Lake Superior Chapter SFA Farm Beginnings Program

Final Report for FNC06-610

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2006: $9,155.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2009
Region: North Central
State: Minnesota
Project Coordinator:
Cree Bradley
Lake Superior Chapter, Sustainable Farming Assoc
Co-Coordinators:
Mark Thell
Lake Superior Chapter Sustainable Farming Assoc
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Project Information

Summary:

PROJECT BACKGROUND
The Lake Superior Sustainable Farming Association (LS-SFA), under the leadership of producer Mark Thell and a farmer-led steering committee, developed and implemented the Farm Beginnings ® program in Northeastern MN. Known as Lake Superior Farm Beginnings, the program is a farmer-taught educational training and support program for aspiring and beginning farmers, as well as experienced farmers, to help evaluate, plan and actualize farm enterprises. The program is licensed through the Land Stewardship Project, a greater MN non-profit with 14 years of operating successful Farm Beginnings programs, and was brought north and made regionally authentic by the LS-SFA, to provide a comprehensive training program to meet the needs of next generation farmers in the Lake Superior region.

Lake Superior Farm Beginnings participants learn Whole Farm Planning, value clarification and goal-setting, Holistic Management™, marketing and distribution, business plan development, financial management, planning for profit, enterprise diversification and sustainable production techniques. Both in-class and on-farm sessions provide a well-rounded, hands-on educational approach. Participants receive resource materials, are connected to regional marketing opportunities, network with each other and with a variety of innovative, experienced farmers throughout the region, and are connected to mentorship opportunities.

Classes begin in the fall, held at Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College, and meet nine times into the spring. Ten on-farm sessions focusing on production techniques start directly after and run through fall. Participants develop a Holistic Goal and work on a sustainable business plan that enhances their quality of life goals – a plan factoring in sound environmental practices while being economically viable.

Lake Superior Sustainable Farming Association has been actively promoting sustainable farming systems through education, demonstration and farmer-to-farmer networking since 1991. With growing demand for local foods in the Lake Superior region, an increased interest in farming, and widespread marketing opportunities, offering a comprehensive beginning farmer training and support program was a logical and needed step in the organization’s program offerings.

PROJECT DESCRIPTION AND RESULTS
GOALS:
? To successfully license the program and train LS-SFA staff and steering committee members by Land Stewardship Project’s Farm Beginnings staff
? To successfully develop and implement a Lake Superior Farm Beginnings program in the Lake Superior region of northeast MN and northwestern WI
? To recruit and enroll 20 farm units in the first year
? To lay the groundwork for future Lake Superior Farm Beginnings program offerings

PROCESS
? To successfully license the program through Land Stewardship Project.

On March 14, 2008, LS-SFA hired Cree Bradley as the facilitator for the Lake Superior Farm Beginnings (LSFB) program. Mrs. Bradley, along with two LSFB farmer steering committee members, attended a required 3-day Farm Beginnings facilitator training in April hosted by licensor, the Land Stewardship Project (LSP). The facilitator training was a detailed overview of the Farm Beginnings license agreement, curriculum, principles and objectives of the program, facilitation practice, farmer-led presenter criteria, advice, and general best practices.

Following the facilitator training, licensor LSP provided a 1-day steering committee training for 12 LSFB steering committee members in May. During this training, LSP detailed Farm Beginnings principles and objectives, the role of the steering committee and program budget needs.

? To develop and implement a successful Lake Superior Farm Beginnings program in NE MN.

Immediately following training with LSP, Mrs. Bradley developed and initiated promotion and recruitment, fundraising and program development activities that ultimately lead to a successful LSFB program. Efforts included:

? Promotion – Designed and distributed promotional materials to include 8.5×11 and 11×17 posters, brochure, LSFB Fact Sheet, exhibitor display, press release, webpage and FB graduate profiles (three Lake Superior region farmers were graduates of the LSP Farm Beginnings program). Developed a promotion plan that included press releases to regional papers, presence at county fairs, information in university Extension offices, regionally-hung posters, articles in partner newsletters (Extension newsletters, Business North, LS-SFA).

