Farm Beginnings: An Educational Training and Support Program to Establish Young Dairy Farmers in Southeast Minnesota

Final Report for LNC97-111

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 1997: $90,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/1999
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $140,700.00
Region: North Central
State: Minnesota
Project Coordinator:
Chuck Schwartau
Goodhue County Extension
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Project Information


The major goal of the Farm Beginnings program is to help young people establish profitable and environmentally sound farming operations in the ecologically fragile southeast corner of Minnesota. The program has five objectives.

Networking and educational efforts to support beginning farmers.

Methods: We developed a workshop series to provide participants with information in the following areas: goal setting, financial management; business planning; low-cost, sustainable production techniques; and financing and marketing alternatives. The workshop series was led by a variety of regional experts and highlighted local sustainable farmers.

Results: Over the course of the SARE grant 30 family units, (44 individuals) have participated in the Farm Beginnings Program. Participants are driving to the course from within a four-hour range and are coming from IA, WI as well as MN. Written and verbal evaluations have indicated the networking and focusing on goal setting and communication to be of value. In its third year of recruitment, the Farm Beginnings program found an overwhelming response to the course and this year’s maximum, 15 family units have signed up.

Educational on-farm mentorships for beginning farmers.

Methods: We recruited sustainable farmers who manage profitable, low-cost operations to participate as farm mentors. Mentors applied to the program and were approved by the steering committee. Matches were made based on the needs and wants of each individual. Mentees completed a learning goal checklist.

Results: Because all of the participants maintained full-time jobs, mentorships were not as extensive as originally planned. Some participants were able to visit several farms and conduct an informational interview. Others were able to visit one or two farms on a more regular basis. Most of the beginning farmers have developed on-going, mentoring relationships with experienced local sustainable farmers, including members of the steering committee. In the third year, there are participants who are interested in taking advantage of the more intensive on-farm mentorship idea, one that we continue to feel is the best way to learn.

Retiring farmer education.

Methods: We have developed an educational series that includes sustainable farm tours, legal, financial and retirement planning information, and social / educational events for retiring and new farmers.

Results: After a slower start than planned, three workshops over the course of the year have taken place. The recent workshops have introduced the idea of helping to get a beginning farmer started. About 15 people were in attendance.

Developing incubation sites.

Methods: Networking with people and other organizations to share in the development.

Results: There are several opportunities that exist in our area. Discussion have taken place with area environmental learning center, Eagle Bluff. The Rosemont Experiment Station is putting together a farm. We have also been talking to LSP members, several of whom would gladly donate all or part of the farm to be an on- farm demonstration project.

Secure program support.

Methods: The program steering committee, staff and participants promoted the Farm Beginnings Program and its importance to rural communities to a variety of audiences.

Results: The relationship with Heifer Project International (HPI) has been nurtured and we are in the process of developing indicators and structure to provide zero interest, livestock loans to help beginning farmers build equity.

Spin-off: In response to increased program visibility due to media coverage and word of mouth, Farm Beginnings staff has been reacting to a number of calls from established farmers interested in helping beginning farmers get started. Organizationally, the Farm Beginnings program is in the position to decide the future course of action.

Impacts and Potential Contributions: helping people begin to farm is a slow and challenging process. Providing a new generation of farmers with education, resources, and networks to help them succeed is vital to the survival of family farming and rural communities.


The Farm Beginnings program has shown there is a strong desire among young people to get started in low-cost, sustainable farming. Originally, the program was designed with a dairy focus, but since has expanded to include all enterprises. The premise is that any enterprise would benefit by the workshops covering goal setting, alternative marketing, business planning, etc. On-farm sustainable mentorships offer a unique learning environment for the potential beginning farmers to focus on enterprise specific, production information. Interest in the program has increased due to word of mouth and media coverage. To date 30 family units, 44 individuals have participated in the Farm Beginnings program.

