Urban and Rural Mentorships for Aspiring and Beginning Women Farmers

Progress report for ONC22-106

Project Type: Partnership
Funds awarded in 2022: $40,000.00
Projected End Date: 05/30/2023
Grant Recipient: WFAN
Region: North Central
State: Iowa
Project Coordinator:
Stephanie Enloe
Women Food and Agriculture Network
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Project Information


WFAN’s Harvesting Our Potential (HOP) program gives participants access to 1) mentorships, pairing women who want to farm or expand a farm business with successful women farmers; 2) Learning Circles, whereby they learn about resources, can ask questions in supportive environments, and meet women like them; and, 3) other networking and educational opportunities, including farm visits, retreats, WFAN’s conference, and additional educational resources. HOP participants gain increased confidence in their ability to be economically self-sufficient through sustainable agriculture careers and build connections with other women, which is vital for sustaining and growing businesses and agricultural economies.

While there are projects in the U.S. that focus on aspiring farmers and others designed for women farmers, we know of no other program that combines both components in the same program. Our innovative model is important and needed because women thrive when they feel supported and have a network of women to be part of.

With 2021 NCSARE support we expanded HOP into Ohio and added innovations including farm sitting and skill-building mentorships. With this proposal, we will continue in Ohio, Iowa, and one other to-be-determined NCSARE state and pilot mentorships for urban farming, a rapidly growing form of community-based, sustainable agriculture.

Project Objectives:
  • Address access barriers to needed information and skill building and employment/entrepreneurship while increasing likelihood of womens’ farm success through 11 paid mentorships, with at least one-fourth of matches focused on urban farming. 
  • Increase participant network and familiarity with resources to start or sustain a farming career through networking events, including a Learning Circle, retreats, and access to the WFAN annual conference.
  • Provide mentors with opportunities to leave the farm while their mentees farm sit; providing mentees with experience to strengthen their skills and confidence and mentors time off or chances to get additional training.


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Participation Summary

Educational & Outreach Activities

4 Consultations
2 Curricula, factsheets or educational tools
12 Online trainings
6 Webinars / talks / presentations
27 Other educational activities: 11 - Full season mentorships
5 - number of farmer mentors and mentees who completed skill share mentorships with 3 skill-share farmers
5 - number of mentees who we financially supported to attend educational and networking events, such at the Practical Farmers of Iowa conference or field days
4 - number of 2022 and 2021 mentees who completed a total of 11 days of farm-sitting, with WFAN subsidizing stipends
2 - online meet and greet for mentees to meet other mentors

Participation Summary:

50 Farmers participated
6 Ag professionals participated
Education/outreach description:

Consultations (4): We keep a lawyer who specializes in agricultural law on retainer so our farmer mentor or mentees can meet with him to strengthen their operations and/ or their on-farm labor practices. Two farmer mentors took advantage of this service over the past year.

We are in the process of reconfiguring our mentor training process to better serve program structure and to reflect an undated understanding of pedagogical best practice for experiential education. We have so far met and/ or set March meetings with two consultants who will help lead training modules. 

Online Trainings (12):  We hosted a mentor training in March 2022 to on-board mentors for the 2022 season. Seven mentors attended the training. We hosted a individual onboarding sessions/ program trainings for each of our 11 mentees. These trainings covered program details and expectations, how to set SMART goals for the mentorship, and relationship building conversations to increase mentee comfort with approaching WFAN staff for individualized support.

Webinars/ virtual talks (6+): HOP mentees were invited to attend our virtual annual conference free of charge. We hosted the following conference sessions appropriate for aspiring/ beginning farmers mentees: 

  • Essential Food Safety for Specialty Crop Producers
  • Agrarian Trust: Rethinking farmland access and transfer across the country
  • Resource Sharing in Omaha Urban Ag - Growing Cooperative, Collective Work and Impact
  • Cover Crops for Beginners, and Beyond!
  • This Mother Farmer makes $$$
  • Stress Reduction and Mental Wellness for Everyone

On March 21, we will host a soil health and soil testing basics webinar oriented toward beginning specialty crop/ diversified farmers.

Other educational activities:

11 mentees from Iowa, Ohio, and Illinois completed mentorships with 6 mentors. Mentorships spanned between 8 weeks and 6 months.

