Multi-Cultural Farmer Mentors
The Multi-Cultural Farmer Mentor project supports the profitability of minority farming by an increased awareness and participation in SARE and other USDA projects and programs and the development of whole farm conservation plans through the identification and training of six mentor minority farmers paired with mentees.
Outcomes: 1) Mentors- enhanced leadership skills and visibility; 2) Mentees- increased farm management, marketing, and production skills and strengthened farming community linkages; 3) Majority farming community’s increased awareness of minority farmers’ contributions; 4) Maintaining/enhancing current minority farming operations; 5) Increased economic viability and stability of Michigan minority farming operations; 6) Greater awareness and improved natural resource base.
This Multi-Cultural Farmer Mentor project seeks to support and improve the profitability of African-American and Hispanic/Latino family farming operations via mentoring, and to increase awareness of minority farmers within Michigan. To reach these objectives, we will: 1) Identify and support six African-American or Hispanic/Latino farmer mentors; 2) Select six mentee families per year for two years from identified interested families; 3) Engage in intensive mentoring of the farm families; 4) Support mentors via a mentor coordinator, quarterly meetings, training, organizational involvements, and whole farm conservation plans; 5) Support mentees via farm visits, SARE-developed course “Tilling the Soil of Opportunity,” other training, development, implementation of business and marketing plans, organizational involvement, published farm profile, information about various USDA programs, and development of whole farm conservation plans; 6)Assess and document progress.
Two brief major accomplishments: one family went from no knowledge of USDA/Extension/SARE programs to knowledge of many. They received intensive training on blueberry propagation, constructed their own greenhouse and propagated their new blueberry plants, cleared part of their land and tilled their soil, and planted their first field of blueberries. One member of another family had grown up on his grandfather’s fruit farm in Mexico and dreamed of one day being an owner/operator of a farm. This family purchased a fruit farm, relocated, and now has completed their first season on the farm. They have a farmers’ market on the property and have provided an outlet for local farmers as well as their own produce! They are currently taking the “Tilling the Soil of Opportunity” sessions, going through a RMA education program, and learning more about other government programs.
The coordinator, four mentors, nine mentees, and some other farmers have successfully completed the “Tilling the Soil of Opportunity” sessions. The program is currently offering its second set of sessions to farmers.
This project has heightened community awareness of smaller minority farmers/ranchers; we are mentoring more than the numbers accommodated by this project because of this awareness. There is a great need for agricultural education in the area -- whenever this project has educational sessions from local, state, or national resources the entire farming community is invited. This makes for a gathering of majority and minority farmers/ranchers and resource people, which brings better communication, creates bonds, develops more awareness of each other, provides cultural exchanges and helps bridge some of the barriers within our diverse society.
Milestones/Failures: One issue that effects most small farmers/ranchers is that they, more often than not, have an off-farm job so there is never enough time nor money to have an economically viable farming operation, there is no extra money to travel to many ag-related educational sessions, and they don’t have the time to be away from their farms when they could be working on some broken equipment that they can’t afford to have repaired.
Another devastating reality was that two mentees gave up. One family sold the farm and returned to Mexico and the other family felt relief was too long in coming and they were too far behind, so they just stopped trying to farm on a bigger scale.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
This project is of benefit to both producers and consumers.
More idle land has been put back into agricultural production. Greater awareness of our diverse population has brought about more cultural experiences, thus reducing some of the previously existing barriers. Better relationships between the general population and agricultural population. More buy-local products are available from participants and other area producers. The number of producers benefiting from this project is more than triple the number of the target group.
A larger number of growers are becoming far more aware and concerned about their neighbors and the environment around them. They are becoming involved in Integrated Pest Management, a safer more efficient use of chemicals that will eventually lead to more sustainable agricultural. Benefits to growers has been: more farmers’ markets, participation in USDA/Project Fresh markets, CSA markets developed, vast amounts of education from SARE, USDA, and Extension. The extension awareness has worked both ways, producers are using the services more and the extension offices are making more and better services available.
The outreach from this project has broadened the horizon for both minority and majority community alike.