Focusing on Beginning Farmers

2008 Annual Report for ENE08-107

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2008: $71,640.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2010
Region: Northeast
State: Vermont
Project Leader:
Beth Holtzman
UVM Extension - New Farmer Project & Women's Agricultural Network

Focusing on Beginning Farmers


This project is using four fishbowl-style focus groups to 1) educate agricultural professionals about the challenges that beginning farmers face; 2) stimulate changes in service delivery to make it more responsive to beginning farmers’ needs; and 3) develop a corps of service providers better skilled at assessing stakeholder needs and using that information to develop programs.

In each focus group, farmers will serve as educators as they discuss the kinds of services they have found helpful while service providers form an audience and listen. At the end of a pre-determined time, the whole group will discuss the ideas that emerge. Throughout, we use a whole farm approach, exploring the interconnected challenges that beginning farmers face in terms of access to land, capital and credit, and building production, marketing, business planning, and financial management knowledge and skills.

As of this reporting, we have held two of the four focus groups, (March 27 and April 2) and a third will be conducted on April 9. The fourth will be held either in the summer or fall of 2009.

Participation in the three focus groups has exceeded our expectations, with an average of about 13 service providers and 10 farmers signing up for each (we had anticipated 6-10 farmers and 8-12 service providers at each focus group).

Following the focus groups, service provider participants are participating in debriefing conference calls approximately two weeks after the focus group. These calls provide an opportunity to share reflections on what was discussed at the focus group, and for the service providers to begin considering ways to better serve beginning farmers.

By the end of the April we will disseminate to service provider participants transcripts, notes, analysis and recommendations from the focus groups and conference calls. Service providers will also receive mini-grant guidelines and instructions. Mini-grants (up to $1000) will be awarded by the end of June.

As of this reporting,

Objectives/Performance Targets

Performance Target: 20 of the 40 agricultural service providers who participate in the project will make at least one change to their programs and/or the way they work with beginning farmers to address the specific stakeholder needs and priorities documented by the focus groups.

Additionally, six service providers will collaborate with farmers to develop new programs that address needs identified by the focus groups. A follow-up survey of farmers who participate in these adapted and new programs will be used to evaluate improvement in their access to land, capital, or community support, or determine if they gained new production, marketing or business skills as a result of participating in the program.


Milestone 1, Fall 2008: Using data collected in pilot focus groups conducted in 2007, the project advisory group develops the framework and questions for the focus groups. The project team decides to conduct the web-based survey after the focus groups are completed so that information gained through the focus group process can inform the survey.

Milestone 2: Spring 2009: 30 farmers aparticipate as educators in three fishbowl style, facilitated focus groups with 40 service providers participating as observers/learners. The fourth fishbowl has been scheduled for summer/fall 2009. Approximately 90 percent of the service providers participate in follow-up conference calls to share reflections of their experience and discuss options for addressing beginning farmer needs.

Milestone 3: Spring 2009: We are on target to have teams of project participants develop projects to adapt service delivery to beginning farmers. Mini-grant guidelines and applications will be distributed in the spring of 2009, along with transcripts, notes, analysis and recommendations from the focus groups and the debriefing conference calls.

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

It is too early for us to report on impacts, contributions and outcomes. An analysis of information gleaned from the focus groups is anticipated by early summer.