Farming for the Future: Cultivating the Next Generation of Farmers

Final Report for SW03-016

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2003: $145,800.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2007
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $14,580.00
Region: Western
State: Washington
Principal Investigator:
Brad Gaolach
Washington State University Extension
Dr. Marcia Ostrom
School of Environment, Washington State University
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Project Information


Agriculture is far from going extinct in Western Washington State’s urbanizing environment. Instead, a new variety of farmer and farming is evolving. Increasingly, Farmers are finding unique ways to succeed on small acreages by selling directly to consumers using a variety of methods. Many farmers adapting to the urban environment did not have an agricultural background nor formal agricultural training. Our Farming for the Future project explored and provided educational curricula to help new farmers become successful in this unique production and market place.

Developing and implementing a new curricula we have termed “Cultivating Success,” this project supported the establishment and execution of new farmer courses in five Western Washington counties. A total of 213 students completed the Sustainable Small Farming and Ranching courses during the fall semesters of 2003 through 2006, while180 students completed the Agricultural Entrepreneurship and Business Planning courses through the spring semesters of 2004 through 2007.The third course in the series piloted approaches to on-farm internships and mentorships using a variety of models from traditional internships, to mentorships matching student to farmer, to developing an on-farm classroom supported by experienced farmers. Finally, curricula were adapted to meet the needs of Latino and Hmong farming communities. Through the guidance and expertise of bi-lingual, bi-cultural community liaisons, curricula were developed and introduced using means appropriate to the culture and learning levels. Latino farmers were successful and eager to come to classroom structured settings while Hmong farmers responded most positively to hands-on and issue-based learning. Over 100 Latino farmers completed both courses while representatives from approximately 80% of the 100 Hmong farms we have identified have participated in at least one product or issues-based program.

Project Objectives:

1. Develop and offer a WSU course that provides an overview of sustainable, small acreage farming systems for beginning and transitioning farmers.
2. Develop and offer a WSU course that assists new and existing small-scale farmers in developing a business plan.
3. Develop and offer an on-farm, for credit, internship program for students that have completed the two classroom courses described above.
4. Develop and refine the three-part course series described above for East Asian and Latino immigrant farmers and aspiring farmers.


In an urbanizing county, such as King County in Washington (the region surrounding Seattle), the average age of farmers is 52. Most of these farmers do not have children who plan to take over their farm. Once among the most productive farming regions in the state; development pressure in the areas surrounding Seattle have pushed land prices far beyond what farmers can typically afford from selling farm products. As farmers retire or sell-out, farmland is being taken out of production or becoming fragmented into smaller and smaller parcels. In addition, tightening environmental regulations are making it increasingly difficult to farm based on established methods.
However, agriculture is far from going extinct in this urbanizing environment. Instead, a new variety of farmer and farming is evolving. Increasingly, farmers are finding ways to succeed on small tracts of land by selling directly to urban consumers through farmers markets, community supported agriculture (CSA), farm stands, specialty product development, agri-tourism businesses or other strategies that allow them to capture a greater proportion of the consumer dollar. Among this emerging breed of farmer, most did not grow up on a farm, did not attend an agricultural university to learn about financing, marketing, agronomic production, or animal husbandry, and many have had no direct exposure to a working, economically viable farm.
While many universities have been adjusting to the changing agricultural landscape by developing new types of courses and degree programs, most of these new farmers are entering farming from an existing career, are not located near their state’s land-grant university, and have little desire to move their household and pursue a traditional, four-year degree. Instead, they are interested in locally based, hands-on educational opportunities. County extension offices are ideally situated for providing locally relevant educational programs in whole-farm business planning, marketing strategies, and environmentally sound crop and livestock production that draw on local farming expertise.
King County, Washington exemplifies this changing face of agriculture. A comprehensive survey of agricultural producers identified the lack of existing vocational training programs for new farmers as a significant barrier to the continuation of farming in the county (King County Department of Natural Resources, 1996). This survey confirmed that many of today’s beginning and aspiring farmers are first generation farmers, entering the profession with little or no prior farming experience. In addition, the Seattle area is home to a large immigrant community. Many of these immigrants have strong farming experience from their home country, but lack crucial knowledge and opportunities to capitalize on that experience in their new environment. The challenges they may face are: a)understanding local market demand, b) growing new kinds of crops, and c) access to land and capital.
This project proposes to develop a model training program in small-scale, ecologically sound, and economically profitable agriculture for beginning and transitioning farmers by combining the expertise of county extension faculty, a land grant university system, the Farmlink organization and local farmer experts that can be offered on-campus or at county extension offices. A three-part course series emphasizing the practical skills that farmers need to succeed will comprise a program we are calling “Cultivating Success.” Offered through WSU for college credit or continuing education units (CEUs), these courses will emphasize the development of practical farming knowledge in the areas of whole farm planning, resource stewardship, livestock and crop production strategies, finance, marketing, and business entrepreneurship. A parallel program will also be designed for East Asian and Latino immigrant communities. Once these courses have been sufficiently piloted, our goal is to make curriculum materials and instructor training available to all county extension offices in Washington through the Washington State University (WSU) Small Farms Program.


