Michigan Sustainable Farm Mentors

Progress report for ONC21-085

Project Type: Partnership
Funds awarded in 2021: $39,999.00
Projected End Date: 03/31/2023
Grant Recipient: Michigan State University
Region: North Central
State: Michigan
Project Coordinator:
Katie Brandt
Michigan State University
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Project Information

Summary:

Connecting beginning and aspiring farmers with mentors is essential in an era when 60% of Michigan farmers are 55 or older. Mentors make the difference between farm entrepreneurs who overcome the formidable barriers to success and those who cannot. This project aims to inspire a future where all beginning farmers have mentors.

Michigan Sustainable Farm Mentors will create 42 mentor-mentee pairs to engage in meaningful, directed conversations. Uniquely, mentors will also review farmer documents to provide “positive, actionable” feedback and peer mentee discussions will follow each mentorship meeting.

Online forms and an online Meet & Greet will match mentee-mentor pairs by enterprises and choice following one-on-one conversations. Beginning farmer pairs will have five discussions about financial viability, environmental sustainability and social responsibility (FES sustainability). Aspiring farmer pairs will discuss land/credit access and opportunities to gain production/entrepreneurial skills.

Michigan Sustainable Farm Mentors will benefit mentees through collaboration with an experienced farmer and a peer to improve FES sustainability or overcoming startup barriers. Mentors gain opportunities to transfer farming expertise to the next generation. Mentors and mentees will be fairly compensated. The project will strengthen beginning farmer success, bolstering Michigan’s food and agriculture systems, land tenure, economy, environment and rural/urban communities.

Project Objectives:
  • Recruit mentees via farm networks, social media, conferences and webinars
  • Connect 21 beginning farmers with mentors for FES sustainability discussions
  • Connect 21 aspiring farmers with mentors to discuss land/credit access and business/production skill-building
  • Pair 42 mentees for peer discussions
  • Provide positive, actionable feedback on documents
  • Train farmers as mentors and document reviewers
  • Coordinate trainings and evaluation where mentors and mentees lead project planning
  • Document improved FES sustainability of beginning farmers
  • Document aspiring farmer actions to access land, credit and skills
  • Compare impact of farmer mentors to peer discussions
  • Create a replicable farm mentorship model to share via conferences and articles

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand/collapse or show everyone's info
  • Jill Johnson (Educator)
  • Jeremy Grey Cloud Sparks (Educator)
  • Lance Kraai (Educator)
  • Joannée DeBruhl (Educator)
  • Rachel Cross (Educator)
  • Alex Cacciari (Educator)
  • James Koan (Educator)

Research

Involves research:
No
Participation Summary

Educational & Outreach Activities

47 Consultations
3 Curricula, factsheets or educational tools
4 Online trainings
4 Published press articles, newsletters
11 Webinars / talks / presentations

Participation Summary:

21 Farmers
1 Ag professionals participated
Education/outreach description:

Summary

A webpage and newsletters marketed the program from April through May of 2021 and people were encouraged to apply using the first version of the online application form. Seven experienced farm mentors were each paired with 1 aspiring farmer and 1 beginning farmer. The aspiring farmers each planned on 2 (1 hr) meetings with their mentor and 2 (1 hr) meeting with their peer mentee. The beginning farmers were to meet with their mentors for 5 (1 hr) meetings and 5 (1 hr) meetings with their peer. All 7 beginning farmers and 6 of 7 aspiring farmers met with both their mentor and a peer.  

47 Consultations

These consultations include the meetings between mentors and mentees and the meetings between peer mentees as tracked in a shared google document, reviewed on 2-28-22. Most meetings were 1-hour phone calls, but some pairs chose to connect via zoom, text or other technology.

Mentee Selection:

The signup form was completed by 54 prospective mentees by the end of 2021 to apply to the program. The form was converted to a spreadsheet and applicants were grouped into aspiring and beginning farmers and then ranked, giving highest priority based on their level of farm experience, then prioritizing for USDA's underrepresented groups, including farmers of color, Hispanic/Latinx farmers, veterans, limited resource producers and a space for applicants to write in other underrepresented groups. The survey asked each applicant to list up to 5 farm enterprises and the seven highest ranked beginning farmers were matched to a mentor and a peer mentee with similar farm enterprises. The same process was used for aspiring farmer mentees. 

4 Trainings

All trainings were held online via zoom. Most included use of chat, zoom reactions, full group discussions, breakout rooms and shared google documents to encourage all to participate and to learn from activities and the other mentees and mentors. All were facilitated by the project PI (Katie Brandt) except for the 2 Evaluator Trainings led by the Lead Evaluator. 

