Farm Mentorship Training and Support Groups for Educators of Aspiring and Beginning Farmers

Progress report for ENE20-162

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2020: $158,265.00
Projected End Date: 10/31/2023
Grant Recipients: Trustees of Tufts College / New Entry Sustainable Farming Project; University of Maryland
Region: Northeast
State: Massachusetts
Project Leader:
Jennifer Hashley
Trustees of Tufts College / New Entry Sustainable Farming Project
Expand All

Project Information

Summary:

Problem and Justification:  As fewer Americans grow up on farms or ranches, experiential farmer training programs build skills for aspiring, beginning, or first-generation farmers and create an entryway to the industry. Mentor matching programs increase the number of skilled farmers by pairing experienced farm mentors with novice farmers.  Agricultural Service Providers who coordinate farm mentor networks value the role that quality mentorship relationships play in training farm successors.  Yet, balancing the demands of work and facilitating farm-based education and learning can create strains on productivity and profitability. Mentors must consistently set reasonable expectations, effectively communicate, provide feedback, and nurture their mentees.   There are few agriculture-specific mentor training resources and agricultural service providers seek tools, curricula, and training strategies to build mentor support networks and offer quality professional training and support to farm mentors to build their capacity as educators.

Solution and Approach: For agricultural service providers and beginning farmer trainers, professional development for farm mentors has the potential to result in more effective training for aspiring and beginning farmers, increase knowledge transfer of agricultural skills, increase employee retention, and improve farm work culture.  Networking with other farm mentors builds professional relationships with other producers who share similar educational missions and community engagement values.  This project will develop and deliver robust mentor trainings and facilitate mentor peer support groups.  Content delivery will include: 1) regional standalone 2-day professional development workshops targeting agricultural service providers and farmers interested in mentoring or training beginning farmers; 2) webinar versions of workshop topics posted on New Entry’s website; 3) regional winter conference presentations; 4) mentor discussion / peer groups and individualized training sessions; and 5) materials posted on New Entry’s website.  A Mentor Training Toolkit and Resource Guide for agricultural service providers will include training agendas, fact sheets, participatory activities, annotated resources, and facilitation guides for supporting peer-to-peer mentor groups through low-cost approaches.  Mentor support networks in each Northeast SARE state will help prioritize future educational resource development. 

Milestones:  Project outreach informs at least 1,000 producers about mentor training resources and solicits input through listening sessions to solicit desired mentor training topics.  Three in-person mentor trainings for 75 participant are designed and held throughout the Northeast Region with follow up webinar presentations sharing content and resources more broadly.  At least 20 Agricultural Service Providers establish peer-to-peer mentor support groups to facilitate ongoing professional development and continued mentor training.

Performance Target:  20 Northeast agricultural service providers facilitate mentor training and support networks and 75 farm mentors adopt relational practices and increase competence to communicate, set expectations, facilitate self-directed learning, and effectively mentor at least 250 aspiring and beginning farmers in crop production, marketing, business planning, resource linkages. 

Performance Target:

20 Northeast agricultural service providers train 75 farm mentors to adopt relational practices and increase competence to communicate, set expectations, facilitate self-directed learning, and effectively mentor at least 250 aspiring and beginning farmers in crop production, marketing, business planning, resource linkages, and grow emotional intelligence.

Introduction:

As fewer Americans grow up on farms or ranches, informal internships are a common pathway for new and beginning farmers to get basic training and experience in agriculture (Barnett, 2012; Ekers & Levkoe, 2016a; 2016b; Wood 2013). Work-learning opportunities increase the number of skilled farmers joining the agricultural industry and workforce to start and sustain successful businesses. Experiential training includes apprenticeship or internships, incubator farm programs, student / campus farms, or other land-based skills programs. Work-learning exchanges in the sustainable agricultural sector are also perceived as a source of “affordable” labor. There were over 1,372 listings for agricultural internships on the ATTRA webpage (ATTRA 2019). Instruction is often provided by farmers with decades of production experience who play a significant training or mentoring role. Farm mentors are self-selecting and are often optimistic about the future of their farm business – they believe the industry holds opportunities for people who have the desire to succeed and live an agrarian lifestyle, and they consider themselves educators willing to pass on their knowledge. They invest the time to build future qualified farm successors.