The Farm Beginnings educational programs provide vital information and valuable networking opportunities with other beginning and established farmers. The workshop series lays a good groundwork for beginning a farm business operation, including communication and goal setting. The workshops also feature other beginning and established farmers whose real-life experiences encourage and inspire the beginners to pursue their goals of ecologically sound and profitable farming.

The educational program continues to take shape with the input of the Farm Beginnings staff, Steering Committee and participants themselves. There is continued gathering of resources and networking with like agencies to pull together the most useful information for the program and the participants. Currently there is limited information and assistance on developing a farm business plan. Farm Beginnings provides a supportive environment for potential beginning farmers to develop and refine business plans. Their plans are critiqued by several individuals, each bringing different expertise. Providing direct assistance to beginning farmers in the business planning process helps to ensure the success of a start-up operation.

In working with beginning farmers, it has become evident that most start up operations need an extremely high level of assistance due to prohibitive land prices, high machinery costs, restrictive loan requirements, and slim profit margins. The emphasis during the second year of the SARE grant largely focused with Heifer Project International and developing a zero- interest livestock loan program. A pilot project for both organizations, a separate Livestock Loan Committee was appointed by the Farm Beginnings Steering Committee to develop the necessary guidelines and contracts. Applications will be accepted in January of 2000. Successful applicants will receive animals as early as February 2000.

Public workshops also provide beginning and established farmers much needed networking and support. The Farm Beginning program was a vital link in the connection and creation of a working agreement whereby the beginning farmer builds equity and the established farmer has committed help. Other links are in the beginning stages.

Despite the success of the Farm Beginnings program to date, there is still a tremendous amount of work that must be done to launch beginners on their own farms. With increased media coverage, many calls have been received from organizations also interested in the future farming generation. Further research and development in this area is needed.

Project Objectives:

Establish a beginning farmer educational program and network.

Implement an apprenticeship / mentoring program for beginning farmers.

Develop a retiring farmer instructional series
Research the possibility of establishing a farm incubation site.

Procure commitment from a diversity of project participants to ensure continuation.


Click linked name(s) to expand/collapse or show everyone's info
  • Jill Broeker
  • Richard Ness
  • Chuck Schwartan


Materials and methods:

Objective A: We recruited program participants in several ways: newspaper articles, oral presentations, radio actualities, press releases, classified ads, bulk mailings, word of mouth from past participants, and door to door solicitation with area businesses. Interested participants completed a 2- page application that was reviewed by the steering committee. In arranging content for the educational workshop series the committee gathered input from the coordinator of the Wisconsin School for Beginning Dairy Farmers, local farmers, agricultural related businesses and as the course has proceeded, from the participants themselves. Content of the workshops was presented to the participants and then refined to the specific needs. Each workshop was designed to be led by successful sustainable farmers, Extension specialists, LSP staff, and local business people such as bankers and accountants. The educational series has evolved to consist of nine workshops, a number of field days and public meetings and conferences.

Objective B: We identified sustainable farm mentors from the membership base of the Land Stewardship Project, local chapters of the Sustainable Farming Association of Minnesota, Farm Bureau, Farmers Union, National Farmers Organization, and Extension contacts. Mentors had to demonstrate successful experience in sustainable farming. Interested mentors completed a 2-page application detailing their farming operation and the skills they had to offer to a beginning farmer. Applications were reviewed and accepted by the project steering committee. Matches between mentors and participants were made based on location and interest areas. Each participant completed a learning goals checklist that allowed appropriate matches to be made. Mentors and apprentices received background information about each other and were responsible for scheduling visiting times throughout the summer. As the course has progressed, the participants are increasingly interested in substantial mentorships. Creating an even more structured mentor training is currently taking place.