? Recruitment – Developed student information packet complete with program application, scholarship application, net worth statement (for needs-based scholarships), LSFB Fact Sheet, syllabus, graduate profiles and welcome letter. Facilitated email and phone conversations with prospective students.

? Fundraising – Worked with LSP to develop the full program budget. Secured additional general operating funding through a couple community grants and business sponsorships. Secured student scholarship funding through a couple community service-based organizations.

? Program Development – Worked closely with LSFB farmer-led steering committee, as well as additional community partners (Cook, Carlton and Ashland County Extension, Onanegozie and Laurentian RC&D, Northeast MN Sustainable Development Partnership) to help develop and regionally authenticate the program.

Created farmer-led committees to help oversee tasks: the Planning Committee helped with immediate decision-making, the Scholarship Committee assisted with review of needs-based scholarship applications, and the Presenter Committee (lead by producer Mark Thell) helped identify innovative, experienced farmers with skill and expertise in session topics while having good communication and presenter skills.

Working within the Farm Beginnings framework, developed a syllabus and a process for learning. See Lake Superior Farm Beginnings Syllabus and Process attachment.

? Program Implementation – Partnered with Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College to host the winter LSFB sessions. Worked with regional farmers to host the summer on-farm field sessions. The program began in October 2008 and ran through September 2009 with a total of 9 business-oriented classroom sessions and 12 production-based, on-farm field sessions.

? To enroll 20 farm units in the first year.

Land Stewardship Project advised that an appropriate class size goal should range between 15-20 farm units (a farm unit includes spouses, parent and child, or farm business partners). We aimed for 20 farm units our first year and had 22 farm units register for the program, which equaled a total of 44 individuals.

? To lay the groundwork for future Lake Superior Farm Beginnings program offerings.

Regional partnerships that developed, as well as farmer support for the program, were and remain strong. This has been a key component for laying the groundwork for continuation of the LSFB program in the Lake Superior region. Since the first 2008-2009 program, LSFB has offered (and is in progress of) a second 2009-2010 LSFB program held at Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College in Cloquet MN. Demand has remained high. As long as demand is present and fundraising goals are met, LS-SFA will continue to offer annual LSFB programs, rotating between Cloquet MN and Ashland WI (the 2010-2011 LSFB is slated to be held at the retired Ashland Ag Experiment Station, now owned by Ashland County and operated by the non-profit Agriculture and Energy Resource Center).

In addition to offering annual LSFB programs, LS-SFA recognized during its first year that when it committed to bringing the Farm Beginnings program to the region, it committed to a farmer training and support effort that is much more comprehensive then the year-long program. We’ve recognized that supporting graduates in years 2-5 are just as important as seeing them through the LSFB program itself. In addition, offering a variety of ways for individuals to gain experience and immerse themselves into farming is critical. Out of LSFB, the Lake Superior Collaborative Regional Alliance for Farmer Trainings (LS-CRAFT) has developed. LS-CRAFT includes the LSFB farmer-led steering committee and 11 additional community, university and government organizations who pool our collective regional resources, education and opportunities into one LS-CRAFT clearinghouse to provide a variety of support tools and immersion points for aspiring and beginning farmers.

PEOPLE
? Farmers – Farmers are the foundation of the Farm Beginnings program. They help develop and implement the program through steering committee involvement and serve as the primary educators of the program.

? LSFB Farmer-Led Steering Committee: Mark Thell, Four Quarters Holdings; Karola Dalen, Northern Harvest Farm; Jane and Janaki Fisher-Merritt, Food Farm; Tom Cogger, Maple Hill Farm; Deb Shubat, Shubat’s Fruits; Katie Hanson, Boreal Scapes Farm; and Landis Spickerman, Hermit Creek Farm.

