Mentoring Today for Tomorrow

Project Overview

Project Type: Sustainable Community Innovation
Funds awarded in 2008: $9,348.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2010
Region: Southern
State: Mississippi
Principal Investigator:
Ben Burkett
Indian Springs Farmers Association


  • Fruits: melons
  • Vegetables: greens (leafy), peas (culinary), cucurbits


  • Crop Production: crop rotation, multiple cropping, strip tillage
  • Education and Training: mentoring, networking
  • Farm Business Management: cooperatives, value added
  • Production Systems: holistic management


    The Indian Springs Farmers Association provided mentoring in agriculture to persons in southern Mississippi. Twenty persons were interviewed; however, 12 participants were selected for the “Mentoring Today for Tomorrow.” The selection process was necessary because the cooperative is preparing the next generation of farmers for the preservation of the Indian Springs Farmers Association.

    The cooperative used funds to cultivate a new cohort of agricultural leaders. Through training and mentoring in diversified areas of agriculture, the participants received on-the-farm and off farm training. Workshops in crop production, marketing, value-added production, leadership, and cooperative training were held over a one-year period.

    A total of 12 workshops were conducted. Four workshops were conducted by Alcorn State University Extension Program and the Mississippi Small Farm Development Center. Two workshops were held by the Mississippi Association of Cooperatives and six workshops were conducted by the Indian Springs Farmers Association. Agricultural professionals have learned farming through instructions and the classroom setting; however, few have actually worked on a farm. The same holds true for farmers. Few have learned agriculture and crop productions from a book or matriculation in an agricultural program; however, the combination of education and training application greatly increased the participants understanding of agriculture. The participants also had the opportunity to meet with local and state elected officials and the directors of state USDA agencies.


    The Indian Springs Farmers Association proposed to cultivate a new generation of agricultural leaders, through training and mentoring in diversified areas of agriculture. The continuation of the 32 year old cooperative is reliant on the achievements of this project as small farmers retire from agriculture. The cooperative created this mentoring program to provide its participants an enriching experience to agriculture, an introduction to farming for hopeful continuation in the rural community of Petal, Mississippi.

    The purpose of this project was to equip a young generation with the necessary tools to lead agriculture as today’s farmers retire. At the Indian Spring Farmers Association, the members range in ages from 45 to 75. In the state of Mississippi, the average age of farmers is 57.2 years in 2002. In 1997, the average age was 55.3 years. The 2002 national average age is 55.3 years, as compared to 54.0 years in 1997. Justification for the project is demonstrated as the proposed activities would cultivate a new generation of agricultural leaders that have trained and mentored in diversified areas. The existence of the Indian Springs Farmers Association is reliant on the achievement of this project as more small farmers retire for various reasons. Many farmers raised children on the farm; however, the child would leave the farm as an adult. However, agriculture is not as it was fifty years ago. Agriculture and technology have entered into a relationship that has produced offspring such as precision farming. The blend improves the production quality and effectiveness for food and fiber production, food security, and sustainable systems. This venture is a continuation of the Indian Springs Farmers Association’s mission to improve the economic and social well-being of limited resource and specialty crop farmers. The member-farmers help maintain the integrity of natural resources in south Mississippi. The objectives of the cooperative are to:

    1. Establish an organized processing and marketing facility;
    2. Assist farmers in establishing a conservation cropping system; and
    3. Train farm youth by growing specific crops and encouraging youth to stay on the farm.

    The Indian Springs Farmers Association, Inc. began in 1978 with 8 members as compared to the cooperative having 30 stockholders and 12 patrons today. Indian Spring was incorporated in 1981 with the assistance of the Federation of Southern Cooperatives. The cooperative is a marketing and buying cooperative for farmers operating farms ranging in size from 10 to 1,600 acres. The Association offers year-round markets for the vegetable crops of its members and patrons. Members range in age from 45 to 75. Mentoring today for tomorrow allowed the Indian Springs Farmers Association to nurture the development of participants’ abilities and community support for creating and growing job skills, financial wealth and income. The participants are thoroughly trained in agriculture: input procurement, production, harvesting, post-harvest handling, and consumption. However, agriculture is multi-faceted. The persons participating in the project were advanced students in the business aspect of farming.

    The Association serves a six county area of Mississippi, including: Forrest, Perry, Jefferson Davis, Lamar, Marion and Covington counties. Members operate their own farm and bring their crops to the Association’s facilities for packing and shipping, which was built in 1996. Some crops are field graded and packed; however, the facility is used for grading and packing vegetables under contracts with various corporations. The facility is equipped with a cooler for storage, washing tubs, sorting tables and other equipment for processing the produce from cooperative members. Principal crops include assorted greens such as kale, bell and jalapeno peppers, greens, peas, squash, watermelon, corn, okra, culinary herbs and other vegetable crops suited to the area.

    Project objectives:

    The overall goal of the project was to provide technical assistance to the Sheeplo Community that would strengthen the capacity of the cooperative and the farm families and youth to achieve life-long learning and productivity. Mentoring and training was conducted in several areas: Leadership development, Board development, and Membership recruitment/ development. To attain such development, Indian Springs used funds to complete the following objectives:
    1. Recruit persons to increase membership with the Indian Springs Farmers Association, Inc.
    2. Establish partnerships with Alcorn State University, and other local, state, and regional agencies.
    3. Conduct intensive training in the following areas:
    a. Production
    b. Farming
    c. Agricultural Technology
    d. Marketing
    e. Farm Financial Management
    f. Salesmanship
    g. Leadership (Community, Local, State and Federal Levels)
    h. Board of Directors

    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.