Farmer-Led Learning Groups to Mentor Beginning Farmers

Final Report for ONE04-020

Project Type: Partnership
Funds awarded in 2004: $9,827.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2005
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $5,964.00
Region: Northeast
State: New York
Project Leader:
Billie Best
Regional Farm & Food Project
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Project Information

Summary:

Beginning farmers as well as farmers transitioning to more sustainable systems such as grazing can greatly benefit from the guidance of more accomplished farmers. In 2000, the Regional Farm & Food Project inaugurated an acclaimed Farmer-to-Farmer Mentoring Program with support from Northeast SARE. At the conclusion of that program it was clear that a more structured, group-oriented approach could better serve beginning farmers. Thus, in 2003, we devised “Farmer-Led Learning Groups to Mentor Beginning Farmers.”

Our plan was to sign up four mentors, each working with four to eight farmers, in structured groups that were expected to meet for several hours 10 months out of the year. The groups were to combine hands-on activities with conceptual learning. Each group had a particular pasture-based animal agriculture focus, such as small ruminants, and a geographic orientation. Likely new farmer candidates for these learning groups were identified from attendees at recent RFFP educational programs and from the general farming community.

A skills and experience checklist was developed by each mentor/group leader to structure the group’s curriculum. The checklist was also intended to serve as a program evaluation tool and to help individual farmers track their progress. To expose participants to additional farmer expertise, the plan was to organize three relevant one-day seminars. After one year, the expectation was that learning groups might decide to reconfigure as farmer networks.

The project did not proceed exactly as we had planned, although it provided very useful learning for us as project leaders, for our mentors, for the participating new farmers, and for all who attended the one-day seminars. And hopefully, through this report, our learning will provide valuable guidance to others implementing farmer mentoring programs.

According to the project plan, mentors were responsible for assembling a group, creating documents, managing paperwork, producing learning sessions, and regular monthly group communications. All of the mentors in this program found themselves unable or unwilling to cope with the program workload, or unable to assemble a functional group. When mentor farming and family responsibilities took precedence over program activities, groups lost momentum. New farmers were not as easy to attract to the program as we had expected, and most new farmer groups did not coalesce around mutual goals as we thought they would. We did however produce four very successful one-day seminars, rather than three, confirming the enormous level of interest in grazing among established and beginning farmers.

The overall experience of producing this program has provided valuable insights into working with farmers, and the differences between farmer education, farmer mentoring, and farmer networking, as well as the perceptual differences between structured and less formal learning.

Key insights include:

1.) A farmer-led group mentoring program requires a substantial time and energy–emotional and physical energy–commitment on the part of the farmer mentor.

2.) Farmer mentors leading groups need to support different types of farmers and different types of learners, each with their own particular goals and interests.

3.) Farmers seeking a knowledge sharing community that gathers for face-to-face meetings often have to choose between creating a group based on geographic proximity vs. creating a group based on a type of farming (e.g., sheep dairy vs. beef cattle).

4.) In comparing one-to-one farmer-to-farmer mentoring with one-to-many farmer-to-group mentoring, it is important to consider that the one-to-many approach requires significantly more skills, time, effort and energy on the part of the mentor.

5.) A more structured mentoring program has more specific requirements of all participants which increases the workload for everyone, especially the mentor.

Introduction:

Beginning farmers as well as farmers transitioning to more sustainable types of farming are often isolated and adrift. Many such would-be sustainable farmers, whether they are new to agriculture or seasoned in conventional practices, fail to develop viable enterprises because they lack essential skills, are operating in an inappropriate paradigm, or do not have access to focused guidance or support for their endeavor. Ongoing contact with more experienced peers can accelerate their learning process, provide camaraderie and support, increase a farmer’s chances of success, and help prevent potentially devastating mistakes.

In 2000, with support from Northeast SARE, the Regional Farm & Food Project inaugurated an acclaimed Farmer-to-Farmer Mentoring Program that generated much interest and has been widely emulated. In producing that program we gained important insights into the different needs of new farmers. We thought many of the less experienced farmers seeking assistance could benefit from a more structured group approach. New farmers have significant learning and support needs. Often true beginners are not in production yet. The cost per farmer for mentoring is steep. Our plan was to design a program that would focus on new farmer needs, provide a structured approach to learning, establish a sense of community with regular group meetings, and reduce the cost of mentoring by having one mentor teach several beginners.