? LSFB Farmer Educators with Session Focus:

? Holistic Management™ Value Clarification and Goal-Setting – Paula Williams, Common Place Farm and Certified Integral Life Coach
? Holistic Management™ Testing Guidelines and On-Farm Observation – Doug Gunnink, Holistic Management™ Educator and Farmer
? Business Planning and Business of Scale – Rick Dale, Highland Valley Farm
? Business Plan Development – Karola Dalen, Northern Harvest Farm
? Financial Management – Cree Bradley, Chelsea Morning Farm
? Planning for Profit – Landis and Steven Spickerman, Hermit Creek Farm
? Enterprise Diversification and Enterprise Budgets – Matt Cogger, Maple Hill Farm, and Eileen and Jeff McCutchen, Angel Acres Farm
? Farm Taxes – Janaki Fisher-Merritt, Food Farm and Tax Preparer
? Marketing and Distribution – Chris Duke, Pasture Perfect Poultry and Great Oak Farm
? Direct Marketing Strategies – Charlie and Tzeital Kersey, LaFinca Farm
? Greenhouse Production – Deb Shubat, Shubat’s Fruits, Shary Zoff, Shary’s Berries, and Cree Bradley, Chelsea Morning Farm
? Pastured Pork – Tom and Matt Cogger, Maple Hill Farm
? Soils – John Fisher-Merritt, Food Farm
? Cover Cropping – Janaki Fisher-Merritt, Food Farm
? Rotational Grazing – Troy Salzer, Sandy Hills Farm, and Will Hedquist, Green Pastures Dairy
? Season Extension – Landis and Steven Spickerman, Hermit Creek Farm
? Small Fruit Production – Tom Galazen, North Wind Organic Farm

? Community, Government and University Partners – Serve on the LSFB Steering Committee, participate in LS-CRAFT (steer resources and opportunities to the clearinghouse), and serve as point people for technical assistance and questions:

? UW – Extension, Ashland County – Jason Fischbach
? U of MN – Extension, Cook County – Diane Booth
? U of MN – Carlton County – Troy Salzer
? Carlton County Soil and Water Conservation Service – Kelly Smith
? Onanegozie Resource Conservation & Development – Dana Raines
? Laurentian Resource Conservation & Development – Paul Sandstrom
? Natural Resource Conservation Service, Ashland Area – Tom Cogger

? Additional Partners:

? Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College – MN host for LSFB winter sessions.
? Agriculture and Energy Resource Center – WI host for LSFB winter sessions. Also partnering with LS-CRAFT to start a farm incubator site.
? NE MN Sustainable Development Partnership – Provided general operating funds.
? Carlton County Economic Development – Provided general operating funds.
? Community Action Duluth – Partnered to develop a LSFB Individual Development Account program (a 3:1 savings and match program that helps beginning farmers invest in building or expanding their farm business or purchasing property by matching personal savings).
? Rotary Club # 25 of Duluth – Provided needs-based scholarship funds.
? Kiwanis Club of Cloquet – Provided needs-based scholarship funds.

? Whole Foods Co-op of Duluth – Provided general operating funds.
? Cooperative Light and Power of Two Harbors – Provided needs-based scholarship funds and a sponsorship for Farm Fest (a LSFB annual fundraiser).

RESULTS
By partnering with LSP and licensing the Farm Beginnings curriculum, LS-SFA entered into a relationship that has 14 years of measurable results and success. Over the last decade that Farm Beginnings has been held in MN by LSP, 380 people have completed the course, over 60% of those graduates are farming, over 6,000 acres of land is owned, rented or otherwise farmed by graduates; graduates are engaged in a broad spectrum of farming enterprises: beef, dairy, hogs, meat goats, poultry, wholesale vegetables, Community Supported Agriculture, organic grains and specialty products such as cut flowers; sixty-six percent of graduates who are farming indicate that their net farm income has increased since taking Farm Beginnings. The average net farm income increase is $12,500.

