Supporting New Farmers Through Mentoring and Membership in a Cooperative

Progress report for FNC21-1266

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2021: $25,800.00
Projected End Date: 01/31/2023
Grant Recipient: Full Circle Farm
Region: North Central
State: Wisconsin
Project Coordinator:
Valerie Dantoin
Full Circle Farm
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Project Information

Description of operation:

There are several farms working together on this project. All the farms practice grass-based, agriculture, several are certified organic. All are family farms. Each farm is described briefly here: Full Circle Farm: 200 acre organic grass-fed beef farm with 100 head, certified organic since 2003. Papes Pastures: 100 acres, 30 head of beef cattle, 20 pastured hogs, 400 pastured broilers per year. Mighty Winds Farm; 20 acres, herbs, fruit trees, 200 pastured hens. Full Circle Community Farm: 40 acres total, 10 acres organic vegetables, 1000 laying hens.


New Farmers have a steep learning curve when growing vegetable crops or animals for market.  There are many educational opportunities that teach production or marketing, but still, many startups fail.   This project asks if membership and mentorship in a Farmer  Cooperative can help new, beginning and diverse farmers (NBDFs) become more successful because a) long-term relationships are fostered and b) markets are more accessible. This should relieve two common social and economic stressors.

The synergy between mentoring and being part of a connected community (a Co-op) makes this effort different from other farmer mentoring programs. Mentors will help new farmers plan, grow, harvest, market crops and livestock, while the Cooperative helps build sustainable relationships based on cooperation and work-life balance rather than competition.  The project lowers barriers to joining the Cooperative as well,  and makes entry  into a mid-scale local food marketplace smooth, simple, and successful for NBDFs.  

This project will document whether mentored, cooperative, new farms are more successful in comparison to non-mentored, non-Co-op farms.  Since the SLO Farmers Cooperative has ecologically sound, high environmental standards for all its members, working with them in this project will naturally contribute to the stewardship of our natural resources.

Project Objectives:

Increase rate of success among new/beginning farmers.  

Provide a model for mentoring new farms as they are “incubated” in a cooperative.

Enroll 5 new farms in the Cooperative each year for 2 years.  This will include at least 4 diverse, socially disadvantaged farmers.

Determine whether the mentoring model for launching NBDF  helps these farms become more successful than comparable farms as indicated by new member product sales, financial records and through interviews and surveys about work/life balance and other stress indicators.

Share results of the project thru conference presentations, hosting field days, written articles, and social media outreach.


Click linked name(s) to expand/collapse or show everyone's info
  • Andrew Adamski - Producer
  • Amanda Chu - Producer
  • Tay Fatke - Producer
  • Aaron Pape - Producer
  • Suzanne Zipperer - Producer


Materials and methods:

The SLO Farmers Cooperative (incorporated in 2014) is a successful business and is well-positioned to receive new farms into membership.  Standards and product prices are set and markets are expanding and ready to take on more products.  Current farmers stand ready to mentor new farmers.  SLO markets 250 CSA vegetable shares weekly and 80 subscription meat boxes monthly.  Sales have doubled each of the last three years.

Finding new farmers for this project.  With her dual role as a farmer and instructor at Northeast Wisconsin Technical College (NWTC), Valerie Dantoin has access to graduates who want to begin farming.  There is a pool of 25  graduates and at least a dozen other beginning farms that fit the proposal criteria from which to draw new farmers.   To be equitable, we will put out an area-wide call for all new farmers on social media etc. so anyone  can apply.  

Access and Diversity.  Valerie will work with colleagues at NWTC office of Equity/Inclusion to find diverse beginning farmers.  She also has strong connections with the Oneida and Menominee Nations and agricultural groups there.  Amanda Chu, working through the New Food Forum and Brown County Board will also offer this project to beginning farmers from the BIPOC community.  

Choosing participating farmers.  From the list of new farmers, we will invite new farms that represent diversity in gender and ethnicity.  We will choose farms that have products, practices and potential to meet standards; and who additionally want to join the Co-op and get a mentor.  

"Comparable" Farmers.   Five similar/matched,  farms will  be offered a $200 stipend each to participate in the research project.  They will also be offered financial analysis opportunities.

Incentives:  Opportunities will be available for all participants for post-season financial discussions.

Researcher:  Amanda Chu is exceptional at interview and analysis.


Participation Summary

Educational & Outreach Activities

104 Consultations
1 Curricula, factsheets or educational tools
4 On-farm demonstrations
2 Published press articles, newsletters
1 Tours
1 Workshop field days
1 Other educational activities: Wisconsin Women in Conservation pollinator habitat workshop

Participation Summary:

120 Farmers participated
12 Ag professionals participated
Education/outreach description:

This grant was all about mentoring new farmers one-on-one.  We had 7 mentors who provided over 100 hours of time to 4 mentees over the course of the growing season.  They typically provided mentoring via half hour to 45 minute sessions.

We hosted a field day/tour for farmers and the general public in 2021 that drew about 175 people, about 50 were farmers and there were a dozen ag professionals attending as well.  I included an addition 10 farmers in the total because we had 7 mentor farmers and 3 mentee farmers present.  The SARE mentoring grant was mentioned, but was not the primary focus of the tour/field day. 

We hosted an evening workshop specifically focused on pollinator habitat on sustainable farms that drew about 60 women farmers.  There were several press articles about this event.  Again, it was not specifically about the SARE mentee grant, but it was mentioned to the group.

Each of 4 mentor farms hosted mentees on their farms as part of "on farm demonstrations"

We had 3 local TV stations visit Full Circle Farm at some point during 2021.  We sent articles to New Leaf Foods (our local Food hub outreach group) about this, and other, projects.  We sent a press release to about 20 local media outlets about receiving the SARE grant.

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.