Click linked name(s) to expand/collapse or show everyone's info
  • Bee Cha
  • Mary Embleton
  • Sylvia Kantor
  • David Muehleisen
  • Todd Murray


Materials and methods:

1. Develop and offer a model WSU course that provides an overview of sustainable, small acreage farming systems for beginning and transitioning farmers.
A semester-long “overview” curriculum on sustainable, small-acreage farming systems will be developed and offered at two sites each fall: WSU-Puyallup and at the King County Extension Office in collaboration with local extension agents, WSU research and teaching faculty, and local farmer experts. Courses will be taught by Dr.’s Ostrom and Muehleisen at WSU-Puyallup and by Dr. Gaolach at the King County Extension office. Utilizing participatory learning techniques, this course will impart practical information about whole farm planning, ecologically-based, diversified production systems, and alternative marketing techniques. Students will elect whether to take the course for college credit or continuing education units (CEUs). The course will involve field trips to local farms as well as classroom instruction.
This overview course will introduce students to the basic principles of sustainability, the fundamentals of crop and livestock production, and the concept of whole farm planning based on viewing the farm as a whole system. We interpret whole-system in two ways: a) a diversified farm that may produce vegetable, fruits, berries and livestock in one operation and b) a farm that manages production, natural resource, economic, and quality of life components as part of an inseparable whole.
Stressing a whole-systems approach will be critical for farmers pursuing direct marketing strategies such as CSA, farmers’ markets, and roadside stands requiring that a diversified array of products be produced over an extended period of time to attract and retain customers. Therefore, in addition to basic production information associated with potential crops or livestock, our class will stress the development of several cross-farm management strategies. For example:
• Integrated soil fertility management that consists of both an intra-season crop rotation (intensive land-use to increase the productivity of small acreages) and the more traditional inter-year crop rotations, composting, cover crops, and the use of green manures. Students will receive field training in how to do a soil test.
• Integrated pest management at the farm level. Stressing the benefit of conserving existing natural enemies of pests (especially generalist predators that will attack pests of several crops) along with how to attract beneficial insects to the farm.
• Livestock production based on rotational grazing and exploring options for mixed species grazing (for example having swine, goats and chickens all present in a single pasture).
• Whole farm planning and record keeping strategies
• Identifying markets prior to deciding on a production strategy.

The class will also address regulatory issues and demonstrate the critical importance of whole-farm approaches to managing soil fertility, pests, water and wildlife habitat in order to minimize the negative impacts of farming on the environment. The listing of salmonid species as endangered and the implementation of growth management acts are driving the formulation of new environmental regulations in the state.

