Immigrant Sustainable Farming Pilot Project
Community Combining Resources, Opportunities and People for Sustainability (CROPS) has managed the Immigrant Sustainable Farming Pilot Project for three growing seasons, helping New American families realize their goals of running a farm business. A wide variety of participants bring diverse skills and needs to the program. During 2009, returning farmers expanded their operations and prepared to farm independently, and new farmers started their businesses. We continue to address language and cultural barriers, as well as barriers such as lack of transportation and limited resources while we work with these populations.
1. eighteen participating farmers with basic knowledge of sustainable farming and farming in Nebraska’s climate and soils
2. eighteen participating farmers with basic business skills and initial business plan
3. eighteen participating farmers with the knowledge and skills to market their products
4. resource providers and technical advisors who are familiar with the needs of the participants
5. participants meet farmer peers, mentor farmers and resource providers
1. ten new farmers will use their enhanced knowledge of sustainable farming and business skills to begin agriculture enterprises
2. three new participants will use ‘passing on the gift’ loans for livestock, bees, nursery stock, etc.
3. participants will sell crops to a variety of markets
4. participants will form networks for marketing, purchasing or sharing information
During 2009, Community CROPS offered an expanded set of training classes, with 30 people attending the sessions, of whom 8 were immigrants or refugees. SARE funding covered workshops on Organic soil management, weed and pest management, harvesting and post-harvest handling, while additional funding was secured to expand the courses into a comprehensive set of workshops by adding business and financial planning sessions. A summer post-harvest handling workshop was also held, taught by a local Organic farmer, which helped many people learn more about how to harvest and pack their produce, as well as good handling practices. In addition, an “Explore Farming” class was held in December with 38 participants attending to learn about whether owning a small farm was right for them. Several of these attendees then came to the full 2010 workshop series.
Four families grew crops at Sunset Community Farm in 2009. Several other initial participants had to drop out due to a variety of reasons including workload, pregnancy and moving out of state. While we had hoped to have more people actually growing at the farm, having a smaller number meant we could work more intensively with those growers and ensure their success. One-on-one help can mean the difference between losing a crop or having it ready to sell, as someone with more experience can point out that it is time to water, or explain how to organically control insects before they become a significant problem.
A business plan consultant with significant experience working with immigrants and refugees helped each participant to create business and financial plans in the spring. He then helped each person review their finances at the end of the year and to file their taxes. This helped each farmer assess their income for the year objectively.
A number of new training providers taught the farm training workshops during the season, including veteran farmers, Extension educators and a small business specialist. Staff worked with each trainer to help them present their materials in a way that was easily understood by the farmers. A local grower presented on marketing by setting up her entire farmers’ market stand in the classroom, which was a successful visual technique. Farm visits were also popular, as they allowed farmers to meet successful growers and see their operations.
New farmers sold $12,200 worth products this season—a healthy second income. They also saved money to use for buying seeds and supplies in 2010. The CROPS CSA was increased by 70% this year, with farmers providing 30% of the produce—a huge increase over previous years. CROPS participants also sold produce at the Community CROPS farmers’ market, Old Cheney Road farmers’ market, to local grocery stores, local restaurants, and through the on-line Nebraska Food Cooperative. They also sold products informally to family and friends, and donated thousands of dollars of surplus produce to food programs.
During 2009, two returning families took significant steps toward running an independent farm business, and are both renting land away from Sunset in 2010. This is a noteworthy accomplishment for the program! One family has been raising chickens and vegetables at Sunset, and in 2009, their third year, they sold almost all of their vegetables, broilers and eggs independently. They are now renting land elsewhere and expanding their operations. A second family has completed two full seasons growing at Sunset, and will use some land there during 2010, but also rent additional land elsewhere, so they can grow more vegetables. They have developed a farm name and logo, and have purchased market supplies through a small loan from CROPS. They will have their own weekly booth at the Old Cheney Road Farmers’ Market in 2010. Having land at Sunset means they can continue to sell products through the CROPS CSA, as well as benefit from advice from staff and other farmers.
We also had our first ‘passing on the gift’ loan completed in 2009. A family that had received garlic in the previous year passed on an equivalent amount to a first year farmer, which was an accomplishment for everyone involved. Farmers have been reluctant to take loans, even though they are interest free and they need them to buy needed supplies, so we have stopped using the word ‘loan’. Instead, we offer to buy items for the farmers, and have them pay us back at a future date. This seems to be more acceptable to them, but additional work needs to be done to identify ways for them to capitalize their businesses.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
Production of crops increased significantly at Sunset Farm in 2009. Total production by weight was 24,000 pounds of food, compared to 10,000 pounds in 2008. The majority of these crops which require transplanting were started from seed by the farmers, rather than being purchased as transplants. This provided them with cost savings and sturdy transplants to start the year well. Returning farmer income increased this year compared to what they earned last year. One family’s sales increased by $4000 and a second family’s income increased by over $1000.
Year-end surveys indicated that participants felt knowledgeable about sustainable production techniques, but needed more training in business and financial management, and some in marketing as well. We will be addressing these topics with the farmers more in 2010.
Lincoln, NE 68503
Office Phone: 4024642417