Farmer networks are a relevant educational approach for addressing farmer isolation, providing professional development in sustainable agriculture, and increasing exposure to positive role models. The necessity for mentoring broadly defined will continue to grow in the Northeast as dairy farming declines and shifting rural populations explore ways to utilize vacant farmland. Many newer farmers hope to make farming a livelihood. With mounting economic pressures and emerging markets, more existing farmers are changing their approach to farming and also need assistance.

The Regional Farm & Food Project initiated four “Farmer-Led Learning Groups to Mentor Beginning Farmers.” The mentors planned to work with four to eight local farmers in structured groups that were to meet monthly, 10 times per year, primarily at the farms of group members and the mentor. The groups were to combine hands-on activities–such as researching, designing, and installing a fencing system–with conceptual learning. The learning groups were to take a whole farm perspective, addressing a wide variety of aspects involved in successful farming–from production to land use and finances to marketing. Technical issues were to be dealt with in the context of quality of life, health of the land, and viability of the enterprise, in terms of both labor and economics.

Each group was organized around a type of sustainable agriculture, such as management intensive grazing for cow dairies, or direct-marketed grass-based small ruminants for meat and fiber. Each group had a geographic focus of up to 50 miles between the most distant farms. The mentor was the group’s primary facilitator and educator, and to a lesser extent, also planned to mentor individual farmers in the group.

Mentors were supported as teachers and group facilitators with one-on-one training and coaching by the project leader. Heifer Project was invited to participate via their April 2003 national training for group leaders to be held in the New York area.

A skills and experience checklist was developed by each mentor to structure their group’s curriculum. This checklist, filled out at both the start and completion of the learning group, about one year apart, was intended to help participating farmers elaborate their individual learning needs and find ways of meeting them with the help of the mentor and group. The checklist was to provide a program evaluation tool as well.

A number of likely candidates for these learning/mentoring groups were identified from attendees of RFFP educational programs such as pasture walks, farm tours, and grazing seminars. A PR campaign was launched to get the word out about the program via the media, the RFFP database, and several related groups.

RFFP organized four one-day seminars on topics relevant to the learning groups to expose participants to additional expertise. Two of the seminars were offered twice to accommodate a wider range of participants. Fees for those seminars were waived for mentors and learning group participants.

As we have experienced with the successful vegetable farmer networks originally initiated by RFFP, we hoped the new farmer learning groups would evolve into self-organizing communities of practice, setting up their own knowledge sharing events and communications.

Project Objectives:

1.) Sign up four farmer mentors

2.) Create four learning groups of four to eight new farmers, or farmers transitioning to new practices.

3.) Produce three one-day seminars to provide deeper levels of expertise.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Polly Armour
  • Troy Bishopp
  • Catharina Kessler
  • David (Chuck) Phippen
  • Mary Pratt

Research

Research results and discussion:

1.) Original project plan: Sign up four mentors

Actual project implementation: Signed up six mentors, one remains active

Explanation: Of the six mentors who signed on to the program, four dropped out, one was never able to assemble a group, and one is still active. The drop out rate was due to an underestimation of the time commitment, the burden of processes designed into the program, group chemistry/participant issues and personal life issues. The mentor who was successful and continues to work with her group never adopted the program’s formal structure.

With perfect hindsight we can now see that the 50 hours per group budgeted for the year long program was not enough time for mentors to accomplish all that the program structure required. Our thinking in designing the program was that we would achieve efficiencies in the mentoring process by having one person mentor a group of farmers. What we learned was that the group mentoring process still requires personal interaction and relationship development with each individual participant. Using the term mentoring to describe the program set an expectation among participants of personalized education. Had we described the program as “farmer networking groups” the participants might have had different expectations of the program, and put fewer demands on the mentors.

Mentors were expected to produce 10 learning sessions in 12 months. Again, with perfect hindsight, we can see that our ideas for the types of programs that mentors would produce were too complicated and resource intensive. It takes several hours of work to organize a group learning session that lasts for several hours. Had we described the learning sessions as “networking” or “knowledge sharing” there would have been less pressure on mentors to produce and sustain the structured learning environment. As it was, our program concept was based on a more structured learning experience, not a less structured learning experience, and it was the burden of maintaining the structure that mentors found unsustainable.

The structured approach to curriculum development, creating the skills checklist as a dual purpose needs assessment and evaluation tool, and the requirement to document program participation all contributed to the paperwork burden experienced by some of the mentors. If we had taken an informal “networking” approach rather than a formal “curriculum” approach to designing monthly meetings, we might have done a better job of reducing mentor workload and managing participant expectations.