Yet, mentors face unique challenges in successfully providing support to aspiring and beginning farmers. Mentors must frequently assess the knowledge and skill level and deal with mentee’s inexperience. They are often not compensated for their expertise and knowledge transfer. Balancing the demands of work and facilitating education and learning on the farm can create strains on farm productivity and profitability. Training and mentoring inexperienced labor on the farm has economic impacts. Mentors must consistently set reasonable goals and expectations and effectively communicate, provide feedback, and nurture their mentees. Mentors also provide more than just skills training but help aspiring farmers develop and clarify their goals, strengths and potential, facilitate understanding of their values and aspirations, and connect them to other resources and social networks. Many farm mentors may have limited formal educational training and most mentors lack peer support systems and access to educational resources and professional development opportunities to build their capacity as educators that would create more effective relationships between mentors and mentees. 

Agricultural Service Providers who coordinate farm mentor networks and who foster farmer-to-farmer learning opportunities value the role that quality mentoring relationships play in preparing future agrarians for agricultural careers and the need for qualified successors. There are few agriculture-specific mentor training resources and agricultural service providers seek tools, curricula, and training strategies to build mentor support networks and offer quality professional training and support to farm mentors.

Mentoring programs strengthen the local foods movement by providing experiential education on farms and bringing new, diverse producers into agriculture. The number of farm and ranch mentor programs across the US is increasing (Mills-Novoa 2010) and a strong mentor support network of more established farmers may help beginning farmers endure beyond early years of production. New Entry launched the National Ag Apprenticeship Learning Network (AgALN) in 2016 to create a community of practice for agricultural service providers facilitating mentor matching programs. These programs coordinate networks of experienced farm and ranch mentors and support placement of aspiring farm learners (often called interns, apprentices, or trainees) on vetted “mentor farms” to provide experiential learning opportunities. Virginia State University’s evaluation of beginning farmer programs determined that “farm mentor programs” ranked second in the level of importance or priority for beginning farmer success in the self-employment and labor category (Niewolny et al 2010). New Entry conducts an annual survey of farm mentors operating apprenticeship and internship training programs and data from 2017 and 2018 cite common challenges farm mentors experience including: communication strategies and setting expectations; a lack of resources for ongoing mentorship support and curriculum development; HR-related questions [hiring, payroll, liability, legal]; teaching strategies that support adult learning; and balancing work and learning on the farm (New Entry 2019). As a result, agricultural service providers operating mentor matching programs seek training strategies to build strong mentor support networks.

Professional development for farm mentors has the potential to result in more effective training for aspiring and beginning farmers, increase knowledge transfer of agricultural skill, increase employee retention, and improve farm work culture. For mentors, mentoring can enhance job satisfaction, build interpersonal skills, and provide opportunities to reflect on motivations and values toward farming. Mentors also continually revisit their agricultural practices and innovations as they teach. Mentors may often be questioned and challenged to make improvements. Mentorships can also build social networks of farmers to safeguard against shocks (production or equipment failure) and provide much needed psychosocial supports for farmers that may lack necessary mental health services (Lunner, Kallioniemi, & Lundqvist et al., 2013).

As a result of gaining new knowledge and skills, farm mentors will improve their mentoring and teaching skills, engage in more effective communications, and facilitate an environment more conducive to learning. For ag service providers and beginning farmer trainers, enhancing the capacity of farm mentors provides the best learning experiences for future agrarians and improves long-term outcomes for their programs.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Meredith Epstein (Educator)
  • Ryan Dennett, Dani (Educator)
  • Shannon Algiere (Educator)
  • Elizabeth Gabriel (Educator)
  • Dave Llewelyn (Educator)

Educational Approach

Educational approach:

Education Plan
Participant Recruitment: New Entry accesses 15+ Northeast agricultural networks and listservs that reach over 10,000 agricultural professionals and farmers. Our Ag Apprenticeship Learning Network (AgALN) has 160+ organizations collaborating to improve apprenticeship training. A regional advisory group will outreach to recruit and enroll ag service providers and farm mentors. Mentor listening sessions and a survey in Maryland (2020) helped develop priorities for trainings.  Project partners assessed and developed educational resources.
Curriculum Topics: Project team planning conversations suggest prioritizing both novice and experienced mentor topics on: leadership development; effective communications and relational health (active listening; nonviolent communication; conflict resolution); setting goals and expectations; experiential curriculum development; understanding adult learning styles; fostering values around quality education and learning; developing self-directed learners using the Ladder of Inference and protocols for skillful inquiry; balancing work and education; delegating responsibilities; working across intergenerational difference; fostering Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and safe learning spaces on the farm; creating positive workplace culture; addressing gender and harassment; and facilitating “community” with farm workers, owners, managers, interns working together, and more. Other topics (farm labor/employment law, disaster preparedness/planning) were identified through listening sessions.

