Final Report for LNC05-252
Opportunities exist in farming, especially for those who respond to the growing consumer interest in healthy food and stewardship of natural resources. A wide range of Ohioans started, or hope to start, a farm. Often passionate for farming, these beginning farmers face formidable challenges not only in gaining access to land and in financing their dreams, but also in finding good mentors, developing new networks, identifying high quality information sources, and securing learning opportunities customized to their needs. Beginning farmers seek to develop knowledge and gain new skills in sustainable agricultural production and business and look for learning opportunities responsive to their time-sensitive availability.
Beginning farmers are not only people at early stages of their working lives, but also mid-career changers and individuals retired from another occupation. Individuals with farming experience also sometimes think of themselves as beginning farmers, for example, if they are assuming the primary responsibility for an intergenerational farm or if they are beginning major changes in production or marketing practices to improve their farm’s sustainability.
In 2005 the North Central Region Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) Program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture awarded Innovative Farmers of Ohio (IFO) a contract to pilot a mentor-based program for beginning farmers in central Ohio. Wisdom in the Land was delivered two times as a 15-month program beginning either November 2006 or March 2007, and one time as a 6-month program beginning January 2008. The program was customized to the developmental priorities of each group, and offered knowledge-building seminars, skill-building workshops, and dedicated individualized mentoring with an experienced farmer either up to 30 hours (15-month program) or 18 hours (6-month program). Financial support and incentives per farm included publications, transportation stipends, and educational reimbursements. Each mentor received an honorarium and had contingent eligibility for a transportation stipend and an educational reimbursement.
This is a report of the pilot program Wisdom in the Land. It includes information about the participants of the program, the experienced farmers who mentored them, and the program content and process. It also summarizes changes the participating beginning farmers made as a result of program-related learning. (Also see a separate publication, Ohio Beginning Farmers Find Wisdom in the Land, Participant Profiles, 2006-2008 and Resource Directory, of 23 individual stories and an annotated directory of resource organizations both utilized for program delivery and that provide services, publications, and information beneficial to other Ohio beginning farmers.) Equally of interest and based upon program experiences, an analysis is made of mentoring relationships. This report additionally includes information about the involvement of other organizations through an Advisory Council, information about outreach and recruitment of participants and mentors, information about financial assistance offered and utilized.
Recommendations for future services to Ohio beginning farmers are made with input from participants, mentors, the program manager, and members of the Advisory Council.
Ohio beginning and transitioning farmers are not prepared to operate sustainable agricultural enterprises, and Ohio lacks a program that systematically provides holistic assistance to help such farmers access and utilize capital and credit, land, training, and markets.
The project was to develop and pilot an educational program that responds to beginning and transitioning Ohio farmers, building on program models from other States. Service Performance Targets included:
1. Two 15-month Programs
2. 40 Program Participants
3. Two Orientations
4. Twelve Seminars
5. Twelve Experiential Workshops
6. Individual Mentoring Relationships for 40 Program Participants
7. Financial Support for Other Professional Development Opportunities
8. 25 – 40 Mentors Recruited, Selected, Trained (for Individual Mentoring Assignments)
9. Write, Publish, and Distribute Profiles
10. Define Program Model Worthy of Replication throughout Ohio
In addition,a Leadership Council was to be established to assist with design, outreach and accountability, whose members especially assist with mentor recruitment.
A comprehensive evaluation plan was to be designed with consideration given to mentoring programs in other States.
Wisdom in the Land was delivered two times as a 15-month program beginning either November 2006 or March 2007, and one time as a 6-month program beginning January 2008. The program was customized to the developmental priorities of each group, and offered knowledge-building seminars, skill-building workshops, and dedicated individualized mentoring with an experienced farmer either up to 30 hours (15-month program) or 18 hours (6-month program). Appropriate resource materials were distributed, customized to the topic of each seminar and workshop. Financial support and incentives per farm included publications, transportation stipends, and educational reimbursements. Each mentor received an honorarium and had contingent eligibility for a transportation stipend and an educational reimbursement.
Representatives of eight organizations that serve Ohio farmers were successfully recruited to be as members of an Advisory Council to work closely with the program manager of Innovative Farmers of Ohio. Represented organizations included Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission, Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) USDA, Ohio Agriculture Research and Development Center (OARDC) of The Ohio State University, Ohio Department of Agriculture, Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association (OEFFA), Ohio Farm Bureau, Ohio Farmers Union, and The Ohio State University Extension. Specifically, Advisors provided advice regarding final program design, outreach and recruitment of a diverse group of mentors, recruitment of program participants, recruitment of collaborators to deliver six one-day experiential workshops, and program evaluation and accountability. The Advisory Council met five times during the period July 2006 and August 2008 and communicated with the program manager as needed via e-mail and telephone.
The time period for program promotion was abbreviated due to delivery schedule changes that resulted from personnel turnover at the sponsoring organization. Initially, two programs were promoted beginning August 2006 with a September application deadline for a November 2006 start and with a December application deadline for a February 2007 start. Outreach resources included E-blasts, promotional postcards and fliers, articles in statewide newsletters and other publications and websites of the sponsoring organization and organizations represented on the Advisory Council.In November 2007 a decision was made to promote a third, re-structured and shorter version of the program. Promotion started immediately with a December 2007 application deadline for a January 2008 start date. Local media, the sponsor’s newsletter and website were the predominant outreach resources. Program promotion was planned to support recruitment of both participants and mentors. However, almost all mentors were individually recruited, sometimes based upon referrals made by members of the Board of Innovative Farmers of Ohio (IFO) or members of the Advisory Council, but more often the result of a review and analysis of directories published by Innovative Farmers of Ohio and by the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association (OEFFA).
Forty six persons applied to Wisdom in the Land, 12 as married couples, two as business partners, and 32 as individuals. Thirty six of the applicants attended the opening session of one of three programs. Thirty two applicants participated beyond the opening session. All were Caucasian. The 32 participants represented 27 farms and included two married couples, two business partners, and 26 individuals.
Full-time Farming Participants.
Most (65%) of these 14 participants enrolled in a 15-month program, with others (35%) in a 6-month program. Most (over 70%) were from the targeted, 13-county central Ohio area. More were female (60%) than male (40%). Half were in their 40s, more than one-third were in their 50s, and two were under 40, one in the 30s and one in the 20s.