Objective C: We recruited near retirement and retirement aged farmers from the membership base of the Land Stewardship Project, local chapters of the Sustainable Farming Association of Minnesota, Farm Bureau, Farmers Union, National Farmers Organization, and Extension contacts. Interested farmers were invited to sustainable farm tours, retirement planning workshops, and were able to interact with the beginning farmer classes on numerous occasions. The sustainable farm tours were designed to highlight the potential that low cost sustainable farming methods have for beginning farmers and also to showcase situations where established farmers are working with beginning farmers. The retirement planning workshops included information on communication skills, goal setting, tax information, insurance, investments, trusts, wills, and other details concerning the farm planning process. A specific workshop was held for both beginning and established farmers looking to set up working agreements whereby beginning farmers build equity and established farmers have committed / reliable help.

Objective D: We arranged several meetings and dialogues to discuss the possibility of establishing an incubation farm. A diverse group of players were invited to participate, including established farmers, accountants, beginning farmers, agricultural professionals, business people, church representatives, and managers of other incubation farms.

Objective E: The project steering committee, staff, and participants continue to promote the Farm Beginnings program and its importance to rural communities. The program was publicized through print and electronic media locally, regionally, and nationally. The beginning farmer classes have been highlighted and introduced at ten different community meetings. Farm Beginnings has been present at a number of meetings and conferences.

Research results and discussion:

Objective A: Forty-four individuals, thirty family units have / are participating in the Farm Beginnings educational/ mentorship series. The numbers of sessions have varied from seven B nine workshops, and three agricultural field days. On average, the groups heard from 21 presenters including farmers, bankers, consultants, extension educators, and other agricultural and technical professionals. A wealth of information was presented to the participants through the educational workshops. Workshop topics highlighted low cost, sustainable, and alternative production and marketing methods. Participants reported that one of the most valuable things about the workshop series was being surrounded by other individuals who share the same goal of getting started in farming. Being exposed to and forming relationships with other established successful sustainable farmers was also a great benefit to participants. The workshop presenters exhibited enthusiasm and willingness to help the potential beginning farmers in any way possible. Overall, the program achieved a strong network between beginning and established farmers. Seventy- five percent of the participants completing the Farm Beginnings program are successfully on farms.

Objective B: At the closure of the third session, 44 individuals will have participated in apprenticeships. Participants compiled a learning goals checklist and were then matched appropriately to mentors who had applied to participate in the program. A total of twenty mentors applied to the program, so not every mentor was assigned an apprentice during the first year of the program. The design of the apprenticeships varied somewhat from the original proposal. This was due to two main factors. First, most of the participants had a high level of farming experience. Instead of needing basic, hands- on farming experience, they sought more specialized management techniques, primarily through observation. Second, almost all of the participants maintained full- time jobs throughout the course, making extended farm visits difficult. Apprentices ended up spending less time than was initially proposed on farms, but instead visited mentors on weekends, evenings, or days off to learn more in-depth skills. Again, a strong network was formed between beginning and established farmers through the apprenticeship program. As the program matures, participants are taking advantage of the longer, more in-depth mentorships. Several of the past Farm Beginnings apprentices continue to work part- time with their mentoring farms.

Objective C: We held four retirement planning / passing on the farm workshops and several sustainable farming field days to date. The retirement planning workshops were a collaborative effort with the Minnesota Passing on the Farm Center. Even with the Passing on the Farm Center's database of retiring aged farmers, it was difficult to recruit participants. The workshops and field days were open to beginning and established farmers as a way to encourage networking between the two generation groups. Approximately 350 people were exposed to methods of retirement planning that included helping a beginning farmer get started. Farmers were also introduced to the idea of equity building partnerships. Such arrangements allow a beginning farmer to build equity in a way that is financially beneficial to an established farmer. Several established farmers expressed interest in learning more about equity building partnerships with beginning farmers. Many farmers indicated they would also like further information on specific tax laws and retirement planning options. We will continue to collaborate with the Passing on the Farm Center.

Objective D: We have held six exploratory meetings and numerous conference calls about establishing an incubation farm. Participants in these meetings agreed that establishing one or two incubation farms would involve a significant amount of money, resources, staff time, and risk.

