Although the YOUth-KAN project (YENC09-017) has been beset with delays, the longer incubation time has only been good for the project and made it stronger. Any project that is heavily involved with young people will find that there is a lot of turnover due to the speed at which a young person’s life moves. Some youth will decide to move on to other projects, some will need to put their farming plans on hold and some will have life issues that come and wreck their farming boat. Despite the delays, there never was any doubt in the mind of the project coordinator, or with other Kansans that the YOUth-KAN project would survive, because it was part of the future of Kansas farming.
The project was delayed because the project partner, Scotty Thellman, unexpectedly received an opportunity to further his studies in sustainable agriculture in Iowa. While searching for another project partner, Rosanna participated on the four-person planning committee for the first ever Young Organic Stewards mini conference held in conjunction with the 2011 MOSES (Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service) Organic Conference. The following sessions were planned to address the needs of young farmer attendees: Beginning Farmer Success Stories, Educational and Experiential Learning Opportunities, Acquiring Land, Planting Seeds for the Future, and two Social Hours. This first offering of special programming focused on young sustainable farmers was so successful it has become an annual part of the conference, with workshops throughout the year.
Several presentations about YOUth-KAN and is potential services were conducted to excited audiences in Kansas at the Kansas Rural Center’s Annual Conference, Johnson County Community College’s Sustainable agriculture class, and other workshop sessions. It was considered best for the longevity of the project to find an existing farm organization to help foster the YOUth-KAN mission. An established organization would give YOUth-KAN more credibility and give the project the much needed office support staff. The Kansas Rural Center (a 501c3 sustainable agriculture advocate) was intrigued with the YOUth-KAN project and included YOUth-KAN as part of a KRC project in a 2011 USDA grant proposal that would help expand the project under their organization’s umbrella. When the proposal was not accepted for funding, KRC asked Rosanna to participate in a staff meeting on February 14, 2012 to see if they could still help foster the projects. Plans were being made to connect the two organizations, when circumstances arose that caused KRC to have to scale back on their projects.
On September 11, 2012, the Kansas Farmers Union approached Rosanna and asked her to help their organization focus on fostering more young and beginning farmers. Five beginning farmer workshops had been hosted by the Kansas Farmers Union between March and September 2012, and they wanted to expand their beginning farmer outreach efforts. An eight-person planning committee was formed with young farmers or advocates representing Kansas SARE, Kansas State University, Kansas Department of Agriculture, the Kansas Farmers Union, and the Kansas Rural Center, as well as established and beginning farmers.
It was determined that, before the juvenile farmers (12-20) could be properly fostered and supported, we must have existing structure to help them as they and their operations grow. YOUth-KAN is focused on helping young farmers get their feet on the ground, to help them turn a hobby into a small business venture. But a Beginning Farming support structure was needed to help carry the project as the young farmers begin scaling up from a small sideline enterprise that is a summer project into an agricultural occupation that can sustain a family. A decision was reached to rename the main program with YOUth-KAN being a division of it. So that the program is inclusive, regardless of age, the project title “Kansas Beginning Farmers Coalition” (KBFC) was chosen. The mission to Engage, Encourage, and Empower young and beginning farmers was adopted.
A mini-conference was planned to be held alongside the Kansas Farmers Union Annual Meeting on November 30 and December 1, 2012 in Topeka at the Ramada hotel. In accordance with the proposed budget, $300 from the YOUth-KAN fund was expended to contribute toward the food and materials. The beginning session on Friday afternoon had a good attendance of 26 people. Attendees ranged in age and experience. Some were young and aspiring farmers, while others were older, established farmers who wanted to meet the young farmers to see what their needs were. We discovered that, even on workshops focused on young and beginning farmers, we cannot exclude the older, established farmers. They are so excited about meeting and mentoring young farmers that we cannot tell them that they are too knowledgeable or too old to be attending the beginning farmer events.
Two young, successful farmers opened the November 30 session by giving their farming story and learning experiences. The conversation quickly opened up with all of the attendees speaking up with questions, problems, and solutions. Saturday, December 1 opened with a Mini Rural Brainstorm hosted by Kansas’ biggest advocate for rural youth, Marci Penner of the We-KAN foundation for rural prosperity. All conference attendees participated in this high-energy session focused on finding solutions for our young and beginning farmers. A young or beginning farmer would sate a hurdle they faced, and then would be paired with five other established farmers or community members to brainstorm a solution. After lunch, the energy was carried into a more in-depth planning session with the beginning farmers to determine what the immediate needs were so that YOUth-KAN and the Kansas Beginning Farmers Coalition could respond to them. A survey was conducted to gather additional data about the beginning framers. Survey Results as follows:
Years Active Farming
1-5 years (3)
6-10 years (0)
11-20 years (3)
20 years and up (4)
Livestock – large (9)
Livestock – small (2)
Family owned (9)
Why We Farm
Rural lifestyle (12)
Continuity ( )
Current Access to Appropriate Information
Formal Education – Colleges (1)
Self Education – books, internet (10)
Preferred Access to Appropriate Information
Formal Education – Colleges (5)
Self Education – books, internet (3)
Willingness to Host Workshop
Farmer volunteers from a diversity of farms
The next steps will be implementing mentoring (formal and informal) opportunities, establishing a website with toolkits and a Q&A forum, hosting far tours and workshops with appropriate information for young, beginning farmers.
The objectives that the KBFC is pursuing definitely mirror that of the stated objectives for the YOUth-KAN project. The year 2013 was spent refining the direction for the beginning farmers’ education efforts. In 2014, the KFU was awarded a grant from Farm Aid to help further the mission of the KBF Coalition. This grant seeks to “engage new farmers with relevant online resources and learning opportunities appropriate for Kansas: as well as “increase the opportunities for beginning farmers to network and address shared challenges as well as providing opportunities for more interaction between beginning and experienced farmers.”
This FarmAid grant to the KBFC has enabled a monthly e-newsletter, website/blog, and a listserv to be established. A farm profits workshop was held on February 22, 2014 in Lawrence. Richard Wisnall presented to an audience of 5 farmers. Other workshops and farm tour are planned to focus on educating beginning farmers.
Currently, the only expenditures YOUth-KAN has actually made is the $300 for the Topeka conference. The advent of the KBFC has enabled the remaining YOUth-KAN funds to focus primarily on mentorship. The YOUth-KAN funds will only be used to reimburse the mentors who are mentoring Young beginning farmers ages (12-20). This project may be moving slower than proposed, but we are definitely under budget and still making a big difference in Kansas agriculture. What’s been amazing about this whole project is that it doesn’t take much to make a big impact with beginning farmers. After hearing a presentation on the beginning and intents of YOUth-KAN, a sustainable ag student at JCCC was motivated to find a farm to apprentice at. Another young farmer, Nathan Bryant, at the age of 16 wanted to begin row crop and hay farming on some newly purchased family land. Not having any relatives or neighbors with experience in this field, Nathan sought out his own young mentor.
These are but two snippets of the stories that are happening every day in Kansas. A little bit goes a long way when educating young farmers. They already have high levels of enthusiasm, and merely need help getting pointed in the right direction and given some appropriate information, so that they can travel under their own steam power!