2. Develop and offer a WSU course that assists new and existing small-scale farmers in developing a business plan.
We will develop and offer a spring semester agricultural entrepreneurship course based on the NxLevel’s “Tilling the Soil” curriculum (NxLevel 2000) with the goal of helping students develop sound business plans. Courses will be taught by Dr.’s Ostrom and Muehleisen at WSU-Puyallup and by Dr.’s Gaolach and Gutierrez at the King County Extension office. The federal small business administration cites the development of a business plan as a central factor in determining the success rate of start-up small businesses. Through this series of classes, participants will learn how to write a business plan, how to develop an innovative marketing concept and strategy, and how to evaluate the production costs and economic returns to their business for the different crops and livestock they choose to produce. This course will draw on local business and financial experts, bank officers, legal experts, and small business counselors, as well as successful local farmers as guest speakers and field trip visits. These contacts will help new farmers accurately assess what it will take to launch a new agricultural business and maintain it’s financial health, as well as begin to develop a support network.
For many beginning and existing farmers, success in today’s agricultural economy will require switching from conventional farming and marketing strategies to new kinds of direct marketing and entrepreneurial enterprises that target direct markets and value-added products. Growing consumer demand for healthy, sustainably-raised, local farm products is creating new opportunities for small-scale farmers, especially those located near population centers. This course will provide students with the business planning, research, and marketing skills needed to be successful in these new markets. Successful completion of the course requires the production of a real-life business plan.
The WSU Small Farms Program has already piloted an agricultural entrepreneurship course based on the “Tilling the Soil” curriculum in the spring semester of 2002 that attracted both existing and new farmers. Students rated the course highly and most succeeded in developing a high quality business plan. For more information on our experience with this course, please see Attachment B.
3. Develop and offer an on-farm, for credit, internship program for students that have completed the two classroom courses described above.
Once students have completed the two classroom courses outlined above, a hands-on learning opportunity will allow them to put their classroom knowledge into practice. Classroom instruction alone will not provide entering farmers with the necessary skills they need to succeed as farmers. For-credit internships will be arranged on an individual basis with students according to their learning goals. Some students may be able to relocate to a farm over the course of a summer or other extended period to fulfill a more traditional farm apprenticeship, while others may need to fulfill their credit hours by working for small segments of time over an extended period of time such as a year. We will strive to link students with the types of farms they are most interested in. Fortunately, most of the farmers will have already been involved in classroom instruction so that students will be familiar with them already.
For the past three years WSU has been piloting a for-credit farm internship program based at the S&S Homestead Farm on Lopez Island. We propose to expand the capacity of this successful program by bringing in more farmers that can take apprentices (please see farms listed as cooperators). In collaboration with our farmer advisory group and the University of Idaho we are developing a training program to certify new growers as instructors so that they can offer farm internships for university credit along with ensuring that internships will be structured in an optimal manner for learning. Being a mentor or hosting interns is much more complicated than just having someone showing up to work on the farm. We want to ensure that interns receive hands-on education that complements and reinforces what they learned in the classroom. Therefore, farmers wishing to host interns will receive the training and assistance they need to provide a quality, educational program tailored to the individual interests of each student. Students and farmer instructors will be required to develop individualized learning plans for each student.
Finally, by working with the Farmlink program, directed by Mary Embleton of the Cascade Harvest Coalition we hope to reach a new farmer audience and ultimately to link serious students with potential opportunities for acquiring a farm. FarmLink is a statewide program that began in King County to assist with transferring farms from one generation to the next. FarmLink maintains a statewide database that helps to link retiring farmers and landholders with land-seekers and provides resources to help establish mentorships, internships, or direct sale of land.

