Farmer-Led Networking Groups to Support New Vegetable Growers

Project Overview

FNC07-665
Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2007: $10,304.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2012
Region: North Central
State: Iowa
Project Coordinator:

Annual Reports

Commodities

  • Vegetables: general

Practices

  • Education and Training: demonstration, networking
  • Sustainable Communities: local and regional food systems

    Summary:

    PROJECT BACKGROUND
    I have an 80 acre farm with 45 acres in CRP (Conservation Reserve Program) and 24 acres in pasture on which I rotationally graze my 30 ewe sheep flock and lambs. Lambs are finished for direct market sale to CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) members and a local restaurant. Since 1997 I have managed and been the primary vegetable grower for Local Harvest CSA. We have a spring, summer, and fall share, growing vegetables for 200 plus families on the remaining tillable acres on my farm. My operation includes a 30 foot x 72 foot moveable tunnel which we built in October 2010. I use organic practices on my farm although I am not currently certified organic. My operation has evolved from a family operation in which my four children were involved to the present where my workforce consists of interns and seasonal workers.

    I have used sustainable and organic practices on my farm since I bought it in 1994. However I am continually improving upon those practices and trying new things. In 2010 I enrolled in CSP (Conservation Stewardship Program). My current goal is to improve my cover cropping practices.

    PROJECT DESCRIPTION

    GOALS
    1) To provide two on-farm field days with farmer-led informational workshops. They will be used to introduce the project, give prospective new and transitioning farmers the opportunity to visit a successful vegetable production farm and a recruitment opportunity for the project.
    2) To initiate and facilitate two farmer-led networking support groups for 6-10 farmers each, clustered by location. Groups will meet for 10 sessions over 12 months.
    3) To connect experienced farmers with five new or inexperienced farmers to provide one-on-one support for a total of 30 hours per new/inexperienced farmer.
    4) To provide a one day farmer-led educational seminar to expose project participants to additional and more advanced farmer expertise. The seminar topics and farmer educators will be selected by the new farmer project participants. This educational seminar will be a public event.

    PROCESS
    Our goal was to hold two on-farm field days in Spring/Summer 2008 to introduce our project. Due to the extensive flooding we experienced many challenges in proceeding with our project in 2008. We did hold one on-farm field day on 6/12/09. Attendance was good despite the difficulties farmers had in finding roads open to get to the farm.

    The second field day we had planned at the farm of Laura Krouse was cancelled due to continuing weather/flood related issues. Similar issues continued to challenge our ability to recruit and establish networking groups in our area. We never succeeded in establishing formal networking groups but we held multiple on-farm events that pulled together many of the same people and led to informal connections between the new farmers.

    We did extensive work with potential new vegetable growers on a one-to-one basis and continue to do so. (In November of 2008, tragically one of our young farmers was killed in a farm related accident.)

    The weather challenges of 2008 affected our group of established farmers as well and one of them dropped out of the project early on in the project. After the 2008 season, only two of our experienced farmers participated in the project.

    As we began to recognize that the original model we had outlined for this project might not work exactly as planned we took a different approach to networking and facilitating our goal of recruiting and providing support for new and inexperienced vegetable growers.

    Two of our farmer participants actively promoted new vegetable farmers on the land via various venues. We found ourselves responding in informal and formal ways to requests from farmers who wanted to learn more about our vegetable operations. Some examples follow:

    12/19/08 Laura Krouse (farmer participant) sponsored and facilitated a networking meeting focused on variety selection. Pooled orders to save money. Attendees: 5

    1/9 – 1/10/09 Used farmer mentor grant money to pay registration for 2 new growers and carpooled with them and a third to attend Practical Farmers of Iowa (PFI) Annual Conference

    February 2008 – Laura Krouse launched “Women caring for the land” project. We used this as a venue to identify potential new vegetable growers. Susan Jutz began working with 3 potential new growers. (Sponsored and promoted by Women, Food and Agriculture Network [WFAN]. For details see: http://www.wfan.org/)

    3/6/09 Susan Jutz facilitated networking meeting for 4 potential new growers. Maintain support via email and phone calls to date. (Begin farm exchange visits in July 2009)

    3/13/09 Laura Krouse organized trip with 3 farmer mentees to local foods workshop in Northeast Iowa at Calmar. The 5-hour workshop and 4-hour round trip drive ended up being a great networking session. (Workshop sponsored by NE Iowa Food and Farm Coalition. See: http://www.iowafreshfood.com/site/niff.html)

    3/18/09 Appeals hearing for Susan Jutz farm. This brought over 80 people together, including many farmers, to support my request that I should not need a conditional use permit to hold farm tours and other educational events on my farm. Planning and zoning argued that my farm tours were non-agricultural (ie., vegetable production) and were somehow different from corn field days, FB (Farm Bureau) on-farm events, extension events, etc. We sought support via emails and attendance at the hearing. This obviously was not a planned event within the parameters of our grant but it proved to be a great networking event for farmers and non-farmers.