For most (over 60%) the farm income was the primary household income. Participants either owned a farm for 10+ years (about 30%) or did not own a farm (about 30%). Others owned a farm for either fewer than 4 years (about 25%) or between 5-9 years (15%). Some (over 40%) had 10+ years of farming experience while others had either 0-4 years (over 30%) or 5-9 years (20%). Together, this group of participants operated farms on more than 835 acres, at a median of 42 acres and with a range of 2.25 to 250 acres. Three had either ownership control or another type of involvement in either a family farm or a non-profit farm, impacting another 2000+ acres.
As a group, these full-time farmers utilized about 60% of the available mentor hours and more than 75% of the seminar and workshop opportunities. Only about 30% took full advantage of the available reimbursement for educational opportunities outside the program. Most (about 70%) had either often or occasionally attended ag-related educational programs during the five years prior to enrollment. By invitation, 11 of these full-time farmers, 7 from a 15-month and 4 from a 6-month program, agreed to be featured in the project publication Ohio Beginning Farmers Find Wisdom in the Land, Participant Profiles, 2006-2008 and Resource Directory.
Part-time Farming Participants.
Most (almost 70%) of these 16 participants enrolled in a 15-month program, with others (30%) in a 6-month program. Most (75%) were from the targeted, 13-county central Ohio area. Females and males were equally represented. About one-third were in their 40s, one-quarter in their 50s, three were over the age of 60, and four were under the age of 40, three in the 30s and one in the 20s.
For all, the farm income was either secondary or negligible to the household income. Participants either owned their farm for fewer than 4 years (over 40%) or for 10+ years (about 30%). Others either owned a farm for 5-9 years (about 15%) or they did not own a farm (about 15%). The majority (over 80%) had 0-4 years farming experience but others (just under 20%) had 10+ years. Together, this group operated farms on more than 630 acres, at a median of 49 acres and with a range of 1 to 177 acres.
As a group, these part-time farmers utilized about 35% of the available mentor hours and about 60% of the seminar and workshop opportunities. Only about 30% took full advantage of the available reimbursement for educational opportunities outside the program. Most (about 60%) had either seldom or almost never attended ag-related educational programs during the five years prior to enrollment. By invitation, 13 of these part-time farmers, 10 from a 15-month and 3 from a 6-month program, agreed to be featured in the project publication Ohio Beginning Farmers Find Wisdom in the Land, Participant Profiles, 2006-2008 and Resource Directory.
Aspiring Farmer Participants.
Wisdom in the Land was developed for beginning farmers, defined as having access to land on which one was farming. For 2 participants this was not the case. They had no access to land and were not farming at the time of enrollment. Both were from the targeted, 13-county central Ohio area. One was female and the other male. One was in the 40s and the other in the 50s.
One aspiring farmer had 10+ years of farming experience and the other had no experience.
Together, these aspiring farmers utilized about 50% of the available mentor hours and more than 100% of the seminar and workshop opportunities of their respective programs. Together they requested almost all (85%) of the available reimbursement for educational opportunities outside the program. Both had seldom attended ag-related educational programs during the five years prior to enrollment. By invitation both of these aspiring farmers, one from a 15-month and the other from a 6-month program, agreed to be featured in the project publication Ohio Beginning Farmers Find Wisdom in the Land, Participant Profiles, 2006-2008 and Resource Directory.
Forty four mentors were successfully recruited and 43 were assigned to either an individual mentoring relationship, a small group mentoring event, or to both. Fourteen mentors recruited for individual relationships attended an opening session for one of the two 15-month programs, at which they received training on the programmatic expectations of a mentoring relationship. Mentors providing individualized mentoring for only 2 to 18 hours received printed information about the expectations for their mentoring relationship.
Of the 43 assigned mentors, 24 were selected for long-term individual mentoring relationships and made a commitment to provide 30 hours of individualized service over a 15-month period. Sixteen of the 24 were able to provide some or all of the 30 hours of individualized mentoring. The remaining 8 mentors had been assigned to participants who either withdrew their application (6) or who left the program after an opening session (1) or, in one case, withdrew as a mentor. A median of 4 hours of individualized mentoring was delivered by the 16 mentors, with a range of 2.5 hours to 30 hours. Four of the 16 mentors delivered all 30 hours.
Of the 43 assigned mentors, 14 were selected for short-term individual mentoring relationships and made a commitment to provide either part or all of 18 hours of individualized service over a 3-month period. Ten of the 14 were able to provide some or all of the hours committed to individualized mentoring. The remaining 4 mentors were not utilized by a beginning farmer, typically because of competing time commitments. A median of 7 hours of individualized mentoring was delivered by the 10 mentors, with a range of 2 hours to 18 hours. One of the 10 mentors delivered all 18 hours.
Of the 43 assigned mentors, 10 were selected to provide mentoring in small groups. Two of these mentors had also delivered short-term individual mentoring relationships and one had been assigned a short-term individual mentoring relationship that was not utilized. Each mentoring event involved 3 mentors in dialogue with small groups of beginning farmers. Hours devoted to small group events were 4.5 hours per mentor for a total of 45 hours. The topics of the small group mentoring discussions are reported below as educational events.
New and transitioning farmers typically have pressing need for accelerated learning, and mentors are often a preferred development tool in such situations, commonly used in other professions. While mentoring is most typically an on-going relationship over an extended period of time, the relationship offered through Wisdom in the Land was limited by maximum number of hours within a defined period of time. It was to be a developmental relationship focused on meeting the learning and development goals and objectives of another farmer or farming team. The beginning farmer was primarily responsible to initiate and establish a relationship with a willing mentor who had made a commitment to be a resource to the program.
There are many traits and behaviors of mentors that beginning farmers experienced as contributing factors to an effective working relationship.
1. Relevant experience and knowledge. Effective mentors were highly experienced in what the beginning farmers wanted to learn or with a specific product line or with specific production methods such as organic, natural, ecological, and sustainable. They had similar farm operations to those of the beginning farmers whom they mentored. Mentors were intelligent and often known and also widely respected in their communities or throughout Ohio.
2. Dedicated time, attention, and support. Effective mentors took time to be with, listen to, and respond to the beginning farmer. They came to the beginning farmer’s farm and had the beginning farmer come to their farm. They invited and took telephone calls. They spent time that was focused on the needs and interests of the beginning farmer. They were responsive. They were supportive, very helpful, and generous with their time.
3. Interpersonal skills. Effective mentors were very approachable. Sometimes they initiated contact. They helped the beginning farmer understand they were not a bother. They were easy to talk to. They were reflective and responsive, not directive. If opinionated, they reminded the beginning farmer to push back and to disagree. They were often open to a relationship that continued beyond the program.