4. Develop objective 1-3 for East Asian immigrant communities to assist immigrants in establishing successful agrarian based business.
Once our three-part course series has been successfully developed and piloted at the county level, we plan to adapt our course format and course materials to be culturally appropriate for East Asian and Latino communities in Seattle and other areas of the state. Our budget provides funds to pay for curriculum materials to be translated into other languages, as well as to work with extension educators with cross-cultural expertise and community members in adapting the courses into culturally appropriate learning formats. The “Tilling the Soil” curriculum has already been translated into Spanish, but the delivery format is still problematic for use with many potential Latino farmers. Dr. Gutierrez, chair of King County Extension will play a lead role in helping us identify potential community members to help out with efforts to devise new, culturally appropriate learning formats. Once lead people have been identified for assisting with translation and course development for Latino and East Asian farmers, they will be asked to participate in the ongoing Cultivating Success courses as a way of being trained. Once they have full knowledge of these classes, they should be able to provide leadership and advice in redesigning them for use with other cultures. We hope to be able to recruit established farmers from the targeted cultures to assist with course development, instruction and apprenticeships just as we have with the original course format.

Research results and discussion:

1. Develop and offer a WSU course that provides an overview of sustainable, small acreage farming systems for beginning and transitioning farmers.

To date, with money from this grant, we have offered our overview of sustainable agriculture course, “Sustainable Small Farming and Ranching” in five counties (Clallam, Jefferson, King, Pierce, and Snohomish). Course content introduces basic fundamentals to students with the overarching goal of developing a working farm plan by the end of the course. The fourteen week course uses the following class topics to give a good, well-rounded understanding of farming operations and concepts.
• Sustainability Concepts
• Developing Your Whole Farm Plan
• Resource Evaluation
• Enterprise Assessment
• Direct Marketing
• Sustainable Crop Production
• Ecological Soil Management
• Integrated Pest and Weed Management
• Sustainable Animal Production
• Sustainable Grazing Management
• Equipment and Facilities
• Enterprise Budgets
• Tools for Whole Farm Success
Course contents can be view at: The three-hour, evening class sessions are managed and taught by County Extension faculty and/or teaching assistants. Local farmers or agribusiness professionals are invited to present and address class topics. In-class exercises are used to demonstrate and explore the class topic in an interactive setting. Time is budgeted for each class session to allow students to discuss and develop their corresponding farm plan item. Weekend or additional meeting times were arranged for field trips to farmers markets or model farming operations. Courses were offered during the fall semester during 2003 through 2006. This project supported the development and implementation of this course in all participating counties until 2005, when Jefferson and Clallam continued to offer the courses with support from obtaining additional grants.

2. Develop and offer a WSU course that assists new and existing small-scale farmers in developing a business plan.

The class structure for “Agricultural Entrepreneurship and Business Planning” was constructed similarly to the previous course. Until the 2007 semester, NxLevel’s “Tilling the Soil of Success” was the curriculum used to teach the business planning course. Since then, we have developed our own improved curriculum designed to accomplish similar goals.. The following are topics discussed during the 14 week class series.
• Business Planning Basics
o Starting or Diversifying an Agricultural Business
o Developing a Business Plan
o Developing a Mission Statement and Worksheet
o Goal Setting and Worksheet
• Product and Industry
o Business Structure Flow Chart
o Organizational Structures Defined
o Product Description Worksheet
• Market Analysis
o Customer and Market Analysis
o Worksheets
• Marketing Plan
o Marketing Basics
o Developing Your Brand article
o Overview of Produce Marketing and Direct Markets
o Developing Your Pricing Plan and Cost Concepts
o Worksheets
• Management and Operations
o Human Resource Strategy
o Personnel Plan
o Valuing Labor and Improving Efficiency on an Integrated Farm
o Production Systems
o Crop Insurance Information
o Developing a Risk Management Plan and Worksheet
o Insurance
• Financials
o Financing Your Business
o Recording and Tracking Your Costs
o Dairy Goat Enterprise Budget
o How to Estimate Profits
o Planning for Profit
o Sensitivity analysis
o Record-Keeping by Hand
o Financial Statements Analysis
o Cash Flow Spreadsheets

By the end of the course, the goal is for each student to have developed and presented their business plan using the template provided. The weekly assignments are designed to help students’ complete different sections of their business plans.

3. Develop and offer an on-farm, for credit, internship program for students that have completed the two classroom courses described above.