It was these measurable results that helped inform LS-SFA’s decision to license the Farm Beginnings curriculum. Since our first year of program operation, we have 68 additional graduates to add to these statistics (44 graduates within the SARE-funded year). Measurable results related to farm starts, increased revenue or acreage of land farmed have not been determined yet as it’s early into the students graduation. However, a qualitative gathering of results through email, phone and in-person communication, as well as through follow-up networking dinners with student presentations, are showing good results. Out of the 22 farm units (44 participants) who graduated during the SARE-funded year, 18 farm units are engaged in new or expanded farm activities to include:

? Four farm units have bought farms since graduating from the course and will enter into their first year of operation this 2010 growing season. Two units are engaged in CSA farming with sold-out shares. One unit is engaged in specialty herb production with a market established in Duluth. One unit is engaged in a rotational grazing beef operation.
? One farm unit has bought draft horse livestock, is currently leasing land and working the soil this 2010 season, as well as hiring his labor out to other farmers.
? Two farm units who previously owned acreage but did not farm are starting operations. One unit is starting a small-scale hydroponic lettuce and other greens operation this 2010 season with intentions to expand in the future as experience grows. One unit has left their 9-to-5 job to start a diversified operation with poultry, vegetables and pigs, marketing direct to customers and through the Ely Farmers Market.
? Eight farm units that had previously farmed for 1-3 years are ramping up their farm operation scale, diversifying their enterprises, and / or are adopting direct marketing strategies. One unit is increasing their CSA shares to a more financially viable position. Two units are offering their first CSA shares this 2010 season with one increasing their pork production from 2 to 30 pastured hogs as well as their poultry production. One unit is expanding their poultry operation to 600 birds in 2010 (from their original 100 in 2009), added rabbits and pigs in 2009, and are considering starting a meat CSA for 2011. One unit is diversifying their current commercial greenhouse bedding plant production to begin producing and selling on-farm vegetables for this 2010 season. One farm unit (a cooperative) is expanding their vegetable production and is diversifying their marketing to include wholesale restaurant accounts (in addition, they are communicating as a cooperative better). One farm unit is increasing high tunnel vegetable production and is currently engaged in the MOSES mentorship program with a regional farmer. One farm unit started to raise bees and, marketed their first honey crop at the Cook Farmers Market in 2009.
? One farm unit is involved in a Duluth urban farm program out of Duluth MN and is trialing SPIN farming as a production method.
? Two farm units are interns at regional farms with 2010 being their second year.
In addition:

? Two farm units have signed up for the LSFB IDA slots which will match their farm investment 3:1 to equal $7,280 in savings. They will be able to spend these funds in 2011 on farm infrastructure / equipment or on a down payment on farmland. One additional farm unit is in the process of applying for an IDA slot and plans to invest savings in on-farm poultry processing equipment.
? One farm unit decided that farming is not for him (we consider this an indirect success too as the cost of failure for starting a farm can be high).

Additional evaluation was collected. Each session included a session evaluation to gather feedback on the quality of the session and our farmer-presenters, the amount of information learned, confidence in utilizing the information, and general comments to better the program. A pre-season survey is utilized to gage where farm units are at with their current farm experience, land ownership, background and other details. This pre-survey is useful as it allows us to compare information through post-surveys done in years 2-5.

DISCUSSION
Receiving a SARE grant provided the seed money to partner with a well-established organization and beginning farmer training curriculum, and helped get the program developed and implemented in the Lake Superior region. This has been an invaluable and important development as it is directly fulfilling a farmer training need LS-SFA identified and is beginning to address some of the production bottleneck in our region as demand outstrips supply.

It has proved advantageous to adopt the Farm Beginnings model to fulfill this training need as it has removed the time-intensive and costly route of developing our own beginning farmer training curriculum from scratch. In partnering with Farm Beginnings, we have access to years of experience, resources and tools that we have incorporated into our curriculum while maintaining our own regional authenticity. It has also provided ideas that have been instrumental learning opportunities within our program, but for which we may not have thought of on our own had we developed our own curriculum. An example of this is the inclusion of formal Holistic Management™ education that walks students through a very intentional process of clarifying values and setting farm goals related to the quality of life they want to live while maintaining a strong focus on ecosystem health and sound economics.