The team came up with "equity building partnerships" or working agreements. The partnership or agreement would allow a beginning farmer to work with an established farmer to build equity for a specified number of years before beginning on their own. Both parties would benefit financially. The proposed partnerships have several advantages over conventional incubation farms. The equity partnerships will: reach a greater number of beginning farmers, be more financially achievable while spreading out risks, increase connections between established and beginning farmers, and be more easily duplicated in other communities.

As a result of the Farm Beginning program, one beginning and established farmer pair have already begun the process of developing an equity building partnership. This relationship has given us the opportunity to evaluate and learn from their experiences.

Working with the Heifer Project International (HPI) to develop the zero-interest livestock loan program also offers equity building opportunities for the beginning farmers completing Farm Beginnings and accepted into the program. Animals will be loaned out with a certain pass- on period determined at the beginning.

Objective E: The steering committee has expanded and added two new members. We have recently established a relationship and received a substantial grant from the Heifer Project International (HPI) and plan to begin a community led initiative that will allow beginning farmers to build equity with little risk. HPI will provide an initial livestock loan to qualified farm beginnings participants. In turn, the beginning farmer will place one offspring from each animal received into a revolving livestock pool from which other beginning farmers will then be able to borrow. All Farm Beginnings participants completing the course will be eligible for applying to receive the zero- interest livestock loan. A community group of six, has formed the livestock loan committee to guide, manage, and maintain the program. The Livestock Loan program will allow interaction between all of the Farm Beginnings participants regardless of their specific group, thereby allowing more networking opportunities. There has been informal outreach and networking with other programs designed to help beginning farmers access land. More time and effort is needed to further develop these options. The Farm Beginnings program has been contacted by a number of states and organizations with regard to developing a similar program in their area. The Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group (SSAWG) as well as a number of individuals in IA, IN, MI, and IL are very excited about this model program.

Research conclusions:

Southeast Minnesota is a region that has long been dependant on dairying for the sustainability of its communities. Farm Beginnings takes a creative, multi-organizational approach in addressing the problem of the declining number of family dairies. By repopulating rural communities with sustainable farming operations, social and economic stability will be increased.

A 1995 study conducted in the Sibley County, MN found not only a decline in the number of overall farmers, but a significant shift occurring over the past 20 years from dairy operations to cash crop farming operations. The decline in the number of dairy farms in the area and the move to primarily cash crops has affected the local economy significantly. An area banker believes that both the direct and indirect scale down of the number of farmers and the number of dairy farmers has had a negative impact on the local economy and schools (Love, 1995).

Small to mid-size family dairy operations in particular are more likely to boost the local economy. A dairy operation relies on the veterinarian, the creamery, DHIA, artificial insemination, livestock and feed. Conventional crop farming eliminate these costs, thereby depressing the local economy. Similarly, as farms increase in size, their dependency on the local economy declines. A large-scale operation is able to shop around outside of the local community to negotiate the lowest prices on goods and services.

Figure 1 shows the results of a study conducted in Waconia, MN regarding the importance of dairies the local economy. Sixty percent of the study's firms' sales are to dairy farmers or dairy-related industries or employees. Forty-two percent of the revenue generated by the firms' sales stays in the local area. The study defined a 20-mile radius to serve as the "local area."

Dairy operations are preferable from a banker's standpoint because they offer greater stability than a crop farmer who is more dependent on the weather and prices. Dairy farming also has a regular cash flow that ensures continual loan payments and enables local spending year-round.

Farm Beginnings emphasizes sustainable grass-based dairying as a way for beginning farmers to get established in dairying with minimal capital and start-up costs. Grass-based and other forms of sustainable dairying can provide farmers with the profitability and quality of life necessary to attract and keep young people in dairying. The most effective way to teach sustainable agriculture practices is to teach it to beginning farmers before they have made commitments financially or emotionally to farming in a certain way.