On-farm internship/apprenticeship programs were explored and developed to provide an effective practicum for county-based Cultivating Success students. Our pilot for-credit farm internship programs at S&S Homestead Farm on Lopez Island, WA and with farmer LoreaLea Misterly in Rice, Washington have provided a starting point for developing hands-on education and mentoring that will complement the Cultivating Success courses. In addition to the traditional on-farm internships, we also explored the idea of one-on-one farmer mentorships between beginning and experienced farmers, and a classroom farm where students could farm from start to finish all under guidance from experienced farmers..

Two farmer input sessions and two focus groups during 2004 and 2005 were used to gather guidance on an internship program and assess potential success and problems. In addition, surveys were sent to farmers to gain interest and a working list of potential mentoring farms. Finally, participating students were surveyed for desired outcomes of an on-farm experience. From the information gathered, an internship format and prototype of a “learning agreement” for farmers and student mentors was developed.

Through the development of a partnership with a non-profit community farm organization and market garden in 2006, we had the opportunity to involve students with the establishment of a new farm during the growing season in 2007. To view the farming project, visit Here the students get the opportunity to farm from field to market under the guidance of a farm manager and a farmer support network. Although a significant time commitment is required, we felt that this unique opportunity would allow students to experience farming and marketing firsthand from start to finish.

4. Develop and refine the three-part course series described above for East Asian and Latino immigrant farmers and aspiring farmers.