Methods to Facilitate Learning: This project has two phases: planning/content development and content delivery. The project team researched existing resources, assessed delivery approaches (moved to online/virtual for MD training due to COVID-19), and conducted Maryland mentor listening sessions to gather feedback and input on mentor challenges, opportunities, best practices, and peer learning goals. The UMD team created training agendas, selected qualified trainers, and engaged service providers and mentors through outreach. Content delivery for January 2021 (our first scheduled mentor training) will include: 1) three, half-day (2-5 pm) virtual professional development workshops targeting ag service providers and farmers interested in mentoring or training beginning farmers (Year 1: Maryland host; planned for Year 2: Maine, Year 3: New York); 2) webinar versions and recordings of trainings will posted on New Entry’s website.  In future years, we will also seek to provide regional winter conference presentations; mentor discussion / peer groups and individualized training sessions; and resource materials posted on New Entry’s website.
Methods to Plan and Act: A Mentor Training Toolkit and Resource Guide for agricutlure service providers was published in November 2020 and includes training agendas, fact sheets, activities, annotated resources, and facilitation guides for supporting peer-to-peer mentor groups through low-cost approaches. Mentor support networks in each NESARE state will help prioritize future educational resource development. Participating mentors will receive updated resources and materials, be invited to present at conferences and webinars, and will report new on-farm communications/curriculum approaches that improve mentee relationships and beneficial outcomes.

Milestones

Milestone #1 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

100 Northeast farmers and agricultural service providers respond to an apprenticeship survey to prioritize topics important to farm mentors and service providers facilitating mentoring programs. Results are analyzed and shared with members of Project Team to focus research on desired training materials and priorities

Proposed number of farmer beneficiaries who will participate:
20
Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
80
Actual number of farmer beneficiaries who participated:
27
Actual number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who participated:
24
Proposed Completion Date:
April 30, 2020
Status:
In Progress
Accomplishments:

In May 2020, New Entry circulated the National Apprenticeship Annual Survey to the national listservs to collect information on apprenticeship training programs, mentor resources, and professional development training topics desired. We received 25 responses to the National survey, with 11 farmer respondents and 14 service providers responding.

Additionally, in mid-June 2020, we circulated a “topic of interest poll” to our national networks to elicit training and professional development topics for our national FIELD School to be held in November 2020.  We had 43 respondents with 10 service providers demonstrating interest in apprenticeship topics, 16 in incubator topics and 17 who selected both.  A key priority that surfaced in this poll was service providers asking for more training on diversity, equity, and inclusion and to address racial justice in beginning farmer training programs.  We did offer a session on Racial Equity at our National FIELD School which was the most well-attended of the 12 sessions we hosted at the conference (98 people attended the session).

In preparation for our 2021 University of Maryland Farm Mentorship Training Program, UMD circulated a needs assessment survey in August 2020 and received 16 responses from farmers who indicated willingness to attend a virtual training in 2021, to indicate days of week, times of day for the training, and to select which training topics were of most interest to participants.  The feedback from this survey informed development of the Maryland mentor training topics.

Other program partners were reluctant to circulate additional surveys to their farmers and colleagues during the spring/summer/fall this year to solicit more formal feedback on mentor professional development.  Due to COVID-19 and the many pivots and stresses that farmers (and service providers) were making it was determined that additional surveys may not be well received.  Program staff in ME, NY, and other partners felt that they could incorporate feedback and elicit mentor needs more “organically” through conversations and existing programming rather than launch a formal survey.  This resulted in less than the target number of respondents we anticipated receiving to launch the overall program, but the project team is confident that the professional development topics that we have selected are relevant, necessary, and will be important to mentors.  We propose to conduct specific pre-training surveys in both Maine and New York as we get closer to those planned trainings.

Milestone #2 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

Five farmers with experience in mentorship join the Advisory Team which includes Project Team members and team initiates monthly calls to plan Northeast listening sessions in collaboration with service providers, conducts initial educational resource research and assessment, and begins planning Year 1 Workshop in Maryland.