    3/25/09 As part of Krouse’s Caring for the Land project she led a conservation tour with one of her stops being at the farm of Jutz. 25 attendees including 3 farmer mentees.

    4/8 – 4/9/09 Laura Krouse field day. 2 day workshop building a 30 foot x 96 foot hoophouse (sponsored and promoted by PFI). We used this as a venue to identify potential new growers as well as support/network opportunity for mentees we are already working with. 60 attendees

    4/15/09 Final gathering of Krouse’s Caring for the Land project included 2 farmer mentees.

    10/3/09 Susan Jutz Field Day and Harvest Festival with tours and discussion

    11/21/09 Laura Krouse Field Day on Fall hoophouse growing

    3/16/10 PFI Farminar Susan Jutz and beginning farmer – a Q and A session with a focus on CSA marketing strategies.

    Fall 2010 and 2011 – annual field days on Jutz and Krouse farms

    3/27/2011 At the request of Limestone Bluffs RC and D (Resource Conservation and Development) Susan Jutz and Laura Krouse sponsored tours of each of their farms with a focus on High Tunnel production. Attendees included previous and new mentees.

    2/28/2012 At the request of several new growers and with promotional support from Iowa Valley RC and D we held a tour of Jutz’s moveable high tunnel and early season production along with a presentation by Krouse on planning for a season of CSA production.

    PEOPLE
    The primary farmer participants were Laura Krouse and Susan Jutz. We sponsored events and mentored individual new and beginning farmers via individual on-farm visits, phone conversations and emails.

    Jason Grimm, Iowa Valley RC&D, Limestone Bluffs RC&D, Practical Farmers of Iowa

    RESULTS
    Goal: To provide two on-farm field days with farmer-led informational workshops. We hosted at least 6 on-farm field days including a two-day workshop on building a high tunnel.

    Goal: To initiate and facilitate two farmer-led networking support groups for 6-10 farmers each, clustered by location. Groups will meet for 10 sessions over 12 months.
    This didn’t happen. Getting people together was far more difficult than expected. Facilitating informal connections seemed to be what we were successful at doing via the field days and get togethers.

    Goal: To connect experienced farmers with five new or inexperienced farmers to provide one-on-one support for a total of 30 hours per new/inexperienced farmer.
    We were able to connect two experienced farmers with new/in-experienced farmers. The one-on-one support that occurred however was much more informal than expected. We discovered that it often involved farm visits to the experienced farmer’s farm and working together on various projects. The hours per mentees ranged from a few hours to many more than 30 hours. In one case a mentee did a two-day stay and an overnight to pick our brains so to speak and has maintained an ongoing relationship via phone calls and emails.

    Goal: To provide a one-day farmer-led educational seminar to expose project participants to additional and more advanced farmer expertise. The seminar topics and farmer educators will be selected by the new farmer project participants. This educational seminar will be a public event.
    We had multiple public events but not of this type. Instead we sponsored new farmers to attend events such as the Practical Farmers of Iowa annual meeting and a local foods workshop in NE Iowa at Calmar.

    DISCUSSION
    What we have learned is that although there are individuals out there who want to get started in vegetable production and who say they are interested in participating in a group, this does not easily translate into action on their part. There is a willingness to work one-on-one but less commitment to network session participation. Because of this we shifted our focus to encourage participation with us in the PFI conference, the NE Iowa local foods workshop, the Caring for the Land sessions/tour and the PFI Hoophouse building event at Laura Krouse’s farm. This approach proved to be more successful in bringing together new and existing farmers.

    What I learned is that I and probably other experienced farmers do a great deal of one-on-one mentoring. In addition, we hold a remarkable number of on-farm events that bring other farmers together and give them an opportunity to connect with one another.

    I also learned that it is difficult to put a price tag on the mentoring that I do; it is how I learned and in return I wish to share my expertise with others. I realized as I prepared this final report that it does take up a significant amount of time. Although most of our events were promoted by various groups, they were free to the public and we did not receive funding from the supporting groups for most of the events.

    OUTREACH
    Information sharing was via multiple sources. Each of the major events identified above were sponsored by state or regional organizations and were promoted via press releases, mailings and multiple list serves. In addition, we used personal emails and phone calls and flyers to share information about events. There were follow-up stories on some of these events in our local media as well.

    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.