The mentor that continues to lead a group of eight farmers attributes her success in maintaining the group to her informal, flexible, open approach. She said, “I did not have the time and the strength to do the project the way [the project leader] wanted it. Nobody has the time for the structured stuff. All of us are very busy.”

The skills and experience checklist developed by each mentor was supposed to allow the project leader and cooperators to objectively assess the educational impacts of the program. Our plan was that each learning group participant would be able to employ this tool to track his/her progress in acquiring new skills and experiences. The groups as a whole were to review their overall progress and reflect on the strides they made using the checklist as their framework. They were to further elaborate the checklist by adding new skills and experiences that they discovered to be important. Finally, to assist in future learning groups and also in their individual development, they were to consider what approaches worked and where other methods could be more advantageous to new farmer learning.

This checklist approach was not intuitive for some of the mentors. It set the expectation of a more regimented learning process than some mentors were prepared to deliver. When we designed the program, we planned for each mentor to spend approximately four hours per month organizing, preparing and leading a learning session. However, the logistics of selecting a time and place, communicating with the group, agreeing on a topic and agenda, preparing materials and presenting the workshop consumed significantly more time, effort and energy than anticipated. A four-hour experiential workshop for four to eight people takes at least four hours of advance work to prepare.

Other program components where mentors’ time was not budgeted adequately: mentoring of individual participants, visits to individual participant’s farms, organizing outreach events, writing program documents, meetings with other mentors and the project leader.

Finally, it may be stating the obvious, but all of the mentors were full time, professional farmers, with their own farms and families to tend. There were times when the needs of mentors’ families and farms took priority over their mentoring program, and the program suffered for it.

Here is a brief summary of mentor experiences:

Polly Armour, Four Winds Farm
After forming a group, Polly became ill and had to stop farming for a year. She dropped out of the project and has been unavailable for comment.

Troy Bishopp, Bishopp Family Farm
Before forming a group, Troy dropped out of the program as his work life became more time consuming than he expected and he did not have the time he planned to commit to the program. Troy said, he “never got going with the project” because “things changed with his job.” He was one of the most successful mentors in the first RFFP mentoring program. His comment on this program was “I think everybody in the mentoring realm is trying to figure out how to make programs stand alone – pay for phone bills, travel, postage, etc.” He also said it wasn’t as easy to find new farmers as he thought it would be, and he thought formal mentoring programs were too much paperwork.

Catharina Kessler, Promisedland Farm
Catharina formed a group of eight people and continues to bring them together for knowledge sharing and socializing on a regular basis. She says she was not able to keep up with the program’s monthly time commitment and the paperwork requirements, and therefore her group had/has a much less formal structure. She said she “was flattered to be asked” to participate in the program but she “did not buy into [the project leader’s] concept of how the program was structured.”

She said, “I did not have the time and the strength to do the project the way [the project leader] wanted it. Nobody has the time for the structured stuff. All of us are very busy.”

Catharina said her group was “a huge time consuming thing,” and that “we’re doing projects together.” Starting this harvest season, she will be working with one of her group members to sell their lamb together. Another group member is the chair of agronomy at Delaware Valley College and made a presentation to the group on creating perfect pastures.

Catharina plans to continue with her group for the foreseeable future, saying “It is valuable for all of us,” and “We’re just bunch of good friends helping each other out.”

Chuck Phippen, Breese Hollow Dairy
Chuck thought the project was “a really good idea” and he had a lot of information to share with people, but he couldn’t find new farmers or conventional farmers in his community who were interested in grass-based dairying. Chuck came to Hoosick Falls (Rensselaer County) from Central NY (Herkimer County) where he had been one of the founding members of a grazing group. He thinks the Central NY group was easier to get going because of the lower land prices and greater number of new farmers in the Herkimer-Madison-Oneida region.

Chuck ran ads seeking members for his group in Country Folk, and he contacted his local NRCS office as well as extension agents in Rensselaer County, other state and local agencies, and a Washington County grazing group. Eventually he found one new farmer from Berkshire County, Massachusetts, who was interested in working with him. They visited each other’s farms and spent some time together, and Chuck says, “we have a good relationship.” But they are 80 miles apart, so they don’t see each other very often.

Mary Pratt, Elihu Farm
After forming a sheep-farming group, Mary was unable to continue with the program as her elderly mother became ill and Mary had to take care of her. Her group was transferred to Jody Somers. Mary said, “You need a lot of emotional energy to be a good mentor.” At the time she did not have the emotional energy to support new farmers.

