New and Beginning Farmer Regenerative Agriculture Fellowship Program

Final report for ONC21-096

Project Type: Partnership
Funds awarded in 2021: $40,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2021
Grant Recipient: The Nature Conservancy
Region: North Central
State: Ohio
Project Coordinator:
Jessica DAmbrosio
The Nature Conservancy
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Project Information

Summary:

This project is fundamentally educational. It supported a cohort of new, beginning, and underserved farmers moving through roughly 25 weeks of education and training. Topics included organic production, regenerative farming, integrated pest management, rotational grazing, marketing, and business management. Beyond classroom education, the cohort visited a series of area farms engaged in innovative ecological agriculture to both demonstrate the on the ground application of practices farmers will be taught as well as create regional networking opportunities and long-term peer support. 

This project was undertaken as part of the Nature Conservancy’s (TNC) organizational goal to support equity in agriculture. TNC in Ohio typically works with row crop producers across the state. However, we recognize that due to the lack of BIPOC farmers engaged in conventional agriculture in Ohio, this focus must be adjusted if we hope to meaningfully support non-white growers. In Ohio, 30-43% of non-white farmers have been farming for less than ten years, meaning beginning farmer facing programs such as this are essential to providing support for BIPOC producers operating sustainable farm businesses. 

We recruited six women from Trotwood, Dayton and Springfield, Ohio for the first year of the Regenerative Farmer Fellowship. Five identified as Black, Indigenous, or People of Color (BIPOC). The Fellows represented both rural and urban sites, including four growing sites located in areas considered food deserts by the USDA. To eliminate barriers to participation, we provided stipends to support farmers throughout the program. The SARE grant funded $6000 per Fellow, or roughly $12 dollars an hour for participation.

We provided two acres at the Agraria Center for Regenerative Practice to be used as a test site for Fellows, so that they could gain hands-on practice with the skills they were learning before using them in their own spaces. The site included a high tunnel and tool storage, and developing this space was woven into the curriculum. For example, when we installed fencing we hosted a concurrent fencing workshop so that all Fellows could participate in and learn from the process. Two acres of space at Melrose Acres campus, located in Springfield, Ohio, were provided for two of our Farmer Fellows to use as their primary growing sites.

Running from April 19 through October 8, Fellows participated in 25-weeks of workshops and area farm visits to learn skills for organic production, regenerative farming, integrated pest management, rotational grazing, marketing, soil building, and business management. Farm visits also covered special topics such as a presentation on African American Planting Systems. As much as possible, the program was tailored to the needs and goals of the participants.

Farms visited were Dayton Urban Grown, Edgemont Solar Gardens in Dayton, Cook’s Garden in New Lebanon, the Smaller Footprint Farm in Enon, Nourganic Life Farm in Trotwood, Patchwork Gardens and CSA in Dayton, Marvin’s Organic Gardens near Lebanon, and The Narrow Way Farm in Brookville. Fellows also took a tour of the Gem City Market cooperative grocery store led by a member of Co-op Dayton, as part of their exploration of different business models and local food distribution opportunities.

In closing surveys, 100% of participants selected that they “strongly agree” with the statement “I found the opportunity to network with other farmers I met through the Fellowship helpful”. In the comments section, one respondent wrote: “This was absolutely one of the best parts of this program to meet other farmers, to hear their stories (successes and failures/do’s and don’ts), the exposure to multiple ways to small scale farm, to connect with them as future references and possible mentorship. I actually found a farm mentor through this program! So helpful!”

We had a 100% retention rate for the pilot program, and graduated Fellows have become active members in our BIPOC Farming Network. Our closing surveys asked Fellows to rate their agreement with statements such as “I have incorporated regenerative soil practices I learned in the Fellowship into my growing spaces,” and “I have incorporated small business knowledge I learned in the Fellowship into starting and/or growing my agribusiness,” with the choice to add more information in a comments section. All questions received at least 50% “agree” and “strongly agree” responses. Comments were overwhelmingly positive, as well as providing valuable feedback for areas of growth. For instance, multiple Fellows stated that starting the program in April was late in the Spring growing season and meant some of the skills they were learning could not be applied until the following year. We have incorporated this feedback into our planning for next year and will likely start the 2022 program in March.