4. Key behaviors. Effective mentors were open-minded farmers who saw alternative approaches and tried new things. They were willing to share and exchange ideas. They provided specific help, for example, with planning and decision making, hands-on instruction, explaining pricing for direct marketing. They gave advice when requested. They introduced the beginning farmer to other helpful people. They were candid, talking about their own successes and failures, sharing their own story and history as a tool of encouragement, and occasionally communicating about highly confidential and personal matters.
There were four factors that negatively affected the success of mentoring relationships.
1. Geography. If a mentor’s farm was too far away from a beginning farmer or if the mentor did not drive, interaction became too much of a challenge.
2. Lack of initiation. If a beginning farmer was intimidated by the busy-ness of a mentor, or was shy about or inexperienced at interacting with strangers, or felt obligated to take advice if requesting it, interaction either never occurred or was severely limited.
3. Availability conflicts. If either the beginning farmer or the mentor were limited to one day of the week or had many other family or community commitments, or if both were always very busy, opportunities to get together were hard to identify and interaction was curtailed.
4. Mentor ineffectiveness. Occasionally a beginning farmer experienced that a mentor was dismissive of the beginning farmer’s goals and imposing of their own opinions. Or a mentor was uncomfortable with 1-to-1 communication, or inattentive, or unwilling or unable to contribute unless asked direct questions. Or the mentor did not offer on-farm tasks or experiences that would have been appreciated, or forgot a scheduled visit. Such experiences signaled a lack of commitment to the relationship and typically caused the
Each of three groups of participants of Wisdom in the Land customized a program to meet the learning priorities of its participants. While the start date of each program differed, the delivery periods had either some or significant overlap. Groups One and Two often attended the other group’s seminars and workshops. Group One defined 12 learning events, Group Two defined 8 and Group Three defined 6. Overall, individuals typically participated in 5 of their own group’s seminars and workshops, with a range from one to ten. Typically, individuals also attended 1 seminar or workshop of another group, with a range of zero to six. Regardless of which group offered the event, most typically, individuals participated in 6 events, with a range of one to fourteen.
Thirty six Wisdom in the Land applicants attended one of three opening sessions for programs that started either in November 2006, March 2007, or January 2008. The purpose of the opening session for all groups was to build relationships between participants. For Groups One and Two it also included relationship building between participants and mentors. The Opening Session provided opportunities to reflect on both individual and group priorities for learning and development and to set expectations about mentoring relationships, programmatic communications and procedures. During these sessions, the program manager facilitated group decision making that resulted in customized programming for each group. The focal learning topic was holistic farm management, which participants in Groups One and Two learned about through presentations and exercises. Instructors included a representative of Ohio Agriculture Research and Development Center (OARDC) of The Ohio State University and an independent Holistic Management certified educator. For Group 3 this learning topic was addressed through reading materials.
Knowledge-building seminars, skill development workshops, and small group mentoring events were developed and delivered. Topical reading and reference materials were distributed for each seminar and workshop. Two sites were predominant, either a central Ohio non-profit ecological center or a university farm. Topics are listed, not in alphabetical order but in descending order based upon the total number of Wisdom in the Land participants. If a seminar or workshop was also open to the public, additional attendees are reported.
Marketing Strategies (general or specific, such as Value-added Practices; On-farm Retail): 7 events: 3 seminars, 2 workshops, and 2 small group mentoring circles. Attended by a total of 55, on average by 8 participants per event 2 were open to the public and attended by a total of 3 additional others. Instructors included 10 experienced farmers, 1 representative of The Ohio State University Extension and 1 representative of the non-profit Appalachian Center for Economic Networks (ACEnet). One event occurred on-farm and another event occurred on-site at a commercial kitchen of ACEnet.
Building and Maintaining High Quality Soils: 4 events: 1 seminar, 2 workshop, and 2 small group mentoring circles. Attended by a total of 27, on average of 7 participants per event 1 was open to the public and attended by 4 additional others. Instructors included 2 experienced farmers and 3 representatives of The Ohio State University Extension. One event was held at the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center of (OARDC) of The Ohio State University and another event occurred at both the non-profit The Stratford Ecological Center and on-farm.
Organic Weed Control: 3 events, 1 seminar and 2 small group mentoring circles. Attended by a total of 25, on average of 8 participants per event. Instructors included 1 experienced farmer and 1 representative of The Ohio State University Extension.
Economics of Alternative Agriculture: 1 workshop. Attended by 10 participants. Instructors included 1 representative of the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center of (OARDC) of The Ohio State University, 1 representative of the Lancaster Office of the Ohio Farm Service Agency, and a representative of the non-profit Innovative Farmers of Ohio.
Chicken Production and On-farm Processing: 1 workshop. Attended by 8 participants. Open to the public and attended by 17 additional others. Instructor was an experienced farmer. The event was on-farm.
Farm Production Management: 1 seminar. Attended by 8 participants. Open to the public and attended by 2 additional others. Instructors included 1 representative of The Ohio State University Extension and 1 representative of the non-profit Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association (OEFFA).
Bookkeeping and Farm Record Keeping: 1 workshop. Attended by 7 participants. Open to the public and attended by 2 additional others. Instructors included 1 representative of The Ohio State University Extension, 1 representative of The Ohio State University Department of Agricultural, Environmental, and Development Economics, and 1 representative of the non-profit Innovative Farmers of Ohio. The event was held on-campus in a computer lab.
Environmental Conservation Practices: 1 seminar. Attended by 7 participants. Open to the public and attended by 2 additional others. Instructors included 3 representatives of the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) USDA who hosted the event at their Lancaster Service Center and 1 representative of the Ohio Farmers Union.
Introduction to Select Organizations Serving Farmers: 1 seminar. Attended by 7 participants. Instructors included 1 representative of the Ohio Farm Service Agency, 2 representatives of the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) USDA, and a private attorney representing the state-sponsored Current Agricultural Use Value (CAUV) program.
Livestock Management: 1 workshop. Attended by 7 participants. Open to the public and attended by 14 additional others. Instructor was an experienced farmer, on-farm.
Change Management and Farm Sustainability: 1 small group mentoring circle. Attended by 6 participants. Instructors were 4 experienced farmers.
Farm Business Management: 1 seminar attended by 6 participants. Open to the public and attended by 3 additional others. Instructors were a private attorney and 1 private farm management consultant.
Season Extension Practices: 1 workshop attended by 6 participants. Instructor was 1 experienced farmer, on-farm.
Website Development: 1 workshop attended by 6 participants. Open to the public and attended by 2 additional others. Instructor was 1 private consultant who is also an experienced farmer.