Jody Somers, Dancing Ewe Farm
Jody was willing to take on Mary Pratt’s group, however he lives in northern Washington County, and was too far away for many of the participants (Mary lives in Rensselaer County), several of whom dropped out. Jody saw the program as “like adult 4-H.”

Jody is an experienced ag educator and made the effort to produce very professional workshops for his group of five people. He hosted two workshops, one on hoof health and hoof trimming, another on reproductive health, breeding and ram health. He thought those were successful, but then “people started dropping out.” He got frustrated. He said people didn’t show up, they weren’t on time, and he said, “Just forget it.”

He was disappointed in the group’s lack of cohesion, and he felt the participants were not committed to learning what he wanted to teach, and that his time was not well spent in the program for the few people who showed up. He said the program “required too much chasing of mentees, too many phone calls, too much customization of learning experience for each individual.”

He also said, “Bottom line is the project wasn’t structured right. Sounds like a great idea, but people [mentees] were not as committed as they should have been.”

2.) Original project plan: Sign up four groups of 4-8 new farmer participants each (16-32 total participants)

Actual project implementation: 26 new farmers originally participated, most dropped out, approximately 9 remain in relationship with their mentor

Explanation: The program drop out rate is attributed to mentor drop out, and to the program not meeting the expectations of the new farmers who originally participated for reasons explained in the previous section.

It was not as easy to find new farmers as we thought it would be. New farmers are not a well-defined or easily identified group. They are not necessarily found in close proximity to one another. If they are found in close proximity to one another, they often have very different types of farms. It was not possible to find four or five new sheep farmers or grass-based dairy farmers within 50 miles of each other.

There is no reliable communications channel that leads to new farmers. They can be a difficult group to reach. They don’t necessarily identify themselves as new farmers.

Our approach was to find top quality mentors and then build groups around them. The mentors defined the group topic (e.g., sheep farming) based on their own farm and their expertise. The mentors also defined the locus of the group. Perhaps a better approach would have been to bring new farmers together in a more social setting (e.g., a potluck dinner) and let the mentoring relationship evolve more organically, on an as needed basis. A group of new farmers already networking might have found a mentor or mentors more easily than a mentor could assemble a group of new farmers with common interests.

During the course of the program two new farmer participants contacted the project leader to complain that their mentor was not responsive to them, was not teaching them what they needed to learn, was not allowing them enough input into workshop design. Mentors responded that they had to please the whole group and could not allow one person’s needs to define the curriculum. This is the essential dilemma of group mentoring.

The nine new farmer participants that remain engaged with their mentor include the eight people in Catharina Kessler’s group, and the one individual in Chuck Phippen’s group. None of these people participated in the structured program as it was originally designed.

3.) Original project plan: Produce three one-day seminars to provide deeper levels of expertise.

Actual project implementation: Produced four one-day seminars

Explanation: Between November 2004 and April 2005, RFFP produced four seminars on different aspects of livestock farming. All of the participants of this program were eligible to attend the seminars free of charge. The seminars were promoted via email to mentors and their groups, the RFFP Fall 2004 and Spring 2005 newsletters, the RFFP website (www.farmandfood.org), direct mail brochures, agriculture listservs and events calendars, and a PR campaign to related media.

Seminar descriptions:

Low Stress Animal Handling
November 12 & 13, 2004
On farm in Washington County and in Ulster County
Attendance: 70 people at two locations

This workshop will be presented by Jennifer Lanier, PhD, and Robert Haddad, PhD, of the Humane Society of the U.S., Farm Animals and Sustainable Agriculture Section. Dr. Jennifer Lanier, who is an animal behavior and handling expert in her own right, has worked closely with the remarkable animal behaviorist Dr. Temple Grandin. Grandin’s insights and design recommendations are opening up the meat industry to revolutionary changes in how animals are handled. Hands-on handling practices plus presentations, behavior exercises, and informal discussion. Learn simple animal behavior techniques and develop subtle skills that are critical for low-stress handling.

Direct Marketing Your Farm Raised Meats
December 11, 2004
Attendance: 35 people

Judy Pangman of Sweet Tree Farm, and Denise Warren of Stone and Thistle Farm, will present a seminar on direct marketing meats from your farm. They will explain the concepts and details behind their strategies for selling pasture-raised meats as a livelihood. The seminar will address farmers’ market and on-farm sales, targeting and educating potential customers, customer retention, educational outreach with farm tours, schools, and website; pricing, display and safe handling, managing inventory and tracking sales, understanding different cuts on the animal, understanding your customers’ perspective (including cooking tips, recipes, and seasonality), and growing your business.