It is suggested that sustainable agriculture may be a foundation on which successful rural communities of the future can be built. Sustainable farming practices have the potential to increase returns to skilled labor and management and to encourage the emergence of new rural businesses to serve the specialized needs of sustainable agriculture (Dobbs and Cole, 1992). Recent reports have concluded that sustainable agriculture benefits both the environment and rural communities. Researchers at the University of Missouri at Columbia, the University of Minnesota, and the Center for Rural Affairs surveyed a small number of farms in northeast Nebraska to examine the effects of sustainable farming on rural communities. The researchers concluded that if all of the farms in the survey had been sustainable: 26% more people would be living in the area; total family income would be 80% higher and; the property tax base would be higher (Beyers 1995).

It has been shown that although sustainable farmers spend less overall on production inputs than conventional farmers, they spend more on goods and services produced locally by both farmers and non-farmers, and they spend more per acre on these items. Increasing the number of sustainable farmers in an area leaves great potential for the development of a supportive local business infrastructure. Entrepreneurs in small communities may find new business opportunities. Those who can define a market may produce new goods and services demanded by sustainable farmers (Strange and Miller, 1994).

The Farm Beginnings program is a remarkable display of commitment to rural communities. The farmers who initiated this program understand the alternative of industrial farming and they are fighting in a positive way. They are committed to maintaining the social, environmental, and economic fabric of their communities. They speak at workshops to people who want to start farming, take these people on their farms and show them their production and management techniques, read and analyze proposed business plans, and offer advice and support to beginning farmers. This type of relationship building is extremely important for rural communities.

Helping to establish a new generation of sustainable farmers is a slow process, especially given the current agriculture outlook. The Farm Beginnings program is a community led initiative that will benefit southeast Minnesota communities now and in the future. Our group is making progress towards a successful generation of new farmers.

Farmer Adoption

The forty-four beginning farmer participants were exposed to low-cost, sustainable farming practices throughout the program year. Management intensive grazing (MIG) was the highlighted production method in the workshops and apprenticeships. Participants were able to observe and work with experienced sustainable farmers to acquire sustainable production knowledge. A recent survey by the Minnesota Food Association shows that sustainable farmers tend to acquire and maintain their skills by observing and working with other farmers. The participants' business plans show that they plan on adopting MIG in their future farm operations. In addition to the forty-four beginning farmers who participated in the program, approximately 200 farmers were exposed to MIG and other sustainable farming techniques at Farm Beginnings public workshops and field days. Including radio, television, and press, we estimate that thousands of people were exposed to the program and the environmental, social, and economic impact it has on local communities.

Involvement of Other Audiences

As stated in the previous section, we estimate that thousands of people were exposed to the program and the environmental, social, and economic impact it has on local communities. Overall, the Farm Beginnings workshops, field days, and meetings were very well attended. Following is a summary list of program events including: who attended, how many attended, and roles that were played.