Buying Farmland: 1 seminar via teleconference attended by 5 participants. Instructors included an experienced farmer, 1 representative of The Ohio State University Department of Agricultural, Environmental, and Development Economics, and 1 representative of the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) USDA.
Political Environment of Agriculture and Regulations affecting Farms: 1 seminar attended by 5 participants. Open to the public and attended by 1 additional other. Instructors included 4 representatives of the Ohio Farm Bureau, 2 representatives of the Ohio Department of Agriculture who hosted the event, 1 representative of Ohio Farmers Union, 1 representative of the USDA Department of Labor, and 1 representative of the non-profit Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association (OEFFA).
Cover crops: 1 workshop attended by 3 participants. Instructor was an experienced farmer, on-farm.
Organic Insect Control: 1 seminar attended by 2 participants. Open to the public and attended by 1 additional other. Instructor was an experienced farmer and 1 representative of The Ohio State University Extension.
Financial Support for Learning
Each beginning farmer or farming team was invited to select $50 worth of publications made available through The Sustainable Agricultural Network (SAN). Two individuals or teams did not take advantage of this resource. Of the 28 farmers or farming teams that did receive publications, two requested and were given the option to select publications from alternate sources.
A mileage reimbursement of $100 was available to each beginning farmer and to each mentor involved in a 15-month program to support visits to each other’s farms, and in the case of the beginning farmer, could also offset travel costs to attend educational events. A mileage reimbursement of $100 was available to each beginning farmer involved in a 6-month program to support visits to a mentor’s farm and to offset travel costs to attend educational events. If travel to mentors exceeded $100, an additional reimbursement up to $100 was made. In the 6-month program, mentors were not expected to visit the farm of the beginning farmer. A total of $2,675 was reimbursed to 24 beginning farmer or farming teams to offset program-related mileage costs, for an average of $111. A total of $703 was reimbursed to 8 mentors for an average of $88.
An hourly stipend was paid to mentors based upon hours reported and confirmed. Mentors involved in a 15-month program could be paid up to $600 for 30 hours of service. Mentors in the 6-month program could be paid for requested hours, ranging from 2 to 18 hours or $40 to $360 for individual mentoring, and $100 to $240 per event for small group mentoring. A total of $9,325 was paid to 35 mentors, for an average of $266 per mentor and a range of $40 to $600. This stipend reported as a factor that positively influenced the decision of some experienced farmers to serve as a mentor. While less important to the decision making of other mentors, a stipend was, nevertheless, an appreciated recognition of the value of their time.
An educational reimbursement up to $100 was available to each beginning farmer and to each mentor. Mentor eligibility was based upon meeting time commitments. A total of $1,264 was reimbursed to 20 beginning farmers or farming teams for fees associated with educational events outside of Wisdom in the Land, for an average of $63. A total of $195 was paid to 3 mentors, for an average of $65.
Summary of Targeted and Actual Performance
Wisdom in the Land, 2006 - 2008
Service Performance Targets and Actual Service Performance
Target: Two 15-month Programs
Actual: Two 15-month Programs and One 6-month Program
Target: 40 Program Participants
Actual: 32 Program Participants (1)
Target: Two Orientations
Actual: Three Orientations
Target: Twelve Seminars
Actual: Ten Seminars and one tele-conference seminar (2)
Target: Twelve Experiential Workshops
Actual: Twelve Experiential Workshops
Target: Individual Mentoring Relationships for 40 Program Participants
Actual: Individual Mentoring Relationships
for 26 of 32 Program Participants(6 had no individual mentoring) (3)
Target: $100 per Program Participant in Financial Support for Other Professional Development Opportunities
Actual: Total of $1,264 in Educational Reimbursements to 20 Program Participants, average of $63.
Target: 25 – 40 Mentors Recruited, Selected, Trained(for Individual Mentoring Assignments)
Actual: 44 Mentors Recruited; 43 Mentors Selected and Assigned; 11 Mentors Trained/Others Oriented;26 Mentors for Individual Relationships and 10 Mentors for Small Group Mentoring
Target: Write, Publish, and Distribute Profiles 500 copies/September 2008
Actual: 1,000 copies/September 2008
Target: Define Program Model Worthy of Replication throughout Ohio
Actual: Model in program evaluation report; 150 copies/September 2008
(1) Fourteen other farmers applied, 8 of whom were accepted and four of whom actually attended only an Opening Session. Twenty non-participant farmers attended at least one seminar or workshop that was open to the public.
(2) Information packets were customized on four topics and referrals to other events for 1-4 participants, depending on topic, in lieu of a seminar to address highly individualized needs of a relatively small group of farmers.
(3) Five of the six had small group mentoring and the other participant had individual business consultations with the program manager.
Participants in Wisdom in the Land made many significant changes as a result of the learning and development provided by the program. While some changes were unique to one or a very few individuals, other self-reported changes not only document individual changes but additionally suggest topics that would likely be of high interest to other beginning farmers.
There are five changes reported by many participants that resulted from the learning and development experienced through Wisdom in the Land.
1. Beginning farmers learned why and how to interact with other farmers, including mentors.
They met and learned to how to interact with, and establish new relationships with, farmers who are highly committed to sustainable agriculture and who are like-minded about production practices and commitment to agriculture. They met highly experienced farmers and engaged in structured, mentoring relationships. They met other beginning farmers. They found role models, new friends, and inspiration. Sometimes they were meeting farmers located a significant distance from them and other times they were getting to know close neighbors. Often beginning farmers who are committed to sustainable agriculture start farming in the middle of conventional agriculture, surrounded by farmers some of whom are helpful, others curious, and yet others hostile.
2. Beginning farmers learned how to test and improve soil.
The soils on their farms were seldom healthy. Soil-related challenges which beginning farmers learned to manage included depleted soils or those with less-than-desired nutrients, minerals, or organic matter. They faced drainage problems. They learned how to build and maintain soil fertility using organic and natural practices.
3. Beginning farmers learned how to do direct marketing of their products.
They learned how to define their market and techniques to gain an understanding of customer expectations. They learned how to brand their products, represent and promote their farms through trade names, signage, business cards, thank you notes, websites, fliers, T-shirts, and media exposure. They learned about signature products and value-added products. They learned how to successfully market to restaurants, grocers, distributors, and at farmers’ markets.
4. Beginning farmers learned the value of business planning and about resources available to help them do it.
They learned how to do whole farm planning, holistic farm management, long-range planning and annual planning. They came to understand that planning is required to achieve desired transitions such as moving from full-time to part-time off-farm employment. They came to appreciate that being a business person requires a particular mindset and that planning is a task performed by farm managers.