Proposed number of farmer beneficiaries who will participate:
5
Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
15
Actual number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who participated:
14
Proposed Completion Date:
May 29, 2020
Status:
In Progress
Accomplishments:

The project team (collaborators) and project advisors have been meeting monthly (second Tuesdays of the month at 3pm EST) since the project launched.  Average monthly attendance at meetings have 10 attendees participating. For the Project Advisory team, several have been unable to engage in the project this year due to COVID-19 constraints/overwhelm.  They have been consulted individually to inform about project progress and several participated in the national FIELD School and/or attended the Mentor Training Toolkit launch in December 2020.  We will reassess their ability to participate moving forward.  Four of the five proposed Advisory Team members are farmers and their time is limited.

Milestone #3 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

At least 1,000 producers and 60 agricultural service providers become aware of or exposed to at least ten existing mentor resources collected from either the Northeast or other regions featuring mentoring best practices. Resources are shared through posts and targeted outreach by service providers to at least 15 listservs in the Northeast region, along with an advertisement asking for participation of mentors in state listening sessions hosted by project team.

Proposed number of farmer beneficiaries who will participate:
1000
Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
60
Actual number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who participated:
26
Proposed Completion Date:
August 28, 2020
Status:
In Progress
Accomplishments:

New Entry hosted a webinar on the new Mentor Training Toolkit on December 15, 2020.  Over 52 people registered for the webinar and received access to the recording; 26 attended the live webinar.  The educational resource was promoted at the November 2020 national FIELD School, and an announcement about the Toolkit was emailed to three New Entry listservs (AgALN, NIFTI, and Combined National Programs lists) reaching an estimated additional 1,100 people, in addition to posting the resource on New Entry’s social media accounts.

Milestone #4 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

At least 60 mentors participate and provide input on mentor training needs through organized state listening sessions, focus groups, or field days about the benefits and challenges of mentorship and resources they would like developed. Service providers debrief feedback from listening sessions. Listening sessions will also disseminate existing mentor resources.

Proposed number of farmer beneficiaries who will participate:
60
Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
15
Actual number of farmer beneficiaries who participated:
17
Proposed Completion Date:
October 30, 2020
Status:
In Progress
Accomplishments:

University of Maryland issued a survey to mentors in the state to gain input as to a virtual training session in winter 2021 and identify the training topics that most interested them.  17 farmers responded to the survey to inform training topics for the January 2021 training event.

Project partners hosting future trainings in Maine and New York will issue separate surveys to mentors prior to planning the 2022 and 2023 events.

Milestone #5 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

Resource Development: Based on input from listening sessions, Project Team and Advisors will prepare multi-day training workshop content, invite speakers, and develop participatory curriculum, and schedule field trip to Terp Farm for a mentor training attended by 40 participants (10 service providers and 30 farm mentors) to be held in Maryland; 40 participants complete the training and agree to incorporate at least three new practices with their trainees in 2021.

Proposed number of farmer beneficiaries who will participate:
30
Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
10
Proposed Completion Date:
January 29, 2021
Status:
Incomplete
Accomplishments:

The January 11 – 13, 2021 training that will be hosted by University of Maryland currently has over 80 registrants who have completed registration forms on the website.  Workshops will be held from 2 – 5pm each day in an online format (Zoom).  We will be issuing a pre-survey to registrants and monitoring daily attendance over the three-day workshop.  A post-survey will be issued to all attendees.  The workshop registration page, speakers, and agenda can be found at this website:  https://iaa.umd.edu/farm-mentorship-training.

 

Milestone #6 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

Three follow up webinars share content of training topics held in Maryland to at least 45 additional producers and service providers [April 2021]. At least 30 mentors present or attend one of 9 webinars (three per regional training) to share best practices and model use of resources developed via toolkit.

Proposed number of farmer beneficiaries who will participate:
45
Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
9
Proposed Completion Date:
December 30, 2022
Status:
In Progress
Accomplishments:

This is scheduled for spring/summer 2021.

Milestone #7 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

A mentor support group and training facilitation toolkit will be developed and shared with at least 20 ag service providers and producers who provide feedback and suggested revisions.

Proposed number of farmer beneficiaries who will participate:
5
Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
20
Proposed Completion Date:
September 30, 2021
Status:
In Progress
Accomplishments:

Planning for mentor network development will begin in 2021.

Milestone #8 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

Based on evaluations from the Maryland training and webinars, Project Team and Advisors will prepare for a Maine multi-day workshop session attended by at least 30 participants and a New York multi-day training with 30 participants, 18 are agricultural service providers and 42 are farm mentors.

Proposed number of farmer beneficiaries who will participate:
42
Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
18
Proposed Completion Date:
January 28, 2022
Status:
In Progress
Accomplishments:

The team will revisit the workshop evaluations, feedback from organizers, and post-survey results to inform planning for the Maine fall 2021 or winter 2022 event.