Farm Beginnings Informational Meeting. October 21, 1997. Plainview, MN. General public, private accountants, LSP staff, and Extension staff Approximately 35 people. LSP and Extension discussed program with group.
University of Minnesota Sustainable Agriculture Colloquium. Nov. 6, 1997. St. Paul, MN. University of Minnesota Sustainable Agriculture graduate students, LSP staff. Approximately 40 people. LSP discussed program with group.
Minnesota Grazing Conference. Dec. 11-12 1997. Hutchinson, MN. General public, LSP staff; private agricultural consultants and business. Approximately 75 people. LSP discussed program with group.
Sustainable Farming Association--Hiawatha Valley Annual Meeting. Jan.10, 1998. Goodhue, MN. Sustainable Farming Association members, general public, LSP staff Extension staff Approximately 50 people attended. LSP and Extension discussed program with group.
Conference for Family & Beginning Farmers. Jan. 30-31, 1998. Rochester, MN. General public, Extension staff, Passing on the Farm Center staff, LSP staff, Attorneys, Bankers, Financial planners and Private consultants. Approximately 150 people attended. LSP and Extension discussed program with group.
Quality Pastures Workshop. Feb 24, 1998. Lewiston, MN. Program participants LSP members, general public, private consultant, LSP staff, Extension staff. Approximately 50 people attended. LSP and Extension discussed program with group and MIG principles. MIG principles were adopted.
Land Stewardship Project SE Minnesota Annual Meeting. Mar. 3, 1998. St. Charles, MN. Minnesota Department of Agriculture Field Day. June 10. LaCrescent, MN; LSP members, program participants, LSP staff, and general public. Approximately 100 people attended. LSP discussed program with group.
National Farm Transition Network Annual Meeting. June 20-24. Omaha, NE. LSP staff representatives from 14 other linking and farm transition groups around the country. Approximately 20 people attended. LSP discussed program with group.
Minnesota Vo-Ag Instructors Annual Meeting. July 16, 1998. Lake City, MN. Minnesota Vo-Ag instructors, program participants, LSP staff and Extension staff. Approximately 16 people attended. LSP discussed program with group.
Heifer Project International Hunger Conference. October 14-16, 1998. Little Rock, AK. Heifer Project International supporters and staff, LSP staff, general public. Approximately 500 people attended, worldwide. LSP exhibited Farm Beginnings program display and discussed program with HPI staff.
Farm Beginnings Informational Meeting. October 20, 1998. Plainview, MN. General public, program steering committee, LSP staff, and Extension staff. Approximately 10 people. LSP and Extension discussed program with group.
Minnesota GELS of Animal Agriculture Impacts Committee Meeting. Nov 10, 1998. Dodge Center, MN. GElS committee, LSP staff, DNR staff; and University of Minnesota Faculty. Approximately 10 people attended. LSP, DNR, and University of Minnesota Faculty discussed program and sustainable framing practices with Generic Environmental Impact Statement (GEIS) committee.
Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture Board Meeting. Nov 23, 1998. St. Paul, MN. MISA board members and LSP staff. Approximately 15 people attended. LSP discussed program results with board.
Farm Planing Process Workshop. Dec. 3, 1998. Lewiston, MN. LSP members, general public, LSP staff and Extension staff. Approximately 30 people attended. Extension discussed retirement planning methods, LSP discussed program.
"You Can Farm," Featuring Joel Salatin, January 21, 1999; Rochester, MN, LSP members, general public, LSP staff and Beginning Farmers in the Farm Beginnings Program. Approximately 100 people attended. Joel addressed creative ways to get started and sustain a small diversified farm.
Annual LSP Meeting, March 4, 1999; St. Charles, MN. Dr. Heffernan spoke about the agricultural mergers. LSP members, 90 people attended.
Midwest Organic Farmers Conference, March 4 B6, 1999; Sinsinawa Mound, WI. LSP members, general public. Approximately 500 people attended. The seminars ranged from soil health to organic production.
Informational Exchange, Passing on the Farm Center, May 26, 1999; Granite Falls, MN, LSP staff and Passing on the Farm Center staff. 15 people. Sharing ideas on internship programs.
Informational Exchange, Eagle Bluff Environmental Learning Center, June 3, 1999; Lanesboro, MN. LSP staff and Eagle Bluff ELC staff. 12 attended. Sharing ideas for possible incubator farm.
Informational Exchange, Winona County Extension Cluster, June 3 and July 28, 1999; Winona and Lewiston, LSP staff and extension educators. 10 in attendance. Exchanging ideas.
National Farm Transition Network Annual Meeting, June 13 B 16, 1999, New York, LSP staff and other staff from national linking programs. Approximately 25 in attendance. Discussed and networked with other organizations promoting and doing similar endeavors.
AmeriCorps Site Fair, August 17, 1999; Winona, MN. LSP staff, other non- profit staff, AmeriCorps members. Approximately 40 attended. Sharing information about the Farm Beginnings program.
Farm Beginnings Informational Meeting with IMAA, September 7, 1999; Rochester, MN. LSP staff and IMAA staff. Approximately 15 in attendance. Exchange ideas about the program, recruiting their program participants to ours and a look at possible ethnic markets.
Farm Transitions Workshop, September 14, 1999; Lewiston, MN. Local farmers, beginning and established, LSP staff, Consultant
Second National Small Farms Conference, October 11-15, 1999; St. Louis, MO. Professionals, LSP staff, HPI staff. Approximately 500 people. We had a booth.
Presentation at International Farming Systems North American Conference, October, 1999, Guelph, Ontario, Canada.