  • Evaluator Trainings: April 27 (2.5 hr) and May 4 (2.5 hr)
  • Mentor Trainings: May 20 (2 hr)
  • Mentee Training: August 5 (1.5 hr)

5 Webinars and 6 Talks & Presentations

5 Webinars fully focused on the Mentorship were organized as part of the grant. 

  • Evaluator Meeting: April 30 (1 hr)
  • Meet & Greet event, beginning farmers meet mentors: June 17 (1 hr)
  • Meet & Greet event, aspiring farmers meet mentors: June 24 (1 hr)
  • Mentor Meetings - September 16 (1 hr), December 15 (1 hr)

Promotion for the mentorship opportunity was part of several webinars and conference presentations about the Map of Michigan Beginning Farmer Resources. Michigan Sustainable Farm Mentors is one of 90 resources listed on the map and the mentorship opportunity was promoted at the start of each talk as part of my introduction slide. 

    • Sep 29 - MSU Fall Extension Conference: Tour a Map of Michigan's Beginning Farmer Programs - 10 video views/10 attendees
    • Nov. 4 - Map Educator Training -58 registered/19 attendees
    • Nov. 9 - Map Farmer Training Webinar - 40 registered/21 attendees
    • Nov. 10 - MI LandLink Conference - 71 attendees
    • Dec. 8 - Great Lakes Fruit & Vegetable EXPO - Beginning Organic session - 41
    • Dec. 8 - Organic Marketing - 8 attendees

Published Press Articles/Newsletters 

  • A link to Michigan Sustainable Farm Mentors is in my email signature 
  • Emails to a "Jobs & Opportunities" list including 170+ graduates/current participants of the MSU Organic Farmer Training Program and 90 undergraduates who took MSU HRT 251 "Organic Principles & Practices" (May 5, December 13)
  • MSU Center for Regional Food Systems Newsletter (May)
  • Michigan Food & Farming Systems Newsletter (April, May)
  • Tollgate Farm newsletter (May)
  • West Michigan Growers' Group newsletter (May)
  • Emails to 4 listservs in mid-May including Comfood, Foodspeak, MI Organic and farmmktmi@list.msu.edu (1114 recipients)
  • Website Visits
    • No data for www.msufarm.org/mentors (March - Oct. 2021)
    • 219 visitors to www.canr.msu.edu/sof/mentors.html (Nov. - Dec. 2021)
  • Facebook: 309 views, 8 likes, 7 site clicks, 2 shares, 1 comment to a post on May 6

Number of Farmers 

  • 7 Farmer Mentors
  • 7 Beginning Farmer Mentees
  • 6 Aspiring Farmer Mentees 
  • 1 Farmer evaluator 

 

Learning Outcomes

20 Farmers reported changes in knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness as a result of their participation

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

Evaluation of project outcomes will be completed for year 1 by the end of April 2022. 

Brief updates on the outcomes listed in the proposal are below: 

  • Recruit mentees via farm networks, social media, conferences and webinars
    • 54 mentees applied for the 14 available slots. Mentor opportunities were marketed via networks of 170+ Organic Farmer Training Program participants, ~90 "Organic Farming Principles and Practices" students, 5 newsletters, 4 listservs, a website, social media, 3 in-person conferences and 3 webinars.
  • Connect 21 beginning farmers with mentors for FES sustainability discussions
    • 7 beginning farmers were connected with mentors
  • Connect 21 aspiring farmers with mentors to discuss land/credit access and business/production skill-building
    • 7 aspiring farmers were matched with mentors (only 6 connected with their mentors)
  • Pair 42 mentees for peer discussions
    • 14 mentees were paired and 13 connected with peers
  • Provide positive, actionable feedback on documents
    • This was less successful in year 1 and we are taking actions as recommended by mentors and mentees to encourage more document sharing in year 2
  • Train farmers as mentors and document reviewers
    • Farmers had one official 2-hour training, but also contributed to and benefited from peer-to-peer learning in (2) 1-hour meetings and the 1-hour brainstorming charrette. They also learned from ~7 hours of interactions with mentees. 
  • Coordinate trainings and evaluation where mentors and mentees lead project planning
    • Farmers wrote discussion prompts, contributed to editing evaluation questions and were important in providing feedback and suggestions to improve year 2  
  • Document improved FES sustainability of beginning farmers
    • This will be completed by April based on review of the pre- and post-surveys and charrette videos by the evaluator
  • Document aspiring farmer actions to access land, credit and skills
    • This will be completed by April based on review of the pre- and post-surveys and charrette videos by the evaluator
  • Compare impact of farmer mentors to peer discussions
    • This will be completed by April based on review of the pre- and post-surveys and charrette videos by the evaluator
  • Create a replicable farm mentorship model to share via conferences and articles
    • This will be complete by the end of the 2nd project year
Success stories:

Success stories will be compiled by the end of April and shared out widely. 

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.