Harvesting Our Potential: Growing Skills, Confidence and Sustainability

Final report for ONC21-092

Project Type: Partnership
Funds awarded in 2021: $40,000.00
Projected End Date: 03/31/2022
Grant Recipient: Women, Food & Agriculture Network
Region: North Central
State: Iowa
Project Coordinator:
Stephanie Enloe
Women Food and Agriculture Network
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Project Information


For 20 years WFAN’s Harvesting Our Potential (HOP) program has been inspiring and growing women farmers by supporting them in becoming active farmers, mentors, and advocates. We have previously targeted this program to aspiring women farmers who are exploring or in the beginning stages of starting a farm enterprise. Through evaluations we’ve learned that women farmers at all stages in their careers benefit from mentorship as they seek to diversify and/or expand their operations. 

Through Harvesting Our Potential: Growing Skills, Confidence and Sustainability we will grow the program to include new mentorship opportunities for existing women farmers who seek additional training on topics such as how to add new enterprises, operate a tractor, or improve marketing. Additionally, we’ll host an on-line meeting with previous program participants to share their “where I am now” stories. We will also pilot a farm-sitting component, providing funding and training for a farm-sitter to care for a farmer’s operations while the farmer attends additional training opportunities. This will provide both parties opportunities to grow skills and provide experience for the farm-sitter to use in future farm employment opportunities. This project will take place in Iowa and one other to-be-identified state in the NC region.

Project Objectives:
  • Address barriers to employment/entrepreneurship while increasing likelihood of womens’ farm success through 20 paid mentorships, with at least one-third of matches focused on new enterprise development. Mentorships will give participants the knowledge, confidence and support they need to enact change.
  • Increase participant network and familiarity with resources to start or sustain a farming career through networking events, including a Learning Circle and an on-line “meet and greet,” reaching approximately 150 - 200 women.
  • Pilot a farm-sitting component, providing farm-sitter service for one mentor to leave her farm for additional training, while one mentee gains additional on-farm experience through paid farm-sitting.


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Involves research:
Participation Summary

Educational & Outreach Activities

2 Online trainings
2 Workshop field days
3 Other educational activities: Online meet and greet with mentees; A public Learning Circle/meet and greet; and WFAN annual conference.

Participation Summary:

35 Farmers participated
7 Ag professionals participated
Education/outreach description:

2021 was a big one for the Harvesting Our Potential program as we expanded to include skill building mentorships for existing farmers and farm sitting. We also grew into Ohio, and had our highest number of mentorships to date. With $40,000 in NC SARE contributions, we were able to support our full season mentorships and these other expanded program offerings. One quarter of our mentorships were enterprise expansion focused. Below are highlights of our HOP 2021 season. 

Twelve full season mentorships 

In 2021 goals ranged from learning more about marketing, business planning and record keeping, raising animals, CSA management, community building and food justice, horticulture, and pollinators, among many others. Mentees came to their mentor farms from as far as California and as close as a neighboring valley. 

Three skill building mentorships for existing farmers 

In 2021 we piloted a skill building mentorship track for current farmers to expand their skills and enterprises. Two of our farmer mentors, and one beginning farmer, worked with other farmers to learn about sheering sheep, processing animals raised on the farm, and business planning. 

Two farm-sitting connections

Farmers rarely have time to leave their farms for needed time off for respite, family care, or for additional training. Farm-sitting is a new program innovation that allows mentor farmers to leave their farm with confidence while their mentees cover essential farm tasks as paid farm-sitters. Two mentees/mentors took part in 2021, building confidence and income for the mentees and stronger communication and relationship building between the mentors and mentees.  


We provided needed connections to other people in the mentorship program, as well as folks locally, regionally, and nationally who can provide additional resources and support. 

In 2021 HOP networking included opportunities for mentees to meet with other mentees and network members through a virtual meet and greet, two retreats and farm workdays, a winter solstice virtual gathering, and our WFAN annual conference. 

Four Mentor Committee Meetings

With support from SARE, we formulated a mentor advisory committee to shape the future direction of the HOP program. This committee has been especially important in 2021/ 2022, as we had a staff transition in early 2022. The mentor advisory committee met twice before this staff transition and twice after the transition, and have been instrumental in helping our new Program Manager, Stephanie Enloe, to imagine and plan for the future success and expansion of the HOP work. The mentor advisory committee received stipends to compensate them for their time and energy, and they continue to meet under WFAN's 2022 SARE funding.

Mentor Training

With support from SARE, we hosted a virtual Mentor Training in March 2022. This training allowed us to onboard two new mentors to the HOP network. With the help of the mentor advisory committee (see above) we are in the process of updated our mentor onboarding and training process. 

Learning Outcomes

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

Project Outcomes

4 Grants received that built upon this project
17 New working collaborations
Project outcomes:

Please see this blog post highlighting the success of the 2021 program: https://wfan.org/news/2022/1/14/6ltqiu19czyaoeiy6g7g9i6yx552ih

Success stories:

We conducted qualitative evaluations with the mentees who completed the program. Some of the exciting stories to come out of our 2021/ 2022 HOP season include:

  • One farmer mentee was onboarded as a co-owner of the farm on which she was a mentee.
  • A second farmer mentee is in the process of becoming a co-owner of a farmer following her mentorship.
  • A farmer who completed a "skill share" mentorship successfully launched a podcast dedicated to parenting while farming. She participated in a panel discussion on the same topic, which was hosted by WFAN and which provided a much needed conversation for women within our network.
  • Several farmer mentees reported that they are more likely to consider a farming career following their mentorships.
  • Farmer mentees from the 2021 were able to farm-sit for their mentors under this grant. Mentors continue to contact their 2021 mentees for farm-sitting support.

Testimonials from 2021 participants: 

“Thank you so much for the opportunity to be a part of the mentorship program. I appreciate you inviting me into HOP with virtually no experience with farming and (initially) virtually no desire to become a farmer. Four months later, I am amazed by how much I learned and have discovered that I am really excited about alternative agriculture and food justice and that (despite the heat and drought), I really enjoy being outdoors, working hard, and seeing the rewards of that work.”

It was an awesome opportunity for myself as a mentor to meet like minded women in my area. I anticipate long term friendships with both of my mentees.”

“It's SO GREAT to have people trained to farm-sit, and to be able to generously compensate them through the grant funds. It makes the "ask" much easier, and so it makes it much easier to imagine getting away, when I know that there is financial support for the farm-sitter.”

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.