The seed money from this grant proved foundational for leveraging the additional grant funds needed to hire new bi-lingual, bi-cultural small farm specialists to work with the Hmong and Latino farming communities. Charlie Chang was hired in 2004 and Dr. Malaquias Flores was hired in 2005 to assist in adopting, translating, and providing the Cultivating Success courses to the two immigrant farming groups. In 2006, Bee Cha was hired to replace Charlie Chang. The additional grant funds were obtained through the USDA RMA program and the USDA Socially Disadvantaged Farmer Program. The multi-lingual staff agriculture specialists were trained through our Cultivating Success instructor training program and several national level workshops on working with immigrant farmers. Four listening sessions, 50 interviews with market vendors, and twenty farm visits guided educational needs assessments with the Hmong community. Similar farm visits and two listening sessions were used to assess the educational needs of the Latino farming community. Teaching goals and rough curriculum adaptations were made for both communities.
In 2005, Hmong Cultivating Success course topics were piloted beginning in January.. Due to farmer request, a special topic series on pest management was offered which included 45 hours of class room time. Life-skill development such as vocabulary, grammar, math and biology, was incorporated into course topics. While some course topics were well attended others were not. Due to low classroom participation for farm and business planning, whole farm planning packets were produced and taken individually during farm visits to help folks fill out the farm plans. In the end, it did not prove useful to translate very many written materials into Hmong due to extremely low literacy rates in Hmong.
Cultivating Success curricula and resources for “Sustainable Small Farming and Ranching” were translated into Spanish. Additionally, the Washington State Department of Agriculture’s handbook of farming regulations was translated along with resources from the Farm Service Agency and the financial planning course materials developed as a part of ‘Capatacion Analisis Financiero Agricola.’ These materials can be obtained at: Also beginning in 2005, classroom series of Cultivating Success Sustainable Small Farming and Ranching were presented in Yakima and Wenatchee. Curriculum was also presented to the community through series of radio broadcasts, on-farm workshops, and classroom instructions to reinforce the record-keeping and business planning components. Continuation of Sustainable Small Farming and Ranching Courses along with the pilot of Agricultural Entrepreneurship and Business Planning courses continued in 2006 and 2007 using USDA 2501 and RMA partnership funds.
Our initial pilot tests have indicated strong Hmong farmer interest in learning more about sustainable farming practices and business management practices if we can design culturally appropriate, optimal adult learning formats. Difficulty was found when offering an integrated course series using the curriculum that was developed for the English-speaking classes. . We found that tangible results were needed when promoting educational opportunities to Hmong farmers. Growers are less likely to attend an educational event if the title and topic is abstract or if they do not see a direct benefit from the education. However, growers will show up if tangible items or goals are offered such as “Make More Money,” a class used to teach advertising at the market where participants made their own market signs. Other workshops helped farmers with on-farm soil testing, pest identification, hands-on bulb planting, or equipment repair.
A very successful series was offered on ecological pest management during the 2005 and 2006 winters; however it had to be packaged as a Pesticide Pre-Licensing Classes. Growers were highly motivated to earn a pesticide applicators license due to the pressure they had been receiving from input dealers. Through using the ecological pest management curricula, growers were exposed to a wide variety of pest management tactics that did not rely on pesticide strategies. Growers were not disappointed to learn these useful and cost-effective pest management strategies. Five growers (2 in 2005 and 3 in 2006) from a class size of seventeen passed the Washington State Department of Agriculture Pesticide Applicators exam. Low passing rates were due to limited vocabulary, reading comprehension and math skills but all participants learned useful pest management strategies, gained skills and safety knowledge, and, ultimately, improved their language skills. Since this time two farmers have begun or completed the process for organic certification.
Another successful educational effort occurred when farmers suffered from serious floods during the fall of 2006. Losses were great and much of the farming equipment was damaged. We held two, week-long sessions on tractor repair and maintenance out on farms where eighty-seven farmers learned how to make tractor repairs. During the workshops farmers learned how to maintain tractors, keep repair records, reduce operational costs and initiate equipment budgeting. This was also an opportunity to bring supporting agencies to help growers learn about crop insurance programs, emergency recovery programs and small business opportunities by bringing representatives from FEMA, Washington State Department of Agriculture and USDA Risk Management Agency. Farmers learned the importance of keeping farm and business records and were introduced to record-keeping strategies and tools. Through the 2007 season, the development of record-keeping skills and habits is a priority.
Five classroom series providing ecological pest management, sustainable forest product harvesting, and direct marketing were successful in engaging farmers. At direct marketing classes, farmers were engaged by offering business cards and booth signage. At these classes growers learned about success marketing strategies and competitive pricing. During the sustainable forest product harvesting, farmers learned about cost production and created business relations with forest product harvesters to decrease production costs.
In conclusion, we learned that to be successful with the Hmong farmers, educational programs not only had to be offered in Hmong, but they had to have practical outcomes or products that were deemed highly desirable by the farmers. We found that it was most successful to incorporate aspects of our Cultivating Success curricula into “events” or workshops that could be promoted as having highly relevant outcomes rather than simply packaging these items as a “WSU course.” On the other hand, the Latino farmers, once we could identify and reach out to them, were extremely eager to take advantage of every course or educational program we offered, as long as it was offered in Spanish.

Research conclusions:

King County
Since 2004, twenty-nine students completed the Sustainable Small Farming and Ranching Course funded by this grant. Most students with immediate access to farmland or with an existing farm completed a working whole farm plan. Thirty-four students completed the Agricultural Entrepreneurship and Business Planning Course sponsored by this grant. Again most students that had access to farmland produced working business plans. All students took advantage of consultation throughout the course with the region’s Small Business Center, a partner in offering this course.
The majority of the students in the class reported that the course did an excellent job of increasing their understanding of sustainable agriculture and business management. The high cost of land, water rights concerns, high work-load, governmental regulations, and high start-up costs, were all things that students identified as the biggest barriers to becoming successful as a farmer. Many indicated that additional sustainable agriculture practices would be incorporated into their operation such as planting cover crops, embracing crop diversity, conserving soil, and using integrated pest management as a result of taking the class
A handful of students have begun new farming operations as a result of the course. Most students also said that the course helped them refine their farm business goals. Many indicated that the amount of direct-sales marketing they do was likely to increase as a result of taking the course. The most important insights that students took away from the course concerned financial management, preparing and analyzing budgets, and marketing strategies for agricultural products. Most students indicated that prior to taking the class they had no concept of farm business planning and management concepts. Each student said they would recommend the class to others. Overall, students greatly enjoyed the class speakers and the opportunity to network with the other course participants. One student even testified:
“This course has changed my abilities to plan my future. Until now, I didn’t even balance my checkbook!”

