats helped me think about my own farm and how I would bring it back home. It aided me in solidifying the goals I have for myself to “green” the farm and bridge my interest in small, organic farming with the conventional. I successfully applied for and received a NRCS High Tunnel grant and am currently in my first season growing at the farm (to transition to a small herb production area and specialty crop production in the near future while this season I’m growing veggies but only due to Covid).
The in-person workshops were an exceptional experience as were the webinars. I believe Farmnet folks would really benefit from this work; NYCAM as well.”
“I am so thankful for the opportunity to participate in this valuable training experience and loved being with other ag service providers at the trainings. Sarah and the team she pulled together were top notch and I have nothing but praise for their effort, knowledge and enthusiasm. “
Liz Camps said, “I really enjoyed the program. The instructors were very good and Sarah Williford was amazing! I was getting very frustrated with the direction of the agency and feeling very isolated on Long Island. Taking this course I connected with a great group of people and learned how to better help my farmers and get job satisfaction out of that. It taught me to look at the land and read it for what is happening with the ecosystem processes, whereas before I would only focus on NRCS programs and practices. Now I can see the whole picture. It‘s also motivated me to get more into permaculture.”
Alex said, “It’s about letting farmers define success for themselves and helping them get there! This program has been an aid to helping you get there. And I got some concrete skills out of this.”
Alysha Trexler said, “One of the best parts of the class was being exposed to ag service professionals who have a variety of different backgrounds. I came from “big” conventional ag. I grew on a diverse livestock farm that included beefers. I worked for a dairy throughout a high school and college and coached horseback riding. We currently raise beef. I was exposed to people who work or even have a variety of farms including “small” ag and this helped me learn how to talk to them. Overall, it has been a great opportunity to network with a diversity of the participants. It was a great program and I am glad I was part of it! I liked the length and am so glad I did it. “
Jason said, “We’ve definitely made a lot of decisions within our household that have improved our quality of life – it helped my wife decide whether to take a job in Boston. I have friends who are building a house and I’ve worked with them on using these tools. They’ve really gotten into it, asking “How is this going to influence the rest of the whole?”
“We tend to get pigeon-holed and get fixated on specific ideas, but this can have detrimental impacts if we don’t look at the bigger picture. This process helps me step back and think more carefully about decisions to make better ones.”
“In the same way for work, when I’m trying to decide what sort of projects should I really be focused on, random opportunities or new ideas pop up and it’s easy to get caught up in them even if they don’t move forward towards your goals. This year for the first time I laid out my priorities throughout the year, almost like a crop rotation plan but for my workload. Of course, the pandemic kind of blew things up, but I still felt like I had a good plan in place.
Mary Kate said “It’s about empowering people with the concept that we have a lot of choices about how we live our lives, that we have agency, even when our resources are limited. We can make choices about how we use those resources to create the life we want to live. It’s both exciting and scary to articulate your values and goals. WFP is a great framework for organizing our thinking about our lives. This is how it has permanently influenced my life and thinking on a personal level.
Mary Kate developed a wedding ceremony using Holistic Management principles! She is dealing with a lot of life transitions and finds it very reassuring to have a holistic goal to anchor her and help her navigate massive amounts of change.
Having mentors for this program was the best change made after the program began. It allowed for support beyond what the project leader could provide through monthly support calls. It really helped participants stay connected to practicing what they were learning and integrating their new knowledge and tools into their work with farmers.