Growing Successful Agricultural Businesses

Final report for WPDP19-25

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2019: $74,984.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2022
Host Institution Award ID: G128-20-W7504
Grant Recipients: California Association for Micro Enterprise Opportunity; San Diego Small Business Development Center; Dickinson Farm
Region: Western
State: California
Principal Investigator:
Carolina Martinez
California Association for Micro Enterprise Opportunity
Carla Holland
San Diego Small Business Development Center
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Project Information


Anecdotally, lack of land is considered the primary reason there are not more new farms. It may explain the reason aspiring farmers do not start farming but it does not explain why farmers are failing within the current economy. Lack of land is just a reason, not the reason.

The importance of management balance was emphasized in a 1980-87 study of factors contributing to farm profitability (Klinefelter, 2012), and still reflected today in the farm census analysis (Trends in U.S. Local and Regional Food Systems: A Report to Congress, AP-068, 2015).

The Business of Farming course provides a strong foundation in small business development and business management, specific to agri-business. With the addition of the Train-the-Trainer program we intend to measurably increase the number business knowledgeable agri-preneurs ensuring success and economic viability of the next generation of farmers.

Using a remote training model to decrease cost and increase impact, the Business of Farming Train-the-Trainer program will create a Business of Farming Facilitators guide and Train the Trainer curriculum, host three Cohorts and implement technological infrastructure to train and support 21 instructors over a 3-year grant which will in turn train and mentor at least 315 farmers / owners.

Project Objectives:

The purpose of this project is to provide training and support for Ag Business Educators engaged in providing technical support and advice to aspiring and beginning small farmers planning to open their own for-profit business, growing produce and other agricultural products for market.

The cornerstone of this training project is three Train the Trainer workshops where Business Educators will learn about the specifics of the Business of Farming and leave with the skills, competency and knowledge to effectively counsel, guide and inform agri-preneurs. To ensure success of the training project there are various activities that need to be completed and objectives that need to be met.



Completed By



Create & Finalize BoF Facilitors Guide

5 months after issuance of grant

Grant Issuance


Create & Finalize Train the Trainer Curriculum

2 months after completion of BoF Facilitors Guide.



Coordinate and Conduct ToT Course Cohort 1

Within 5 months of material completion aligned with BoF Course at South San Diego SBDC.

1, 2


Provide Trainer Technical Assistance

Within 3 months of finishing Cohort 1, and ongoing.

1, 2, 3


Create & Update Technical Resource Portal

Within 3 months of finishing Cohort 1.

1, 2


Coordinate and Conduct ToT Course Cohort 2

Year 2 of grant aligned with BoF Course at San Diego SBDC.

1, 2, 3


Coordinate and Conduct ToT Course Cohort 3

Year 3 of grant aligned with BoF Course at San Diego SBDC.

1, 2, 3, 4



Click linked name(s) to expand/collapse or show everyone's info
  • Danny Fitzgerald (Educator)
  • Stepheni Norton - Producer (Educator)
  • Stepheni Norton - Producer (Educator)
  • Rosalva Sandoval (Researcher)
  • Briana Weisinger

Education & Outreach Initiatives

Business of Farming and Train the Trainer Course

Increase the number of business-minded farmers and viability of farming operations within the project region. Train 21 trainers within 3 years which will in turn train and mentor at least 315 farmer / owners.


2019 Progress

The initial part of this grant period has been spent planning for the training courses and curriculum for the Train the Trainer program and coordinating the participating partners for the roll out of the programs.


Thus far, all of the dates for the 20-session, 20-week Business of Farming have been scheduled for June 1, 2020 to August 30, 2020.


And the Train the Trainer 20-session course has been scheduled for May 29, 2020 through September 2, 2020. A recruitment orientation for the first cohort will be held on May 27, 2020 in conjunction with the 2020 California Small Business Assistance Providers Professional Development Conference. The conference will be attended by over 400 California small business advisors, government contract specialists, financial advisors, manufacturing experts, and service providers for women and veteran owned businesses. This gathering is designed to provide cutting edge information on how better to serve small business owners and to leave with innovative strategies that create a positive impact on the economy.


The portal and facilitators guide are also being developed.


We expect to have more robust outcomes to report in our next report.


In November 2019 Carla Holland, the Director of the San Diego Small Business Development Center transitioned to a different role outside of the organization and we have been planning with Danny Fitzgerald, Associate Director of the San Diego Small Business Development Center until the new Director is hired. Andrew Seko, also transitioned out of CAMEO and Emily Gasner assumed his responsibilities.


