Beginning Farmer Program: Evaluation and Expansion

2003 Annual Report for LNC01-192

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2001: $96,430.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2005
Matching Federal Funds: $1,560.00
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $106,660.00
Region: North Central
State: Minnesota
Project Coordinator:
Karen Stettler
Land Stewardship Project

Beginning Farmer Program: Evaluation and Expansion


Farm Beginnings, begun in southeast Minnesota, was successfully expanded to western Minnesota. Combined, a total of 102 participants have enrolled since the beginning of the grant. Over 60% of the graduates are actively farming. The on-farm mentor program has been designed to accommodate different needs through farm tours, peer groups, and one-on-one mentorships. A third party evaluation of Farm Beginnings was conducted. Past Farm Beginnings participants and steering committee members stated the program exceeded their expectations. They also gave feedback to further enhance the program. Final reviews and edits are being made on the Farm Beginnings curriculum.

Objectives/Performance Targets

OBJECTIVE 1: Strengthen the Farm Beginnings Program and disseminate information to others.

Evaluation design and administration.

An advisory evaluation team was convened to select a person to take the lead on designing the evaluation. Throughout the evaluation, the advisory team oversaw the design and implementation of the survey, including developing surveys, interview questions and timeline. The team was made up of established farmers, specialists with financial training, representatives from other partner organizations and LSP staff.

A formal evaluation of the Farm Beginnings program was designed in the summer of 2002. The purpose of the evaluation was to discover the significance of the Farm Beginnings program for the families and individuals who participated in the program.

The evaluation also was designed to discover what works in the current Farm Beginnings program and to recommend any changes or enhancements to improve the program. Open-ended interviews were conducted with participants from all FB classes. In addition to participant interviews, a written survey was sent to all former Farm Beginnings participants.

Compile and prepare an evaluation report and support documents.

A survey was prepared and disseminated at the National Farm Transition Network meeting seeking guidance with regard to interest/need content and best ways for the information to be shared. Most people indicated a website download to be the most effective. The “Cookin’ Up a Program” draft document written by LSP staff members addresses the nuts and bolts of starting and maintaining a program like Farm Beginnings. APPENDIX A

A synopsis of the evaluation and results of the written survey are attached to this report. APPENDIX B The full evaluation will be available at the Land Stewardship website.

Disseminate information to others nation-wide.

Information has been disseminated at the National Farm Transition Network meeting in VA, CA and VT, the Missouri Small Farm Conference, in Columbia, and at a national meeting with USDA’s Risk Management Agency’s Community Outreach Community Outreach / Civil Rights Conference in Kansas City, MO. As we refine our materials and methods of sharing, we will continue seeking out other disseminating opportunities.

OBJECTIVE 2: Implement a two-tiered mentor component

Engage and expand the network of mentors.

The network of mentors has continued to be engaged and expanded. A mentor training was initiated, bringing mentors together to 1.) Learn more about Farm Beginnings and what the beginning farmers have experienced in the class, 2.) Learn more about who attends Farm Beginnings, 3.) Develop a more formal mentor network, and 4.) Develop tools for their “Mentor Toolkit.” A mailing with general Farm Beginnings information was sent to a number of farmers without previous connections to Farm Beginnings and Land Stewardship Project with the aim to invite them to a field day and encourage their eventual involvement. Twenty-six new mentors have joined the initial network. We are continuing to develop the network by sending more information and offering an opportunity to come to a class or farm tour.

Organize and integrate 80 Farm Beginnings participants into support networks.

Each year there is a community resources class in which a variety of community organizations address the class participants. Many participants have become involved with community organizations such as Sustainable Farming Association, Farm Business Management, Small Business Development Centers, local marketing groups, Natural Resources and Conservation Service, grazing groups and a long term mentorship/advisor relationship. Additionally, we are encouraging peer groups to form. A peer group would be self- directed and could be used for either support and/or education. LSP and other organizations would be resources to help them accomplish their goals. Forty beginning farmers have participated or are currently participating in support networks.

Facilitate formal mentoring relationship between 10 pairs of mentors and protégés.

Ten pairs have engaged in a formal mentorship. The relationship, kicked off with a mentor/protégé meeting, has been very effective in helping everyone feel a part of a larger program and movement, as well as giving the mentor/protégé an opportunity to talk about the details of the mentorship. Due to the short duration of the mentorship (in most cases, April through August), we determined that two visits weren’t practical. In lieu of two visits, using the phone and e-mail has worked well for contact between the mentor and protégé to make sure everything is going all right. If there is a specific need for an LSP staff member to visit, that can be arranged.