5. Beginning farmers learned about season extension practices and structures.
Those farmers who seek higher income, improved profitability, or select customers understand that season extension is an essential tool. They learned about both early and late season extension practices, the investments that are required, the challenges that must be met, the risks that are taken, and the rewards that can be experienced.
There are other changes reported by some Wisdom in the Land participants that reflect what they learned and represent topics that could be of high interest to some beginning farmers.
1. How to buy farmland
2. How to start or expand rotational grazing
3. Fencing for pasture management and for predator control
4. Weed prevention and control
5. The value of participation and memberships in statewide agricultural organization, such as those associated with a particular product line or others associated with sustainable agricultural methods
6. Chicken production, not only for meat or eggs but also for natural fertilizer
7. Cover crops and the particular benefits of alfalfa, rye, and buckwheat
8. How to buy and use farm equipment and the importance of having the right equipment, the skill proficiency to use it, and the practice of planning to create time to find good deals
9. Selling at farmers’ markets
10. Manure management, composting and use
11. Rain catchment systems
12. Raised beds
13. On-farm composting
14. Financing farm purchases, start-ups, improvements, and growth
15. Irrigation systems
16. Organic and natural production methods (relevant for beginning farmers without foundational knowledge)
17. Outbuildings, such as chicken coops, plant propagation sheds, and portable shelters
18. Value-add processing
Finally, a few beginning farmers participating in Wisdom in the Land report changes that result from new learning and also suggest possible development interests of a few beginning farmers.
1. Awareness of and access to annual conferences and specialized courses or programs by organizations dedicated to organic or sustainable agriculture or to particular product lines
2. Engaging in partnerships for purposes of production, marketing, or natural resource protection
3. Alternative energy, especially on-farm solar and wind power
4. Beneficial insects
5. Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) operations
6. Insect control
7. Record keeping
Participant 1 decided to change the circumstances in which she farmed. Rather than farm commercially and be profit-driven, she now farms for a school where the requirement is more about food productivity and education and less about business profitability. Obviously, food productivity is intended to have an economic benefit for the school, which the participant delivers by growing diverse vegetable crops.
Participant 2 offers evidence of the results of applied new learning. In June 2007 after earning only $179 after two trips to the farmers market, a considerable distance from her farm, she felt desperate. One year later in June 2008, she earned $1,121 and was selling at four farmers markets. By the first Saturday in August 2008, she surpassed her 2007 income from farmers markets, and as the heirloom tomatoes are just starting, she will far exceed this 2007 benchmark. This participant now has a new mental model for herself and credits Wisdom in the Land with helping her become a business woman. In the past she strove to be a better farmer by which she meant producer and now she also strives to be a better business person, by which she means to have a business mindset when making decisions and taking action. She purchased a transplanter specifically to accomplish her business goal, allowing her to expand production and increase income. In order to have more income during June, she planted much more lettuce and is going to market earlier and with more produce. She now keeps better financial and marketing records, weighing both what she takes to market and doesn’t sell. When she decides to add equipment, she refuses to immediately buy but rather searches for the best deal. Expanded production and greater product diversity requires earlier and more marketing. She now sells at three farmers markets, up from 1.5 in the previous year. Another participant of Wisdom in the Land who lives near her and who wanted experience with farmers markets is now a marketing partner, selling produce at a market to which this participant is returning after several years and at which the other participant hopes to bring their meat and eggs in the following year. Conventional farms surround this participant’s farm, and she plans to continue taking her products to the nearest metropolitan area. As acreage in produce expands and becomes more visible to her neighbors, she has begun selling to some neighbors and is beginning to develop this local market. She plans to put up a sign to market fall pumpkins and may try a self-serve stand for her produce. She looks for opportunities of mutual benefit. She bartered a first-ever CSA share in exchange for a logo design by a graphic artist. She sold baskets she no longer needed to another produce marketer. She initiated a conversation with another grower to explore a co-operative approach to marketing, which will likely begin with a specialty product focus in the following year, opening up a wholesale market for her.
Participant 3 participates in The Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) a joint Federal-State land retirement conservation program that targets significant environmental effects related to agriculture. It is a voluntary program that uses financial incentives to encourage conservation practices such as grass filter strips, tree plantings, wetland restoration and wildlife practices. She is intimately involved in what happens on land she leases to conventional farmers and takes control of what happens on that land through lease provisions. She finds that most of her tenants are very open to her preferred production practices. Others are enticed by rising commodity prices and call to discuss growing corn on corn, an opportunity she declines.
Participant 4 purchased product liability insurance in 2008 and investigated marketing to grocers, produce distributors, and at a farmers market. However, her work schedule, in addition to production problems, precluded these endeavors during 2008.
Participant 5 firmly believes that he can improve his livelihood by incorporating both early and late season extension into his small farm organic vegetable production practices. His motivation to move in this direction grew when another farmer talked about the income he generated on less land than this participant has in production.
Participant 6 is researching and learning about cheese making in order to establish a new value-added product line. She continues to evaluate the relative costs of processing cheese on-farm or at an off site location, and the financial impact of this decision. As she prepares to expand her product lines she is also re-evaluating her past practice of growing products based upon customer request. Responding to information gained from highly experienced farmers, she is beginning to assess which of her product lines is most profitable so that she can use this information to decide what she might stop producing or processing.
Participant 7 experiences are that he can sell everything they grow, so his profitability plan includes increasing productivity, which is why improving soil fertility is a central goal. When he started to farm, he grew whatever interested him. With the help of a mentor, he began to see the wisdom of a holistic farm plan through which he would define how to use the land to make money not just for self-enjoyment. To reduce debt and the stress it creates, the family is selling a 20-acre parcel and may sell an additional 10-12 acres to people who want to farm sustainably. The farm serves 35 families through a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) operation; the participant goes to two farmers markets, and also drives 90 miles to sell to seven restaurants. He was one of several farmers who sold for one day at a farmers market set up at the Ohio State Fair. A Columbus-area country club asked if he would do a one-day market on their site for their members. He is exploring the interest of two area farmers to do cooperative marketing to reach major markets. The market for organic produce and fruit is limited in the county in which they farm.
Participant 8 significantly improved his farm record keeping practices, now using Quicken software to track expenses. Effectively hiring custom harvest operators for the hay and grains produced on the farm requires a level of knowledge that he needed to gain. He is now considering different operators informed by the results of the 2008 Ohio Farm Custom Rates survey published by The Ohio State University Department of Agricultural, Environmental and Development Economics.