2020 Progress

The impact of a pandemic COVID-19 environment in 2020 has impacted the progress of this project significantly.


The train the trainer course, which was meant to be a virtual training after an in-person kickoff was not held during 2020 as planned as a result of all the changes from COVID-19. 


The business of farming Train the Trainer curriculum which was being developed was going to need to be significantly updated given all the changes brought by COVID affecting farm businesses to be relevant. 


As a way to create interim impact in 2020, a 1-hour long virtual educational webinar was planned, created and held for trainers via zoom and community members working with and interested in resources for farm businesses to teach them ways farm businesses need to and are pivoting as a result of COVID-19 changes in business, legal practices and more. This webinar was held May 8, 2020 and titled: How Small Farms are Adapting Their Businesses During COVID-19 - A Listening Session for Farm Consultants and Technical Assistance Providers. Seventeen people attended and benefited from the webinar.  


Our project has also had transition in its key participants. The Small Business Development Center hired director Briana Weisinger in the fall 2020 to replace Carla Holland. And shortly thereafter our project educator and key participant in this project, Stepheni Norton, due to health reasons, resigned from the project on 9.28.2020.


In 2021 we are reconvening our main project team members to create new plans to reconfigure the train the trainers as virtual trainings to carry out the deliverables for this project before the end of this project. We look forward to providing more impact information in our next progress report. 


2021 Progress

In 2021 the project continued to face key challenges as relates to 1) the COVID pandemic and 2) the resignation of Trainer, Stepheni Norton’s due to health reasons.


COVID continued to pose a challenge in that there was a portion of the training at the end of each cohort that was designed to be in-person in San Diego. With COVID, offices and training spaces have fluctuated from being closed all together for the most part, or open briefly before re-closing for omicron. This questions the possibility of conducting any in-person session before the end of 2022 given we are now in the midst of the omicron surge.


And given the abrupt and unexpected resignation of Trainer Stepheni Norton who was in the midst of developing both the curriculum for the train the trainers and was going to run the train the trainers as the instructor, significant efforts have been made to recruit a new business farming expert instructor. The program concept was that Stepheni Norton had the experience of having created the Business of Farming curriculum and trained farmers on the curriculum and was going to pivot and replicate the program with adjustments as a train the trainer. And what we have found is that the way Stepheni Norton had designed the business of farming curriculum and was in development of the curriculum adjustments to train the trainers, it has been close to impossible to find a new instructor or instructors to step in, due to the excessive number of sessions and hours the program would require, more of a 20-hour per week commitment from a trainer and the trainers who could step in, don’t have that many hours per week to devote. And similarly, the 20-week training structure originally proposed now exceeds what is widely known as best practice, an 8-week maximum average training structure that most online programs offer entrepreneurs, which we think will make it hard to find trainers able to devote that time.


We continued to meet and brainstorm solutions of what we needed to do in 2021.


We have creatively re-imagined what success could potentially look like given the unexpected challenges identified and welcome the opportunity to explore with Montana University a re-design of the program while still successfully creating the same originally intended and proposed impact.


2022 Progress and Final Report 

In early 2022, CAMEO identified California FarmLink as a partner to implement this program. They began to meet virtually to plan and coordinate an informational session for interested service providers, a recruitment and outreach plan, and other necessary logistics to successfully implement the train the trainer program. On June 27, 2022 CAMEO and California FarmLink hosted an informational session where we discussed who should attend the class, the instructor, what the course will cover, and the class logistics. From this session several interested participants signed up to be vetted for the training. We spent the next few months recruiting and outreaching to interested parties. Our efforts resulted in 41 people who were interested in the registration process. California FarmLink met with every single interested applicant not only to vet but also to answer initial questions about the training and their challenges. Of the 41, 28 were approved to attend the 8-part train the trainer from September 27th through November 15th, on Tuesday afternoons. Additionally, 10 California FarmLink staff attended the class as a professional development opportunity to empower them to increase their skills around educating farm workers.


Of the 28 organizations that attended the training, 86% are located in/serve The Western Sare Region.The following organizations/businesses were represented in the final class: Agricultural Institute of Marin, Art of Nouveau Wines, Brightpoint Development Fund, Center for Rural Affairs, Colorado Department of Agriculture, Cachuma Resource Conservation District, Earthworker Farm, El Pajaro Community Development Corporation, Feed the Hunger Fund, Frances Andrews Books, Fresno Area Hispanic Foundation, Indian Dispute Resolution Services, Inc, Kitchen Table Advisors, Law Office of Christina Oatfield, Law Office of Jill Jacobs, Mandela Partners, Provident Living Financial Services, SLOW MONEY San Luis Obispo, Tolani Lake Enterprises, Urban Remedy, and West Business Development Center.


