Improving the viability of beginning farm enterprises by strengthening Northeastern farm incubator projects

Project Overview

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2014: $163,342.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2017
Region: Northeast
State: Massachusetts
Project Leader:
Jennifer Hashley
Trustees of Tufts College / New Entry Sustainable Farming Project

Annual Reports

Information Products


Not commodity specific


  • Education and Training: decision support system, extension, farmer to farmer, networking, participatory research, technical assistance
  • Farm Business Management: whole farm planning, budgets/cost and returns, agricultural finance
  • Sustainable Communities: ethnic differences/cultural and demographic change, leadership development, local and regional food systems, partnerships, community services, social networks

    Proposal abstract:

    While interest in sustainable farming is growing throughout the Northeast, resources, services and support for beginning farmers (BFs) can be piecemeal and sporadically offered. The National Young Farmer Coalition reports three major challenges faced by BFs; access to land, access to capital, and access to education. BFs lack opportunities to try their hand at farming with minimal risk, while access to land and capital infrastructure can seem out of reach in the Northeast due to high land prices. The experiential education offered on Farm Incubator Projects (FIPs) can be accessed while earning income from a farm business. Incubators are a more accessible training model for those who can’t afford to take advantage of university-based programs or those with high tuitions; especially for socially disadvantaged producers, low-income individuals, immigrants, and refugees. FIP farmers can get the tools and resources they need to be successful, and the increase in demand for these programs in recent years has shown they fill an important role when learning to farm on the family homestead is mostly a thing of the past.

    FIPs address challenges faced by beginning farmers by providing land access, equipment and infrastructure, and farm-based education. These programs are relatively new and highly specialized, requiring tailored professional development to ensure effective project administration.  This project will engage Incubator Project Staff (IPS) in comprehensive trainings to develop rigorous evaluation tools and transition farmers off the FIP. Through field schools, follow up online meetings, online resources, and a facilitated community of practice, IPS will learn how to establish goals and clear metrics that lead to improved services. Farmers will access higher quality training and support services through FIPs, making them more likely to achieve their goals and graduate successfully.

    Performance targets from proposal:

    New Entry will facilitate a series of field schools and online meetings to help IPS develop expertise in the creation and adoption of rigorous evaluation tools. IPS will learn to systematically gather data and report on BF goals, progress through training programs, and successes post-graduation. Service providers will identify areas for program improvement and utilize New Entry’s library of resources and case studies and our extensive national and regional community of practice for tools and advice related to improvement areas. Field schools and web meetings will also focus on two major obstacles to farmers successfully transitioning off the incubator site: advanced financial planning and credit access, and helping farmers find land post-graduation. 

    Beginning farmers who participate in FIPs enrolled in our PD program will access comprehensive and well-designed curricula that meet their stated needs, taught by service providers who are competent and knowledgeable about practical record-keeping and financial management tools, as well as the processes involved in accessing affordable land and credit. Farmers will benefit from clearly articulated personal and programmatic goals and expectations and move swiftly but comprehensively along an appropriate educational and skills development path to farming on their own leased or purchased land with sufficient capital and knowledge to succeed as sustainable, economically viable small farm entrepreneurs.

    Performance Target:  40 staff of 20 Farm Incubator Programs (FIPs) develop standardized performance metrics, evaluation tools and data collection methodology related to key program educational components, and use these tools to improve the quality/quantity of educational programs and resources provided to 250 farmers. 20 staff from 10 FIPs use the new tools and methods to document the progress towards independence of 100 farmers via established benchmarks re: sustainable practices, yields, incomes, and access to capital, infrastructure and farmland.

    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.