Milestone #9 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

At least 25 mentors and 5 agricultural service providers will attend at least one regional conference session that highlights skills and resources featured in the mentor toolkit to improve communications and teaching/learning strategies.

Proposed number of farmer beneficiaries who will participate:
25
Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
5
Proposed Completion Date:
January 28, 2022
Status:
In Progress
Accomplishments:

We will target a regional conference to present highlights from the mentor trainings moving forward.  2020 was a chaotic year to try to figure out a conference partner given it was the first time many winter agricultural conferences are shifting to virtual/online formats. 

Milestone #10 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

At least 5 agricultural service providers will support at least 75 mentors who will be reached through attendance at trainings and via invitations to continue to network and share resources and feedback regarding existing toolkit and other challenges and opportunities and best practices resources for mentors through regular (quarterly or monthly) state-level peer-to-peer mentor support groups.

Proposed number of farmer beneficiaries who will participate:
75
Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
5
Proposed Completion Date:
December 30, 2022
Status:
In Progress
Accomplishments:

We will begin development of mentor support groups in 2021.

Milestone #11 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

75 mentors report improved educational outcomes for 250 mentees through follow up evaluations and interviews conducted by agricultural service providers facilitating mentor networks.

Proposed number of farmer beneficiaries who will participate:
250
Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
75
Proposed Completion Date:
May 26, 2023
Status:
In Progress
Accomplishments:

We will develop a follow up evaluation with attendees of the regional trainings at the end of the project.

Milestone #12 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

30 farm mentors remain engaged in either formal or informal regional mentor support networks through regular (quarterly or monthly) state-level peer-to-peer mentor support groups beyond the project.

Proposed number of farmer beneficiaries who will participate:
30
Proposed number of agriculture service provider beneficiaries who will participate:
5
Proposed Completion Date:
May 26, 2023
Status:
In Progress
Accomplishments:

We will develop a follow up evaluation with mentor support groups at the end of the project.

Milestone Activities and Participation Summary

Educational activities and events conducted by the project team:

1 Curricula, factsheets or educational tools
5 Online trainings

Beneficiaries who participated in the project’s educational activities and events:

19 Extension
13 Researchers
65 Nonprofit
10 Farmers/ranchers
73 Others
10 Farmers
185 Number of agricultural educator or service providers reached through education and outreach activities

Learning Outcomes

Key areas in which the service providers (and farmers if indicated above) reported a change in knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness::

We did not issue formal evaluations for the online trainings related to mentorship or apprenticeship yet in 2020. The online trainings conducted and related to this SARE project were not specific mentor trainings where we administered pre- and post-survey data as we have planned for 2021 and beyond. We will focus on that for our mentor-specific trainings in MD, ME, and NY.

Performance Target Outcomes

Performance Target Outcomes - Service Providers

Target #1

Target: number of service providers who will take action to educate/advise farmers:
20
Target: actions the service providers will take:

20 agricultural service providers provide training to farm mentors through conference sessions, webinars, curriculum development, peer learning groups, and resource toolkit dissemination to 75 farm mentors.

Target: number of farmers the service providers will educate/advise:
75
Target: amount of production these farmers manage:

150 acres

Target #2

Target: number of service providers who will take action to educate/advise farmers:
75
Target: actions the service providers will take:

75 farm mentors adopt relational practices and increase competence to communicate, set expectations, facilitate self-directed learning, and effectively mentor at least 250 aspiring and beginning farmers.

Target: number of farmers the service providers will educate/advise:
250
Target: amount of production these farmers manage:

These represent aspiring or beginning farmers who may or may not be farming independently.

Activities for farmers conducted by service providers:
  • 1 Curricula, factsheets and other educational tools
  • 4 Webinars/talks/presentations
Performance target outcome for service providers narrative:

The project has not yet verified any performance outcome data yet.  We did not conduct formal evaluations or pre-/post-training evaluations at our webinars, Toolkit launch, or National FIELD School sessions. We do plan to issue a pre-survey questionnaire to registrants of the Maryland training and will issue a post-session evaluation and survey so we will have formal data about service provider who use the materials presented in the trainings.  We will also issue a follow up evaluation to attendees of the Mentor Toolkit launch in mid-January; there is currently a feedback form embedded in the online Toolkit, though we realistically do not expect much input to that form.

Additional Project Outcomes

1 Grant applied for that built upon this project
2 New working collaborations
Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.