Participants learned the ins and outs of providing specialized assistance to small farms. The curriculum for the eight-week remote course focused on eight key components of farm business resilience:

  • Introduction to the Resilience Self-Assessment Tool
  • Entities and Separating Land, Land Tenure, and Environmental Regulations
  • Labor
  • Accounting
  • Taxation
  • Production and Marketing Value Added, and When Farming Ends
  • Credit, Business Planning, and Insurance
  • Review and Resources for Continuing Education


The class was led by Poppy Davis who is a business and policy adviser to agricultural and food and beverage enterprises, and to nonprofits and local governments. She provides farmers and ranchers with training and technical assistance on issues such as business formation, land tenure, credit, and more. The class was hosted in our CAMEO Academy, our online learning management system, LearnWorlds (also referred to as the technical resource portal). There we housed the class recordings, slide deck, and other materials and resources for the entirety of the course. Participants will have continued access to the train the trainer materials for up to one year from the end date of the class on November 15, 2022. Additionally the Facilitators Guide was completed and is uploaded to the reporting portal for Montana State University to view. Please note that the User's Guide attached to this report is the Facilitators Guide per the grant objectives.


California FarmLink has provided consultation to 43 organizations and additional technical assistance to two class participants thus far and will continue to provide technical assistance during outside the class delivery and will host office hours with the instructor and cohort meetings in the upcoming months, even after the grant period ends, to ensure participants feel comfortable with the material presented.

Outcomes and impacts:

This initiative has strong and clear outcomes that impact the robust local ecosystems that are supportive of farmers by sourcing service providers across agricultural regions of California. We also expect to increase literacy around the specialized business needs of Spanish and English-speaking service providers alike. This directly contributes to increasing the stability of under-serviced farm businesses. The learning includes the identification of regional leaders and ongoing feedback to tailor the training by region and language group.

Educational & Outreach Activities

43 Consultations
1 Curricula, factsheets or educational tools
8 Online trainings
3 Webinars / talks / presentations

Participation Summary:

11 Nonprofit
2 Agency
16 Ag service providers (other or unspecified)
1 Farmers/ranchers

Learning Outcomes

28 Participants gained or increased knowledge, skills and/or attitudes about sustainable agriculture topics, practices, strategies, approaches
14 Ag professionals intend to use knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness learned

Project Outcomes

1 New working collaboration
Project outcomes:

Regarding the number reported under the Learning Outcomes section of ag professionals intending to use knowledge learned through this project in their educational activities and services for farmers we reported 14. This number demonstrates that of the 14 that completed the evaluation 100% said they intend to use the information learned. However we are assuming had all 28 completed the evaluation, they would have all said they would use the knowledge learned. As a learning we will be more strategic about how to get more evaluations back in the future. Additionally, as a result of our course, service provider attendees were provided with the Resilience Self Assessment (RSA) tool. With training on use of the RSA tool, service providers are able to aptly diagnose a farmer client’s business health and needs. With a clear idea of a farm business needs, service providers are better able to provide guidance, and make the right referrals to other business professionals to meet a farmer's needs. In addition to giving attendees another tool, they are now able to be a resource to each other as service providers from different business areas while also growing their networks of colleagues who provide similar services.

10 Agricultural service provider participants who used knowledge and skills learned through this project (or incorporated project materials) in their educational activities, services, information products and/or tools for farmers
Success stories:

Below are some of the testimonials that we received from the participants of the train the trainer when asked "What did you like most about this course?":

  • I learned a lot about farming that I didn't know before. I just recently started with El Pajaro CDC and this was a great course for me to get acquainted with what it takes and is needed to be a farmer, and what needs to be taken into consideration when lending. Poppy was great and extremely knowledgeable. Thank you CA Farmlink! - Junior Loan Officer at El Pajaro Community Development Corporation, Watsonville, CA
  • The opportunity to connect with other folks who work in similar areas and to connect with expertise. I appreciated Poppy going over the basics of a broad variety of topics important to farmers and giving us a reality check about what is possible, legal, etc., and the confidence to say, nope, that doesn't work that way! When I run into situations with which I am not familiar, it is really helpful to know where to go for expert advice. - Bookkeeper in Davis, CA
  • The outline of the topics as we were going by different issues with the family farms and great information to consider when talking to a beginner or experienced farmer. - Outreach Specialist in Santa Maria, CA
  • Solid background in ag financial systems and meeting others in the ag service provider space. - Program Grants Manager in San Rafael, CA

Information Products

    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.