- Animal Production: grazing - rotational
- Education and Training: mentoring, workshop
- Farm Business Management: whole farm planning, budgets/cost and returns, marketing management, agricultural finance, market study
- Production Systems: holistic management
- Sustainable Communities: ethnic differences/cultural and demographic change
Opportunities exist in farming, especially for those who respond to the growing consumer interest in healthy food and stewardship of natural resources. A wide range of Ohioans started, or hope to start, a farm. Often passionate for farming, these beginning farmers face formidable challenges not only in gaining access to land and in financing their dreams, but also in finding good mentors, developing new networks, identifying high quality information sources, and securing learning opportunities customized to their needs. Beginning farmers seek to develop knowledge and gain new skills in sustainable agricultural production and business and look for learning opportunities responsive to their time-sensitive availability.
Beginning farmers are not only people at early stages of their working lives, but also mid-career changers and individuals retired from another occupation. Individuals with farming experience also sometimes think of themselves as beginning farmers, for example, if they are assuming the primary responsibility for an intergenerational farm or if they are beginning major changes in production or marketing practices to improve their farm’s sustainability.
In 2005 the North Central Region Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) Program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture awarded Innovative Farmers of Ohio (IFO) a contract to pilot a mentor-based program for beginning farmers in central Ohio. Wisdom in the Land was delivered two times as a 15-month program beginning either November 2006 or March 2007, and one time as a 6-month program beginning January 2008. The program was customized to the developmental priorities of each group, and offered knowledge-building seminars, skill-building workshops, and dedicated individualized mentoring with an experienced farmer either up to 30 hours (15-month program) or 18 hours (6-month program). Financial support and incentives per farm included publications, transportation stipends, and educational reimbursements. Each mentor received an honorarium and had contingent eligibility for a transportation stipend and an educational reimbursement.
This is a report of the pilot program Wisdom in the Land. It includes information about the participants of the program, the experienced farmers who mentored them, and the program content and process. It also summarizes changes the participating beginning farmers made as a result of program-related learning. (Also see a separate publication, Ohio Beginning Farmers Find Wisdom in the Land, Participant Profiles, 2006-2008 and Resource Directory, of 23 individual stories and an annotated directory of resource organizations both utilized for program delivery and that provide services, publications, and information beneficial to other Ohio beginning farmers.) Equally of interest and based upon program experiences, an analysis is made of mentoring relationships. This report additionally includes information about the involvement of other organizations through an Advisory Council, information about outreach and recruitment of participants and mentors, information about financial assistance offered and utilized.
Recommendations for future services to Ohio beginning farmers are made with input from participants, mentors, the program manager, and members of the Advisory Council.
Ohio beginning and transitioning farmers are not prepared to operate sustainable agricultural enterprises, and Ohio lacks a program that systematically provides holistic assistance to help such farmers access and utilize capital and credit, land, training, and markets.
The project was to develop and pilot an educational program that responds to beginning and transitioning Ohio farmers, building on program models from other States. Service Performance Targets included:
1. Two 15-month Programs
2. 40 Program Participants
3. Two Orientations
4. Twelve Seminars
5. Twelve Experiential Workshops
6. Individual Mentoring Relationships for 40 Program Participants
7. Financial Support for Other Professional Development Opportunities
8. 25 – 40 Mentors Recruited, Selected, Trained (for Individual Mentoring Assignments)
9. Write, Publish, and Distribute Profiles
10. Define Program Model Worthy of Replication throughout Ohio
In addition,a Leadership Council was to be established to assist with design, outreach and accountability, whose members especially assist with mentor recruitment.
A comprehensive evaluation plan was to be designed with consideration given to mentoring programs in other States.