Participation Summary

Educational & Outreach Activities

Participation Summary:

Education/outreach description:

The steering committee, staff and program participants will continue to disseminate information about the project and its findings in a number of ways, including: oral presentations, news articles, internet sites, television, and radio. Following is a list of outreach activities we have already completed.

Oral Presentations

Farm Beginnings Informational Meeting; October 21, 1997; Plainview, MN
University of Minnesota Sustainable Agriculture Colloquium; Nov. 6, 1997; St. Paul, MN
Minnesota Grazing Conference; Dec. 11-12 1997; Hutchinson, MN
Sustainable Farming Association--Hiawatha Valley Aniwe4~eeting [sic - ed.]; Jan.10, 1998; Goodhue, MN
Conference for Family & Beginning Farmers; Jan. 30-31, 1998: Rochester, MN
Quality Pastures Workshop; Feb 24, 1998; Lewiston, MN
Land Stewardship Project SE Minnesota Annual Meeting; Mar. 3, 1998; St. Charles, MN
Minnesota Department of Agriculture Field Day; June 10; LaCrescent, MN
National Farm Transition Network Annual Meeting; June 20-24; Omaha, NE
Minnesota Vo-Ag Instructors Annual Meeting; July 16, 1998; Lake City, MN
Heifer Project International Hunger Conference; October 14-16, 1998; Little Rock, AK
Farm Beginnings Informational Meeting; October 20, 1998; Plainview, MN
Minnesota GELS of Animal Agriculture Impacts Committee Meeting; Nov 10, 1998; Dodge Center, MN
Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture Board Meeting; Nov 23, 1998; St. Paul, MN
Farm Planing Process Workshop; Dec. 3, 1998; Lewiston, MN
"You Can Farm," Featuring Joel Salatin, January 21, 1999; Rochester, MN
Annual LSP Meeting, March 4, 1999; St. Charles, MN
Midwest Organic Farmers Conference, March 4 B6, 1999; Sinsinawa Mound, WI
Informational Exchange, Passing on the Farm Center, May 26, 1999; Granite Falls, MN
Informational Exchange, Eagle Bluff Environmental Learning Center, June 3, 1999; Lanesboro, MN
Informational Exchange, Winona Cluster, June 3 and July 28, 1999; Winona and Lewiston, MN
National Farm Transition Network Annual Meeting, June 13 B 16, 1999, New York
AmeriCorps Site Fair, August 17, 1999; Winona, MN
Farm Beginnings Informational Meeting with IMAA, September 7, 1999; Rochester, MN
Farm Transitions Workshop, September 14, 1999; Lewiston, MN
Second National Small Farms Conference, October 11-15, 1999; St. Louis, MO
Presentation at International Farming Systems North American Conference, October, 1999, Guelph, Ontario, Canada
Invitation to lead an extensive workshop for SSAWG, January 2001

News Articles

Barsness, Anne. April 29, 1998. Getting Started: Program Helps Beginning Dairy Farmers Assess their Options. Red Wing Republican Eagle. 1-2.
Broeker, Jill. August/September, 1997. Predicting the Future by Creating it. Land Stewardship Letter. Vol. 15, No. 4.
Kubat, Janet Willette. July 9, 1998. Building Skills While Building a Herd. Agri-News. Section B, 1.
Kubat, Janet Willette. July 9, 1998. Former Dairy Farmer Pondering Return. Agri-News. Section B, 1.
Kubat, Janet Willette. July 9, 1998. Farm Beginnings Program in its Infancy. Agri-News. Section, 1.
O'Neill, Jill. September/October, 1998. The Farm Class of '98. Land Stewardship Letter. Vol. 16, No. 4. 8-9.
News Staff. November 26, 1998. Mentoring Program Helps People Get into Farming. The Lake City Graphic.