Slaughterhouse Tour & Meat Quality Workshop
March 12 & 19, 2005
Offered twice – 20 person limit.
at Over the Hill Farm Benson, VT
Attendance: 40 people

John Wing and his family operate a state-of-the-art USDA-inspected certified organic slaughterhouse facility and retail meat shop on their farm in Benson, Vermont. They do wholesale, retail and custom processing of natural and organic beef, pork, lamb and veal. The kill floor, processing room, cooler, cutting room, and retail Meat Shop are all in the same building. Over the Hill has the capacity to process 20 beef per day, 40 pigs per day, or 60 lambs per day. Carcasses are aged and cut to customer specifications. A USDA inspector is on the premises full time. The senior meat cutter has 20 years’ experience. In addition to a tour of the entire facility, we will be discussing plant design and processing, and we will evaluate hanging carcasses and aging techniques. A meat cutting demonstration will focus on carcass profitability and packaging options.

Fine Tuning Your Grazing System: Understanding Soil, Water & Mineral Cycles
& Community Dynamics
April 21, 2005
with Sarah Flack, Biodynamic Farmer – Grazer – Educator, M.S. Plant & Soil Science, UVM
and
Heather Darby, Farmer – Agronomy Ph.D., Agronomic & Soils Specialist, UVM Ext.
at
CCE Saratoga, Saratoga Springs, NY
Attendance: 25 people

Are you capturing all the sunlight that lands on your farm? Is sunlight being converted into pasture plants efficiently? Are soils fertile and biologically active so that plant health and solar conversion are maximized? Is the water cycling through the farm in the best possible way so that it is available to the plants when they need it? Is the livestock grazing system improving your farms ability to convert sunlight into high quality forages? Are livestock harvesting forages efficiently and converting it into meat, milk and fiber? Sarah Flack will discuss grazing management strategies and livestock, while Heather Darby will discuss soil health and water cycles on the farm. Bring your questions about soil, plant and animal interactions, and take home tools to help you manage and address your farm’s weak links.

Research conclusions:

Approximately 206 farmers participated in the programs presented over a two-year period. Most of them participated by attending the one-day seminars (170). About 30 new farmers participated in the mentoring program at one time or another. About nine farmers remain engaged in mentoring groups. Six farmers started out as group mentors, and two remain active.

The program further established the value of farmer (peer) mentoring as an approach to agriculture education, professional development for farmers, and creating community among farmers. It also provided valuable insights into what types of programs are most likely to be effective in reaching and teaching farmers.

The program makes a public record of the challenges in organizing small farmers as a professional community, as a segment of the small business economy, and as key players in rural economic development. This information is of use to those endeavoring to revitalize their rural agriculture and economy.

All of the farmers who participated gained insight into the lives of other farmers, the operations of other farms, and the farming community, which helps to develop small farmers as a self-identified segment of the economy and the business community, and improves collaboration among farmers.

The farmers that participated in the four one-day seminars gained valuable knowledge, access to resources and technical support that will help them farm more sustainably, improve their farm and business management skills, and increase their likelihood of success in farming.

All of the educational initiatives in this program advanced the proliferation of grass farming, grazing, pastured livestock and sustainable animal husbandry, increasing the amount of pastured livestock product in the marketplace, growing the market for pastured livestock products, and improving the viability of pastured livestock enterprises.

It is very likely that the new farmers that sought mentoring for themselves and participated in this program will themselves some day be mentors for the next generation of new farmers.

Participation Summary

Education & Outreach Activities and Participation Summary

Participation Summary

Education/outreach description:

Between November 2004 and April 2005, RFFP produced four seminars on different aspects of livestock farming. All of the participants of this program were eligible to attend the seminars free of charge. The seminars were promoted via email to mentors and their groups, the RFFP Fall 2004 and Spring 2005 newsletters, the RFFP website (www.farmandfood.org), direct mail brochures, agriculture listservs and events calendars, and a PR campaign to related media.