The challenge of adopting the Farm Beginnings model relates to the long-term financial sustainability of the program. The program is expensive to operate and tuition alone doesn’t cover the annual operating budget. Ultimately, LS-SFA feels our training program is stronger and more effective due to the comprehensive ‘whole farm plan’ nature of this program. The financial challenges remain however. LS-SFA would recommend to other organizations looking at adopting a comprehensive training program such as Farm Beginnings, to have a solid budget sustainability plan in place. By doing so, you are able to more effectively follow through with beginning farmer expectations that build and can continue to support individuals with whom you have already engaged with.

OUTREACH
Outreach occurred through many media outlets. Posters were hung throughout the 16-county region. They were distributed to LS-SFA members, the LSFB steering committee and community partners who brought them back to their rural towns to post on community billboards. Posters remained the most effective way to promote the program.

Brochures and fact sheets were distributed to Extension and government partner offices. Email blasts through LS-SFA membership listserve and partner listserves were regularly sent. LS-SFA and Extension partners included newsletter articles and/or announcements about the program. Press releases were developed and disseminated to all known media outlets within the 16-county region to include local and regional newspapers, radio stations and business development organizations. Two radio stations, KUMD of Duluth and KAXE of Grand Rapids, hosted personal interviews with the program facilitator to announce the program and two additional radio stations, WTIP of Grand Marais and WOJB of WI, announced the program.

A LSFB table display was developed and exhibited at nine regional county fairs, at two Earth Day festivals, at the Midsummer Organic Food Festival in Duluth, and at all LS-SFA public events. A LSFB webpage was developed with program information on the LS-SFA website. Graduate profiles were developed on three farmers who graduated from the LSP Farm Beginnings program and who are currently and successfully farming in the Lake Superior region. These profiles were sent to local newspapers near their farms; two posted them as articles.

Field sessions were primarily closed to the public and meant for LSFB students only; therefore, communication about these events happened internally with students through a formal summer schedule and email reminders. However, two field sessions were open to the public: a Season Extension session at Hermit Creek Farm in Highbridge, WI and a Community Supported Agriculture session which happened in conjunction with Farm Fest, an annual LSFB fundraiser and student graduation ceremony, held at Chelsea Morning Farm in Two Harbors, MN. Both sessions were publicized through posters hung around neighboring communities, email blasts through LS-SFA, Extension and host farm listserves, and articles written in the LS-SFA newsletter. Farm Fest was advertised in the local Two Harbors Chronicle and at the local Chamber of Commerce.

PROGRAM BENEFITS AND IMPACTS
Hard economic data is not yet available. General program economic, social and environmental benefits and impacts include:

? LSFB helps develop financially, as well as environmentally, sustainable farms.
? Demand currently far exceeds supply of local food. A wide range of wholesale and direct markets exist in the Lake Superior region. One institutional food market alone, St. Luke’s Hospital in Duluth MN, has adopted a Healthy Food policy which focuses their one million dollar food budget on buying local and organic foods first. In 2009, less then $1000 was spent on local product by this hospital (and not for a lack of trying). LSFB introduces beginning farmers to the myriad of marketing opportunities that exist in the region and facilitates a session that helps connect students to business owners to communicate about needs and expectations. There is potential for establishing hundreds of new farms or ramping up current farm operations in the Lake Superior region to fulfill this bottleneck. LSFB is assisting students with developing the necessary business and production skills to start and operate successful farms.
? Conventional farming practices are a major source of environmental degradation. LSFB helps farmers see that there is a future in sustainable farming that can protect open, rural spaces, provide wildlife habitat, build soil fertility and biological diversity.
? Through the incorporation of whole farm planning and Holistic Management™, LSFB is providing LSFB students with a framework and process for developing farm operations that blend with their values and the quality of life they want to live.

The LSFB facilitator participated in a regional Green Jobs Initiative, instigated by the City of Duluth. A regional economic summary was created as part of the process. Future farmers graduating from LSFB may eventually be part of this economic reality. See attachment Economic Context for Local Food Production for more information.

EVALUATION
The SARE program operates efficiently and is very understanding of busy work and farm schedules. We do not have any recommendations for improvement and appreciate the flexibility with extensions SARE provided while LS-SFA got situated with this new program and secured additional funding to operate the program.

Research

Participation Summary
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.