Jefferson County
Eighty people completed the Sustainable Small Farming and Ranching Overview course class and 87 percent completed farm plans. Forty-nine people completed the business planning classes. The county now has 42 new food producers or value added businesses. The course was cited as a big reason for the 32 percent growth in the Port Townsend farmers market this year -- the market has grown from $60,000 (4 years ago) to over $500,000 this year. Six people from the class are also selling regularly at the local food coop. All of the students reported that they rated these courses in the top 10 percent they’ve ever taken. Jefferson County had its first cheese production starting in 2006 as a result of the business planning class. The local Economic Development Council cited the growing food economy as the #1 county business success of 2005. County commissioners unanimously voted that supporting small agriculture was a priority. In this county, former students continue to network with one another and have formed a food and farming coalition, with monthly meetings.

Pierce County
With sponsorship from this grant, thirty-two new farmers in Pierce successfully completed the semester-long sustainable agricultural overview course. Thirty-three students completed the business planning classes. Four of the students completed a whole farm plan for their land or land they would like to someday obtain. The remainder of the students made significant progress toward completing their whole farm plan and presented their ideas to the rest of the class. Several former students have started up new farming operations. For example, two students are now operating CSA farms, one has started a farm stand, and another has purchased a livestock farm in eastern Washington. One of the students purchased 30 acres in Snohomish County and has posted his farm plan on the Web. His farm plan and photos of his land can be found at the following web address: . Examples of the types of farms planned in the class varied from mixed vegetable market and CSA farms, a micro diary, a beef/compost operation, a winery, a wool business, a custom tractor operation, a bed and breakfast, and a working livestock farm.

Snohomish County
Fifty students completed the sustainable farming overview course and forty-five completed the farm business planning course in Snohomish County with sponsorship from this grant. Again, evaluations were highly favorable with nearly all students indicating that they would make management changes to existing farm operations or modify their plans for a start-up operation as a result of taking the class. Several new market and CSA farms started up as a result of the class. In addition, several livestock producers developed value-added products.

Overall, one of tne of the most important outcomes we found from all the courses is that participants begin to take advantage of other WSU resources after they complete the courses. Surveys of past students from all counties combined indicated that 97 percent had an increased awareness of other university resources on small and sustainable farming and 80 percent had already participated in additional educational activities. Past students tend to remain actively involved in networks with one another and with other agricultural service providers. After taking the class, students tend to become active users of our WSU Small Farms Listserve, our electronic calendars and newsletters, and our website. Past students have also become community leaders on agricultural issues; for example by serving on local agricultural commissions and leadership roles in local farm organizations.