Participant 9 thinks the upcoming sale of her farm is not only necessary but also wise. She is much smarter now about purchasing farmland and the current farm created a debt burden that would make it hard to ever farm profitably.
With no prior experience in direct marketing the wife of husband/wife Participant Team 10 is taking the lead to prepare to sell at several farmers markets in 2009 by working for the organic produce farmer from whom they lease and crop-share land, a woman who has sold at such markets for many years. Key to their future marketing success is their meat processor, which this husband/wife team plan to change in order to secure the needed license to sell at farmers markets. The problem was their current processor did not have the capacity to meet their inspection requirements on cured meat. They selected another processor about 50 miles from the farm whose lower rates make the service affordable. They will purchase storage from their local processor. They still want to buy their own farm; however now they are looking for land half to a fourth the size they once thought was required. Two hundred acres seems adequate for livestock that will be direct marketed, and it will be require less work than 500 – 1000 acres leaving more time for family.
Husband/wife Participant Team 11 decided to invest more of their limited time in 2008 in their garden motivated primarily by the expected benefits to their own health. This husband/wife team did also start a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) operation, selling four shares this first season. The decision to calculate their earned farm wage is a planning tool through which they will develop their ability to make discretionary decisions about what is financially successful and contributes to their goal of the husband’s transition from full-time to part-time off-farm employment.
Participant 12 had a business plan but he now sees its shortcomings and, with the information and materials recently made available to him, and will upgrade this plan during winter 2009. In 2008, his farm attracted an extraordinary number of U-Pickers. In part his customer base is growing because people increasingly want local and organic fruits and vegetables. However, he put fliers in locations where he perceived people seeking U-Pick sites go, such as a college campus near his farm. He started a database of his personal network and customers, sending a broadcast e-mail. He promoted his U-Pick operation on Local Harvest, reputedly America's #1 organic and local food website that maintains a definitive and reliable living public nationwide directory of small farms, farmers markets, and other local food sources and also on his nearest Craigslist, an online community that features local classifieds and forums for more than 500 cities in over 50 countries worldwide - community moderated, and largely free. Without paid advertising, the huge blueberry crop of 2008 quickly sold out. This participant also experienced how a casual conversation with just one person about his work on the farm can have a joyous rippling effect. The conversationalist was associated with a Cleveland church that operated a program to feed the hungry. The program twice purchased 100 lbs. of blueberries, serving the first 50 lbs. to people in need and selling the second 50 lbs. as a fundraiser for the program.
Anticipating future opportunities to go to farmers markets, husband/wife Participant Team 13 go to markets every weekend to see what people are selling and how they manage their market site. As both have very demanding off-farm summer work commitments and are also first-time new parents, they plan to continue to sell to one area restaurant and to do on-farm sales rather than go to a farmers market.
The business strategy Participant 14 defined for the family farm is to start slow, limit risk, and do what’s right, right from the beginning.
While Participant 15 intended to use organic production methods, she had not intended to become certified organic. However, after conducting her consumer research she concludes that certification does have an economic impact and would positively affect the sustainability of her farm. Originally, she intended to establish a Community-Supported Agriculture operation but now thinks she may need to go to one farmers market and may do on-farm retail sales. She will continue to lease out most of her land to pay for taxes and insurance and to finance upgrades to the buildings, fencing, and other infrastructure.
The business goal of Participant 16 is to optimize the production of a small acreage farm in ways that maximize both income and profitability. To accomplish this one aspect of their big dream, this participant and his wife are in the process of developing a long-range farm plan. He looks for opportunities to promote and advertise the restaurant so that the farm gets greater visibility. For example, he is hosting fund raising events for non-profit farm service organizations at the restaurant; he interacts with restaurant customers and talks about the farm. In the future he will showcase the farm through on-farm events easily accessible in this metropolitan area. People will be able to ride a bike on the new park trails.
Participant 17 manages the farm to achieve profitability and to provide opportunities through which her production partner can make good money.
Participant 18 started to keep better records, with the intensity and detail required of a farmer intending organic certification. She strives to reverse her source of supplemental income from on-farm to off-farm. To that end, she knows that anything which improves the farm and its profitability, improves the quality of her life both now and in the future.
Husband/wife Participant Team 19 embraced a whole farm planning approach, by placing high priority on improving the quality of their family relationships as they met their lifestyle and economic goals. The farm was profitable in the first and ensuing years, which made them confident that this could be possible for years to come and thus, the dream and goal expanded to entail the possibility of becoming a full time operation and primary source of revenue. They revamped their spending practices and now work the farm solely on a cash basis, making development investments on set-aside profits, always thinking ahead so they have time to find good deals. With most of the major investment made in the first year of operation, the key financial goal is now to control expenses in order to increase profits. They hired an accountant experienced with farm accounting and express their annual plan in a farm budget. The wife is still amazed at how many people call and inquire about the U-pick operation. For the first 2 years, the primary outlet for revenue and marketing has been to showcase fresh picked raspberries and raspberry jam at local farmers markets. In the last 2 years, there has been a significant draw to the U-pick operation, particularly from the Columbus market. The increased awareness of their raspberry farm is, in part, the result of media exposure which promoted a beginning farmers program in which they were participating. Their farm was in local print media, statewide farm publications, Ohio State Extension news outlets, and newsletters of the sponsoring non-profit of the beginning farmers program. At the invitation of that organization, the wife volunteered to plan a program for central Ohio women farmers and also agreed to host an on-farm tour for the 2008 season. Both opportunities included widespread distribution of information about her and their farm operation. Serving as a public spokesperson also increases her self-confidence as a farmer. Additionally they added more directional signs on area roads to help people find the farm. They began using signage on their vehicles and developed and distributed flyers showcasing weekly specials, specialty crops, and hours of operation. They printed branded T-shirts that they both wear and sell. Their son developed a beta version of their web site. During the 2007 season, she rushed to make 1,000 jars of raspberry jam due to the combination of a lower-quality harvest and an increasingly high demand for fresh and locally made jam. New and innovative products such as chocolate raspberry jam and seedless jam provide an opportunity to increase sales from customers who often want more than just fresh berries. During this challenging year, their mentor, who also grows brambles, provided a referral and helped secure raspberry orders for local restaurants. In 2008, the wife reports a new restaurant account interested in acquiring fresh berries. This restaurant proposed to feature the farm as part of an effort to promote locally grown produce and local farmers. The wife helped start a farmers market in her hometown, which has provided an opportunity to share marketing opportunities among other local and small farm owners.
