Circles of Resilience, by and for Farmers

Progress report for ONC23-118

Project Type: Partnership
Funds awarded in 2023: $45,757.00
Projected End Date: 09/30/2024
Grant Recipient: Farm Commons
Region: North Central
State: Minnesota
Project Coordinator:
Rachel Armstrong
Farm Commons
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Project Information


Our environmentally sensitive and direct to consumer farmers are only sustainable if they can keep running their farm businesses year after year. When legal difficulties such as insurance issues, partnership and transition problems, and employment law challenges, and challenging land access harm the operation, farms falter and many fail. Farmers themselves lie awake at night worrying if they are at risk and wondering how to resolve it. The solution isn’t just more information and increased knowledge (although that plays a role and we ensure access to information). Farmers need the support of their peers - support that reminds them they are wise, they are capable, and it is worthwhile to proactively resolve legal issues. This project creates that through Circles of Resilience- a peer support mechanism where sustainable and direct to consumer farmers in the North Central region discuss issues of legal resilience in small groups, with Circle Leaders at the helm who are also farmers. As a result, we will witness improved quality of life, stronger support networks, greater legal resilience for farmers, as well as the continued leadership development of farmers themselves on legal issues. 

Project Objectives:
  1. Improve quality of life for 40 North Central farmers through 1) improved confidence in handling legal issues on their farm, and 2) stronger support networks around the legal issues they face.
  2. Increase the legal resilience of 22 North Central farmers through 1) achievement of one of 10 key risk reducing actions and 2) intention to achieve an additional key risk reducing action. 
  3. Improve quality of life for 4 farmer Circle Leaders through 1) improved confidence in supporting peers addressing legal issues, and 2) improved sense of their own qualities as a leader in the sustainable agriculture community.


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Involves research:
Materials and methods:

Four farmers who completed the Farm Commons Collaborative Leadership Fellowship program were selected to participate in the Circles of Resilience (CORe) program as farmer peer leaders - The Circle Leaders. 

Farm Commons staff developed training agendas for a 3-part training program that taught the Circle Leaders to recruit participants for their CORe, develop meeting agendas, and facilitate farm law discussions with peers while staying within due legal bounds. Training occurred in November 2023. 

The Circle Leaders developed four meeting agendas to host four 90-minute group discussions on four key areas of farm law: business structures, employment law, land access, and insurance. The goal of these CORe meeting discussions is to improve farmer participants’ quality of life through increased knowledge, access to resources, and peer support. Similarly, the goal for the Circle Leaders is to improve their quality of life through increased confidence in being peer leaders and improving their abilities in speaking about and hosting discussions on farm law issues. Meeting agendas were reviewed and finalized in December 2023.

Farm Commons staff developed a registration page and outreach copy for the Circle Leaders to use for recruiting participants for their CORe. The Circle Leaders conducted targeted outreach in their communities in December 2023. 

The Circles of Resilience meetings were held in January/February 2024 and will be reported on in the final report.


Research results and discussion:

Results will be shared in the final report.

Participation Summary

Educational & Outreach Activities

6 Consultations
16 Curricula, factsheets or educational tools
16 Online trainings

Participation Summary:

4 Farmers participated
Education/outreach description:

The project team developed and conducted a 3-part training series in November 2023 where we trained four farmers to lead a 4-part Circle of Resilience peer support group. The training involved three 2-hour virtual sessions: (1) Designing Ways of Holding Space, (2) Designing Meeting Agenda and Minding Legal Limits, and (3) Presenting the Legal Best Practices. Staff developed the training agendas for these sessions (including handouts, presentation templates, and legal factsheets), and hosted and facilitated the sessions with the farmer Circle Leaders. During these sessions, the four Circle Leaders developed four agendas for their Circles of Resilience groups, totaling 16 online training agendas. Staff provided additional preparatory support through 1:1 check in meetings. In addition to completing the training program, the Circle Leaders conducted outreach to peers in their community through their farm businesses’ social media, local listservs, and with the support of local non-profit organizations to recruit registrants for their Circles of Resilience groups. Farm Commons provided the program landing page and registration form, which included initial assessment questions. Staff also provided outreach support through Farm Commons’ newsletter and social media, with the goal of filling each Circle of Resilience with 10 participants. The Circles of Resilience meetings began in January 2024.

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.