2 mentors and 3 mentees attended skill share mentorship opportunities with 3 different farmers from across Iowa.

5 mentees requested and were provided financial support to attend nearby educational and networking events, including conferences and field days.

4 mentees (2022 or former HOP mentees) acted as farm-sitters for 2 of our farmer mentors. They collectively farm sat for 11 days.

We hosted 2 virtual meet and greet events for mentees to meet other farmer mentors from the program and to hear about their production systems.




Learning Outcomes

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

Project Outcomes

7 Farmers changed or adopted a practice
4 Grants received that built upon this project
10 New working collaborations
Project outcomes:

Of the 11 mentees who completed full HOP mentorships this past year, 6 are aspiring farmers and 2 are beginning farmers with their own operations, 2 are beginning farmers who leveraged their mentorship into full time, seasonal employment on their mentor's farm, and 1 was a beginning farmer who has since taken a break from farming. Where possible, benefits are broken down by participant type.


Aspiring farmers:

  • 3 (OH, IA, IL) reported definitive plans to start their own farm operations in the future
  • 2 (IA) reported that they will likely start their own farm operations in the future, but that they plan to structure them differently than their mentors' farms
  • 1 (IA) reported that they learned that farming is not a viable full-time occupation for them, but that they will take knowledge gained from their mentorship into future work opportunities.

Beginning farmers: 

  • 1 (OH) made significant progress toward goals related to marketing, developing value added progress, and applying for applicable grant and/ or lending support to further develop her operation.
  • 1 (IA) is on track to become a co-owner of her mentor's cooperatively owned farm operation
  • 1 (IA) is now a full-time, seasonal employee on her mentor's farm
  • 1 (IA) reported that they are now structuring their business goals differently based on knowledge gained through their mentorship

1 mentee has taken a break from farming due to personal reasons.


We worked with 1 mentor to co-write a successful seed-saving grant that will allow her farm to invest in seed saving infrastructure, which will create an additional revenue stream for her farm and future learning opportunities for mentees. This mentor has committed to hosted seed-saving workshops for HOP participants as part of the grant.


All mentees set and made progress toward goals related to improved knowledge of on-farm ecological management. Some of these goals included: 

  • Learn about the basics of crop rotation and how that effects soil health and pest management
  • Gain experience with rotational grazing systems and how to optimize them for health of animals and land
  • Gain experience with organic management of perennial food crops


10 of our 11 mentees reported that they built a lasting relationship with their mentor, such that they will return to this person for resources and guidance.

6 of our mentees reported that they have gained insight into how to farm or produce food in ways that better support their communities and increase food access.

7 of our mentees reported that they grew relationships with other farmers who can support their future goals.

Success stories:

We conducted mid-season end or end of season interviews with each of our mentors and mentees. Below, we've entered some quotes that demonstrate mentee progress toward learning goals. 

"I have gotten to the point where I can work independently to manage the greenhouse... for example, if I'm in the greenhouse by myself I can decide 'oh, we need more of this type of cabbage planted, based on what sells.'" - Mentee who will continue to work on her mentor's farm

"I got to the point where my input [on how to organize the wash station] is trusted and respected. [My mentor] has been able to hand over a lot of that thought process and responsibility. I now have that specialized knowledge, so I've have seen that goal come to fruition." - Mentee who will continue to work on her mentor's farm

"My mentor was extremely helpful - she answered all of my questions or if she didn't know, then she either did research or reached out to another farmer to find answers." - This mentee and mentor reported plans to continue to speak and meet regularly.

"[The mentorship] has been going well, I just feel like I’m going too slow. It’s hard to be patient - I want things to happen more quickly than is realistic. But [my mentor] is a wealth of knowledge. She knows where to find resources or how to help me get what I need." - Beginning farmer in OH

"One major area of improvement was in my confidence. I became more comfortable and confident as we went. I got good instructions the first couple of times I did a task, and then I could work independently from there. I noticed a big change in my level of confidence - I could identify when to do a task and then just do it. My main crop was grapes; but I also focused on watermelons. So I was able to be heavily involved with a perennial and an annual." - Aspiring farmer


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.