Fellows led a workshop at Agraria’s Black Farming Conference in September. A recording of this workshop will soon be available on the Agraria YouTube channel (https://www.youtube.com/c/AgrariaCenterforRegenerativePractice). Video interviews with some of the Fellows are also available on the channel. A final dinner was held with the Fellows and several farmer educators and community members in October to commemorate the ending of the program. A blog post documenting this event is available on Agraria’s website (https://www.communitysolution.org/blog/2021/11/8/celebrating-agrarias-first-regenerative-farmer-fellowship). All Fellows plan to lead or participate in workshops this winter at Agraria to share the skills they learned during the program.

Fellows have also spoken about the program in outside events, such as an event hosted by Ohio State University’s Environmental Professionals Network, titled “Growing the Future of Agriculture: Conversations with Black Farmers and Educators.” Recordings of the proceedings can be found online here: https://epn.osu.edu/events/growing-future-agriculture-conversations-black-farmers-and-educators.

We did not translate outreach materials into Spanish, and none of our pilot participants spoke Spanish as a first language. More outreach to the Spanish speaking community is planned for the second year of the program, and we have hired a fluent Spanish speaker as the program assistant for 2022. All other objectives for this project were achieved. Based on participant retention, continued engagement with Agraria and the larger community beyond the Fellowship, and survey feedback, we consider this pilot program to be very successful. We seek financial funding support to continue the program at Agraria and look for ways to scale Regenerative Farmer Fellowships for BIPOC and beginning farmers.

Project Objectives:
  • Recruit a minimum of six beginning, new, or underserved farmers for the initial cohort  
  • Translate outreach materials into Spanish  
  • Design and deliver 25 weeks of learning modules for participating farmers 
  • Supply test plots for cohort farmers to practice production  
  • Plan and execute four educational farm visits  
  • Connect cohort farmers to existing markets (farm store, co-ops) 
  • Evaluate the program and report out lessons learned 

Cooperators

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Research

Involves research:
No
Participation Summary

Educational & Outreach Activities

5 Consultations
24 On-farm demonstrations
4 Published press articles, newsletters
5 Tours
3 Webinars / talks / presentations
19 Workshop field days
30 Other educational activities: Videos on YouTube Channel, Blog posts, Facebook Posts, annual reports

Participation Summary:

25 Farmers
8 Ag professionals participated
Education/outreach description:

Fellows led a workshop at Agraria’s Black Farming Conference in September. A recording of this workshop will soon be available on the Agraria YouTube channel (https://www.youtube.com/c/AgrariaCenterforRegenerativePractice). Video interviews with some of the Fellows are also available on the channel. A final dinner was held with the Fellows and several farmer educators and community members in October to commemorate the ending of the program. A blog post documenting this event is available on Agraria’s website (https://www.communitysolution.org/blog/2021/11/8/celebrating-agrarias-first-regenerative-farmer-fellowship). All Fellows plan to lead or participate in workshops this winter at Agraria to share the skills they learned during the program.

Fellows have also spoken about the program in outside events, such as an event hosted by Ohio State University’s Environmental Professionals Network, titled “Growing the Future of Agriculture: Conversations with Black Farmers and Educators.” Recordings of the proceedings can be found online here: https://epn.osu.edu/events/growing-future-agriculture-conversations-black-farmers-and-educators.

Regenerative Farmer Fellowship Schedule: 2021-Schedule-All(1)

Learning Outcomes

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

Project Outcomes

6 Farmers changed or adopted a practice
13 New working collaborations
Project outcomes:

Networking with farmers and being part of growing community and mentorship

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.