After defining their market, Participant 20 began to brand their farm’s products and begin a marketing campaign. They created a trade name to accentuate the local identity of their farm, while maintaining the name of their farm business. There are new business cards and thank you notes and a website is in development. All lamb sold in their production season. The plan is to have a visitor-friendly farm. Currently, the area Convention and Visitors Bureau has their farm as a destination and mini-tours are conducted twice a month during the summer. Efficiency is as much a priority as is a high quality product. The intent to simplify farm operations is driven by a new business mindset and she is now better able to plan for their needs. While they weed more often right now, they also planted annual rye grass paths in their personal garden. Their chicks were moved from small containers to a barn stall where other chores were performed. The layout of the farm is changing as are farming practices. Fences are put up with consideration of efficient action when caring for livestock. Lambing was done more naturally in 2008 with less human involvement.
Participant 21 started working full-time off the farm in August 2007 to help pay for her land. She plans continuous, affordable investments to develop the farm’s capacity to become self-supporting and to provide supplemental retirement income.
Participant 22 knows that to make a profit from part-time farming he must select and use the best time-saving methods. He not only needs to grow high quality produce. He must also identify which best-selling vegetables can successfully be grown within his limited time and budget. To increase his profitability he intends to invest in a greenhouse and other season extension devices and methods. To help with cash flow as well as profitability, he plans a small Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) operation. Investments will be made to develop a brand name, signature products, and an attractive stand. He intends to develop value added products as soon as possible.
Participant 23 has a mantra that guides her emerging business model, based upon the experiences of real and successful farmers that are her role models: Have a business plan, keep meticulous records, start and stay small, know if there is a market for what you want to grow, and rely on your own time and not that of family members.
Advice to Beginning Farmers from Full-time Beginning Farmers
Talk to as many farmers who are doing what you want to do and also those who are doing other things. Follow up with visits to their farms. Go work a few hours or days at different places. See lots of examples of successful farm operations. You will see practices that fit your farm and your situation.
If you are committed to farming, know that you can become profitable but that this will not happen by accident. Profitability takes a huge amount of work both in and out of the fields. You must plan profitability and constantly evaluate where your actions are taking you and if that is the right direction. Profitable farming takes a 24/7 commitment.
The time requirements and physical demands of starting to farm are enormous and difficult to anticipate. There is scant room for being an ideologue. Put your life in order to meet the challenge of this all-consuming work. The demands of starting something new are tremendous, as are the satisfactions. It will be the thing that consumes you. Expect it to significantly alter your relationships, your family, and your leisure time. Keep people in your life who help you step back and gain perspective about what you are trying to accomplish. Never forget to exercise belly laughter!
Decide what you want your operation to be known for and then establish and develop your brand. Start small and use the time to become known and to build a reputation for your farm.
Look for role models. Identify resources you can tap, including farmers who are successfully doing what you imagine doing. Understand that there is only so much time in a day. Manage your time as well as you can. Avoid over-committing the limited time you have. Look to the Lord before making any business decisions.
Accept the challenge of a new farm. It will be intimidating to start farming but give it a try. Especially if it is your passion, I encourage you to take the leap into agriculture.
Start out with little debt and keep your debt low. Select decent land with decent soil that is affordable to you. Expect to sacrifice for the first three to five years and anticipate that years 6 – 10 will be more comfortable. We need healthy food. We need many more small farms. There are deeply satisfying rewards that result from starting a family farm enterprise.
To be successful in farming when you were not born into it, you will need to be an expert farmer and to find someone with a farm operation who needs a professional farmer. Work with management to plan for incremental development of the farm. Plans can be ambitious but they also must be realistic.
Utilize the farm service organizations and the resources they make available to network and meet people who are doing what you want to do. Don’t be afraid to ask people if they know anyone else who is doing what you want to do.
It is important to set goals. Without goals you cannot measure progress. We initially had no goal, no plan, and no real vision of our future. We were floating around. Not now. Keep records . . . . keep records . . . . keep records. It helps you re-evaluate your goals based on the progress you are or are not making. Your own records help you benefit from information that is readily available on the Internet, comparing your facts with other baseline data of both conventional and sustainable enterprises.
Advice to Beginning Farmers from Part-time Beginning Farmers
It is important to network and to get to know as many different farmers as you can. Take your questions. They are eager to share what they know and this will be very helpful. You will likely be hesitant to do this as you may not feel like a real farmer and you may feel like you don’t know what you want to ask. Search out non-profit organizations that serve farmers and programs for beginning farmers.
Get to know all the farmers you can who are trying to do what you are trying to do. Keep your eye out for the ideal mentor - a farmer who grows what you grow using production methods you prefer.
Network! The more people you know the more you will know as you can draw on their experiences. Go to conventions and programs and you are likely to develop new relationships. Go and work with other farmers and help them do what you want to learn. Your network will provide referrals to other people you need to accomplish your goals. Be seen and get associated in other people’s mind with both what you are doing and what you plan to do. You need to know many people. It is the only way your farm will survive. You will need the wisdom of a lot of people with knowledge about many things.
Be open-minded and not afraid to try something new. Take every program and workshop you can and make new contacts so you can talk to others and learn how they do it.
Take any opportunity you have to talk to experienced farmers who are at various stages of doing what you want to do. Interact with diverse types of farmers so you can gain a broader picture of sustainable agriculture than just what you know you want to do. This will open your mind up to possibilities you never imagined.
Not only does it make you feel better when you meet others who have a passion for farming – both people who want to improve their ability to farm and farmers who are successful - it also helps you see your own vision more clearly. If you want to farm, remember that perseverance is an occupational requirement.
Don’t put too much value on the experiences reported in publications that cater to small farms. Not everything others do is wise or consistent with your values. Economic survival as the highest or only objective can lead one to the use of chemicals, to animal cruelty, and to practices that support unnatural production rates.
There is a lot to learn. Ask questions. Get opinions. Read. Visit farms. Gather all the information you can, but ultimately a farm requires individual decision-making. It is up to you to decide what is best for you and your land. Nobody knows your land like you do.
There are no magic approaches or methods that will quickly help solve all challenges. Trial-and-error and continued improvement of farming practices will help meet unique challenges, which seem to change every growing season. Consequently, start small and be flexible in your approach. While there is much information available, discussions with other people often provides the best guidance to help avoid costly mistakes.