Internet Sites

Land Stewardship Project Homepage. Location: html
Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture Homepage. Location:
Sustainable Agriculture Network. Location:


The New Farmers Almanac. February 20, 1998. Host Jim VanDerPol. Pioneer Public TV. Broadcast on KWCM Channel 10-Appleton, KFMN Channel 20-Worthington, and Metro Access Cable Channel 6.


Lewiston on Air. September 10, 1997 & July 8, 1998. Host Jim Trotter. Broadcast on KAGE Winona.
Goodhue County Extension Weekly. Periodically throughout 1997 & 19998. Broadcast on KDHL Faribault & KCUE Red Wing.
Farm Beginnings Radio Actuality. Fall 1998. Broadcast on KATE Albert Lea, KAUS Austin, KDHL Faribault, KFLI Preston, KCUE Red Wing, KFMX Wabasha, KAGE Winona, and KWEB Rochester.
Lewiston on Air. September 22, 1999 and October 13, 1999. Host Jim Trotter. Broadcast on KAGE Winona.
WCCO Agriculture Report. Fall 1999 Broadcast on WCCO St. Paul.
Farm Beginnings Radio Actuality. Fall 1999. Broadcast on KATE Albert Lea, KAUS Austin, KDHL Faribault, KFLI Preston, KCUE Red Wing, KFMX Wabasha, KAGE Winona, and KWEB Rochester.

Project Outcomes


Areas needing additional study

Currently the Farm Beginnings program offers beginning farmers much needed assistance, including: education, hands-on training, business planning assistance, and valuable connections with other beginning and established sustainable farmers. However most beginning farmers still face major financing difficulties. It has become extremely challenging for young people to enter farming as conventional farming has become more land and capital intensive. Additionally, farm transfers within families are becoming increasingly difficult and rare, forcing beginning farmers to find alternative ways into farming.

We believe that more study needs to be done on developing low-risk ways in which beginning sustainable farmers can build up the much needed equity to launch their own operations. Currently there is scattered information about land transfer options available, however much of this material deals only with family to family transfers. There is very little information available on land transfers between non-related parties and other equity building opportunities.

More work needs to be done to develop "equity building frameworks" for beginning farmers. . There need to be clearly laid out plans that beginning farmers can follow to build up equity over a certain time period. For example, a beginning farmer would be able to start building equity in an arrangement with either a retiring farmer, established farmer, church, or land conservation group.

In order to be successful, the equity building plans will have to be thoroughly studied. Complex issues that need to be addressed include: goal setting and communication; planning and negotiation; and implementation and follow through. Additionally, we will need to clarify many details including: what percentage does the beginning farmer start at, who is responsible for specific farm duties, when and how is the arrangement adjusted, housing and wages, and other pertinent details to ensure success.

Beginning farmers will be far more likely to succeed if they are provided with a combination of education training and equity building assistance. The Farm Beginnings committee is eager to pursue this area of study.

Literature Citations

Byers, A. 1995. Project supports beginning sustainable farmers. Rural Adult Education FORUM. 8 (1).

Dobbs, T.L., and Cole, J.D. 1992. Potential effects on rural economies of conversion to sustainable farming systems. Amer. J. Alt. Agr. 7 (2), 70-79.

Gale, H.F. and Henderson, D. 1991. Where have all the farmers gone: Decreased entry led to greater decline in farm numbers during the 1980's. Choices Mag. Food Farm Resour. Issues. 6(4), 32-33.

Love, P.W. 1995. The impact of changes in dairy farming on a local economy: A case study. A paper submitted to the faculty of the graduate school of the University of Minnesota.

Strange, M. and Miller, C. 1994. A better row to hoe: The economic, environmental, and social impact of sustainable agriculture. The Northwest Area Foundation.

Information Products

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.