While important mentoring has been taking place between the students and the farmers regularly invited to give presentations in the classes and host field visits, developing a formal internship or mentorship program has been the most challenging aspect of our program. One of the most immediate problems we found was that our students did not have the ability to do a traditional on-farm internship or apprenticeship because they tended to be older with pre-existing commitments to jobs and families and perhaps already have their own farms to manage. Other challenges include finding ways to monitor the content that farmers teach to students; identifying farmers who are willing to invest time in teaching new farmers; the liability and insurance issues encountered on farms when hosting interns, and finding current and aspiring farmers who have the time and interest for a formal mentorship. To address the issue of monitoring the content of a mentorship, our Cultivating Success program, organized jointly with the University of Idaho, has developed a training handbook and a one-day training program for farmers interested in being mentors (see Several of our cooperating farmers, including Henning Sehmsdorf, LoraLea Misterly,Terri Carkner have participated in this farmer training. Traditional summer internships have been taking place on these farms each summer since 2005. Finding additional farmers to serve as mentors has been difficult because of the time commitment and because many farmers have had unpleasant experiences with interns or apprentices in the past and are somewhat reluctant to repeat the experience.
Because of the difficulties in structuring traditional, on-farm internship programs, we designed a new farm “mentorship” model based on pairing up beginning farmers with experienced farmers. To find students for the mentorship program we approached people who had taken both of the Cultivating Success classes. While on past student surveys, 24 percent of the students indicated an interest in doing a mentorship, only three students actually volunteered to participate, and they had very limited availability due to the other time demands in their lives. It seems that the majority of the people who had taken our classes were either already farming and didn’t have enough time to take part in any sort of mentorship program, were already stretched thin by job and family commitments, or had decided not to go into farming after taking one or more of the courses.
Although we did spend time searching for farmers to match the three students interested in a mentor, success was limited. Two of the students were interested in the kinds of farms that we did not have any previous connections with. The third student was interested in working with a farmer who was not interested in working with a student. Nevertheless, we feel that we have developed a strong concept with the mentorship idea and will continue to find ways to pilot this idea in upcoming growing seasons.
Our third model, the on-farm classroom at our 21-Acres teaching farm, required a serious time commitment from students, however, one student is currently completely the course. After taking the other two courses, this student felt prepared to farm. At the 21-Acres Farm, the student planted eleven different row crops, constructed hoop houses for tomato production, constructed raised strawberry beds and built a chicken tractor to help with field fertility, pest management and produce eggs. All of these skills were introduced through the previous classes. Currently the new farmer is taking products to four farmers markets and gaining the direct marketing experience first hand.
Despite the challenges encountered, we have made significant strides in developing a farmer mentor training curricula and a structure for on-farm internships and mentorships (see We look forward to involving more farmers and students in these programs in the future. In addition, the students that take the classes build very strong relationships and networks with each other and with the local farmers that serve as experts in the courses and continue working with them long after the courses have ended.

Hmong and Latino Curricula Adaptation
Hiring bi-lingual staff members with strong connections to the target communities has proven to be critical for developing and providing culturally appropriate education tailored to local needs. With the help of these staff members, we have identified 350 Latino farm families and 99 Hmong farm families who can potentially benefit from our WSU educational program in sustainable farming and business management. Of this group, over 100 Latino farmers and 80 Hmong farmers have now participated in at least one of our educational activities. We are beginning to build visibility and new relationships of trust with WSU Extension staff in these communities. In evaluations, program participants report knowledge gains in financial management, alternative pest management, drought mitigation, and a new awareness of public agricultural assistance providers. Results from our listening sessions have been communicated to appropriate government officials, agencies, and non-profits. Having this SARE grant as seed money to develop and adapt our English-speaking curriculum has enabled us to leverage new funds from other agencies to plan and pilot sustainable farming and business planning courses for Hmong and Latino audiences in three key areas of Washington State. We have funding for these programs to continue through 2008.
We have found existing and new Latino farmers to be extremely enthusiastic about participating in educational programs as long as they are offered in Spanish by an educator whom they have come to know personally. Now that we have a base relationship of trust in the community, we have found that these farmers are eager to take advantage of any and all Spanish-language educational programs that we can develop. We will continue to seek out new Spanish-speaking farmers in other regions of the state and conduct needs assessments with them. We have also just recently developed an 800 number hotline in Spanish for our WSU Small Farms Program so that all producers statewide will be able obtain information on available educational resources.
Our standard course offerings have not proven to be a complete model for reaching out to the Hmong community. We have found much more success in responding to immediate farmer needs and inserting cultivating success curricula to aid longer term educational impacts while serving those immediate needs. We have provided multiple workshops, meetings and individual consultations while matching the appropriate curricula. At all workshops, basic life skills such as language, literacy, and math skills were increased. Over all, providing issue or product-based educational efforts have proven to be the most successful at offering relevant education. We have also successfully built relationships of trust and credibility with this community as have experienced about 80 percent participation from the entire Hmong farming community.

Participation Summary

Research Outcomes

No research outcomes
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.