Seminar descriptions:

Low Stress Animal Handling
November 12 & 13, 2004
On farm in Washington County and in Ulster County
Attendance: 70 people at two locations

This workshop will be presented by Jennifer Lanier, PhD, and Robert Haddad, PhD, of the Humane Society of the U.S., Farm Animals and Sustainable Agriculture Section. Dr. Jennifer Lanier, who is an animal behavior and handling expert in her own right, has worked closely with the remarkable animal behaviorist Dr. Temple Grandin. Grandin’s insights and design recommendations are opening up the meat industry to revolutionary changes in how animals are handled. Hands-on handling practices plus presentations, behavior exercises, and informal discussion. Learn simple animal behavior techniques and develop subtle skills that are critical for low-stress handling.

Direct Marketing Your Farm Raised Meats
December 11, 2004
Attendance: 35 people

Judy Pangman of Sweet Tree Farm, and Denise Warren of Stone and Thistle Farm, will present a seminar on direct marketing meats from your farm. They will explain the concepts and details behind their strategies for selling pasture-raised meats as a livelihood. The seminar will address farmers’ market and on-farm sales, targeting and educating potential customers, customer retention, educational outreach with farm tours, schools, and website; pricing, display and safe handling, managing inventory and tracking sales, understanding different cuts on the animal, understanding your customers’ perspective (including cooking tips, recipes, and seasonality), and growing your business.

Slaughterhouse Tour & Meat Quality Workshop
March 12 & 19, 2005
Offered twice – 20 person limit.
at Over the Hill Farm Benson, VT
Attendance: 40 people

John Wing and his family operate a state-of-the-art USDA-inspected certified organic slaughterhouse facility and retail meat shop on their farm in Benson, Vermont. They do wholesale, retail and custom processing of natural and organic beef, pork, lamb and veal. The kill floor, processing room, cooler, cutting room, and retail Meat Shop are all in the same building. Over the Hill has the capacity to process 20 beef per day, 40 pigs per day, or 60 lambs per day. Carcasses are aged and cut to customer specifications. A USDA inspector is on the premises full time. The senior meat cutter has 20 years’ experience. In addition to a tour of the entire facility, we will be discussing plant design and processing, and we will evaluate hanging carcasses and aging techniques. A meat cutting demonstration will focus on carcass profitability and packaging options.

Fine Tuning Your Grazing System: Understanding Soil, Water & Mineral Cycles
& Community Dynamics
April 21, 2005
with Sarah Flack, Biodynamic Farmer – Grazer – Educator, M.S. Plant & Soil Science, UVM
and
Heather Darby, Farmer – Agronomy Ph.D., Agronomic & Soils Specialist, UVM Ext.
at
CCE Saratoga, Saratoga Springs, NY
Attendance: 25 people

Are you capturing all the sunlight that lands on your farm? Is sunlight being converted into pasture plants efficiently? Are soils fertile and biologically active so that plant health and solar conversion are maximized? Is the water cycling through the farm in the best possible way so that it is available to the plants when they need it? Is the livestock grazing system improving your farms ability to convert sunlight into high quality forages? Are livestock harvesting forages efficiently and converting it into meat, milk and fiber? Sarah Flack will discuss grazing management strategies and livestock, while Heather Darby will discuss soil health and water cycles on the farm. Bring your questions about soil, plant and animal interactions, and take home tools to help you manage and address your farm’s weak links.

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

From the standpoint of return on investment, the program was very successful. The grant budget amount was $9827. Considering the number of people who participated in the project, the cost per participant was low, making the grant investment very cost-effective.

Based on a total project cost of $9827:

The per participant cost for the 206 people that participated in the two-year project was $47.70 each.

The per new farmer cost for each new farmer participant (26 people) was $377.96 each.

The per continuing group member cost for the 9 people who remain engaged in mentoring groups is $1092 each.

Farmer Adoption

The overall experience of producing this program has provided valuable insights into working with farmers, and the differences between farmer education, farmer mentoring, and farmer networking, as well as the perceptual differences between structured and less formal learning.

Key insights include:

1.) A farmer-led group mentoring program requires a substantial time and energy–emotional and physical energy–commitment on the part of the farmer mentor.

2.) Farmer mentors leading groups need to support different types of farmers and different types of learners, each with their own particular goals and interests.

3.) Farmers seeking a knowledge sharing community that gathers for face-to-face meetings often have to choose between creating a group based on geographic proximity vs. creating a group based on a type of farming (e.g., sheep dairy vs. beef cattle).

4.) In comparing one-to-one farmer-to-farmer mentoring with one-to-many farmer-to-group mentoring, it is important to consider that the one-to-many approach requires significantly more skills, time, effort and energy on the part of the mentor.

5.) A more structured mentoring program has more specific requirements of all participants which increases the workload for everyone, especially the mentor.

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.