Get out and look at farms. Take advantage of programs where experienced farmers welcome others to their operations. Farmers, unlike some other professionals, really do want to help each other. Visit farms even if they are not doing what you want to. As you survey how successful farmers handle things, you will come to understand they use different methods, have different philosophies, farm on different scales, and yet all are good farmers and doing well. This will help you develop your own philosophy and practice.
Visit as many farms as you can of like-minded individuals and learn from their experiences and be planning to work hard to make your farm sustainable. Never give up the farm dream that is in your heart.
Advice to Aspiring Beginning Farmers from Aspiring Beginning Farmers
Link with farmers who encourage you and who are willing to have a dialogue about farming. Farming is not a panacea. Getting back to nature will not necessarily resolve life issues. There are many risks and obstacles associated with farming. Farm because you love the work. That seems to me to be the best reason for engaging in this line of work.
Take time to obtain opportunities to meet real Ohio farmers and listen to the journeys of these experienced farmers. I also suggest reading books that share stories of farm start ups. I highly recommend Small Farm in Maine by Terry Silber.
Educational & Outreach Activities
For Ohio Beginning Farmers
Ohio Beginning Farmers Find Wisdom in the Land, Participant Profiles, 2006-2008 and Resource Directory, features 23 individual stories and provides an annotated directory of resource organizations both utilized for program delivery and that provide services, publications, and information beneficial to other Ohio beginning farmers. (1,000 copies; individual copies available upon request as supply lasts.)
For Education Service Providers
Wisdom in the Land, A Mentor-based Program for Ohio Beginning Farmers, 2006-2008 Program Report (150 copies; individual copies available upon request as supply lasts.)The report includes a recommendation regarding Future Services to Ohio Beginning Farmers, which is as follows.
Program participants, mentors, members of the Advisory Council, and the program manager were invited to offer their opinions regarding what aspects of this pilot program are worth replicating, what should be improved or changed, and how best to serve Ohio beginning farmers.
Program participants overwhelmingly recommended the continuation of Wisdom in the Land, with the goal of building on the pilot program and adapting as required. They placed high value on all of the following features of the program.
1. Focus on alternative agriculture, promoting sustainable agriculture production methods and business models
2. Opportunities for small group dialogue especially between beginning and highly experienced farmers, but also farmers of varied experience levels
3. Opportunities for networking among participant beginning farmers
4. Mentoring relationships
5. Opportunities for both knowledge-building and skill-development learning experiences
6. Participants who represent diverse product lines
7. Opportunities for well-facilitated small group dialogue, creating a community of beginning farmers, stimulating individual participation and group discussion and decision making, providing contextual information relevant to the subject matter, and summarizing key points at the end of a learning event
8. Service-oriented program management, accommodating schedules, diverse learning requirements, and responding to issues in a thought-provoking, fact-based, unbiased manner
Some program participants offered suggestions for continuous improvement of the program.
1. Provide a soil test upon enrollment, having negotiated with a single vendor
2. Customize groups by either farm size, or by full- or part-time farming status, or by similar organic product lines
3. Launch mentoring relationship through planning sessions, holistic farm planning and/or financial planning, with follow-up work that requires the involvement of the mentor
4. Introduce equipment and input suppliers who are supportive of alternative agriculture
5. Consider periodic commitments (for example, 6 months) to an ongoing, cyclical program or, to accommodate the needs of those employed full-time off-farm, offer 2-3 weekend sessions every so often
6. Ensure that participants are going to farms of experienced and successful farmers whose farm operations are of a similar size to their own
Some mentors offered suggestions for continuous improvement of the program.
1. Offer a seminar or workshop for mentors on a topic of high value to their own farms
2. At the Opening Session, feature experienced farmers who deliver candid messages about what it takes to be a successful farmer
3. Supplement mentoring-supported learning with relevant reading assignments
4. Launch mentoring relationships with a resource assessment by the beginning farmer made with a mentor’s input
The Program Manager offered some additional suggestions for continuous program improvement.
1. Screen beginning farmers for their readiness and availability for individualized mentoring relationships
2. Charge a fee for the program, with provisions for fee-waivers and financial assistance for limited resource beginning farmers
3. Offer mentoring opportunities not only with highly experienced farmers but also with farmers whose farm business development is only 1-2 stages ahead of that of the participating farmer
4. Offer holistic farm planning, financial planning, and annual planning through initial instruction which is then supported by the options of a mentoring relationship or a management coach
5. Conduct focus groups comprising different types of farmers based upon farm size, product line, geography, and or full- or part-time farming status to respond to the content delivered by the pilot Wisdom in the Land as input to determine how best to customize seminars, workshops, and the focus of mentoring for varied groups of beginning farmers
6. Launch a program for aspiring farmers that provides some level of interaction with those participating in a program for beginning farmers
The Advisory Council made recommendations for future services to Ohio beginning farmers.
1. Select a lead organization for Ohio to customize collaborative communication by multiple service-providing organizations to beginning farmers, seeking funding as required. Ideally, this would start with an Internet site for Ohio beginning farmers, searchable by region of the state
2. Collaborating organizations, advised by beginning farmers, develop a statewide plan to provide access to information and programs relevant to the learning needs of beginning farmers, with social interaction with other supportive farmers and mentoring opportunities
Areas needing additional study
New farmers are not only people at early stages of their working lives, but also mid-career changers and those retired from another occupation. Others are experienced farmers either beginning to assume primary responsibility for an intergenerational farm or making major changes in production or marketing practices to achieve increased sustainability. Their availability to participant in program activities will depend upon whether they have a full-time or part-time commitment to farming and the other demands on their limited time and resources. A study that analyzes the efficiency and effectiveness of detaile and specific program marketing methods, tools, contact information sources, and best practices for media engagement could greatly enhance future services to beginning farmers. Ideally, studies would be state-specific and include recommendations for organizational collaborations and shared services to optimize marketing success and minimize investments of time and money.
Both pilot and ongoing programs that offer mentoring relationships have occurred often enough in the USA that now may be the time to capture best practices but also to study the backgrounds, motivations, and experiences of mentors in order to advance the practice of one-to-one and small group structured farmer-to-farmer mentoring opportunities. Mentors represent precious and limited resources. Methods for recruiting, engaging, and developing mentors as resources should be studied and promoted.
Beginning Farmer Program Collaborations
A study of on-line resource materials utilized by all Beginning Farmer Programs that analyzes opportunities for shared use, state-to-state customization, collaborative action, train-the-trainer opportunities, etc. could greatly advance the national efforts to serve beginning farmers. On-demand and self-directed learning tools, as well as state-level mentoring and networking opportunities, could be studied for coordination feasibility and promoted through results sharing of such a study.