A formal evaluation of the mentorship program was conducted by a graduate student through the University of Minnesota’s Community Assistantship Program (CAP). The evaluation included questionnaires and interviews. APPENDIX C

OBJECTIVE 3: Expand the program in western Minnesota and adapt the program in southeastern Minnesota.

Continue to provide support and oversight to steering committees for Southeastern and Western offices.

The Farm Beginnings Steering Committees, totaling over 15 members, are active and involved in the guidance and support of the program. The first ever combined steering committee meeting was held in Mankato in the fall with a great deal of input generated toward future planning. The committees remain strong and are one of the reasons Farm Beginnings is so grounded and successful. APPENDIX D

Recruit and graduate up to 80 people by the completion of the 2003 funding cycle

Class 2001- SE – 27 people W- 16
Class 2002- SE- 22 W- 9
Class 2003- SE- 18 W- 10
TOTAL- 102

Prepare a comprehensive curriculum for the program and hold workshops.

Each year in two locations, comprehensive curriculum has been prepared and presented to the Farm Beginnings participants. Class participants’ interests and needs help to guide the specifics of the course. The adaptation of Farm Beginnings from southeastern MN to western MN went quite well, which is encouraging in thinking about the transferring of this model to other places. The monitoring component (funded through a proposal to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation) was also successfully completed and is an important part of the overall curriculum for Farm Beginnings. APPENDIX E

The last year has been devoted to combining and developing the curriculum from each office into a synthesized curriculum. The first draft has been reviewed by peers. A meeting to provide coaching was held in Lanesboro, MN. The coaching session brought educators from five states and Canada together to look at initiating and expanding beginning farmer programs. The first phase of the curriculum, entitled, “Cookin’ Up a Program” was shared with these programs at the meeting (in a draft form). (NOTE: “Cookin’ Up a Program” addresses the nuts and bolts of starting and maintaining a program like Farm Beginnings.)

Administer the livestock loan program.

The initial two livestock loans continue to help two dairy farmers make their start. Ten additional families have received livestock loans during the course of the grant. There are dairy, beef, sheep, meat goat, and chicken loans. To help ensure the beginning farmers are receiving the information and support they need, there are quarterly site visits in the first year and biannual visits throughout the remainder of the loan. The Livestock Loan committee, made up of southeastern and western farmer members and other agricultural professionals, continues to meet, do interviews, review recommendations for loans, approve animals for purchase, attend site visits and help to review and revise documents to reflect what is happening in the field. APPENDIX F

There is at least one meeting per year with Heifer International to review what has happened and to plan ahead.


Strengthen the Farm Beginnings Program and disseminate information to others.

An Advisory Evaluation Team was convened.
Evaluation tools, including timelines, surveys and interviews were designed.
Grassroots-directed, third party evaluation was completed for Farm Beginnings.
Farm Beginnings staff has conducted five presentations at national meetings.

Implement a two-tiered mentor component

Mentors aiding Farm Beginnings expanded from 25 to 51.
10 Mentor/Protégé pairs met and worked together during the course of the SARE grant.
On-Farm Education Component has grown from a two- to a three-tiered system — we have added a peer group opportunity to the farm tours and one-on-one mentorships.

Expand the program in western Minnesota and adapt the program in southeastern Minnesota

Western Minnesota has operated three successful Farm Beginnings classes graduating 35 people.
Oversight for Farm Beginnings continues on a grassroots level through steering committees in each office.
102 people graduated from Farm Beginnings during the course of the SARE grant.
Twelve families have received a livestock loan varying from dairy, beef, sheep, meat goats, and chickens.
A comprehensive curriculum is in the process of a final edit.

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

  • One hundred and two beginning farmers trained in the Farm Beginnings Course.
    Sixty percent of the beginning farmers are farming.
    Over 5,000 acres of land now being farmed by beginning farmers are using sustainable methods.
    Currently, three other states are adopting Farm Beginnings curriculum and developing a beginning farmer education program.
    We estimate two (to start) programs going through a pilot training program once the curriculum is entirely complete.
    Based on the number of calls expressing interest in adopting Farm Beginnings, the future training impact statewide, regionally and nationally, looks very favorable.


Chuck Schwartau

Goodhue Extension U of M
MN 55066
John Baker

Beginning Farmer Center
IA 50167
Helene Murray

U of M Misa
MN 55108