Growing Farmers Training Program

Project Overview

LNC11-333
Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2011: $164,676.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2014
Region: North Central
State: Nebraska
Project Coordinator:
Ingrid Kirst
Community CROPS

Annual Reports

Information Products

Commodities

  • Fruits: berries (brambles), berries (strawberries)
  • Vegetables: asparagus, beans, beets, broccoli, cabbages, carrots, cucurbits, eggplant, garlic, greens (leafy), leeks, onions, parsnips, peas (culinary), peppers, radishes (culinary), tomatoes, turnips, brussel sprouts
  • Additional Plants: herbs

Practices

  • Education and Training: farmer to farmer, workshop
  • Production Systems: organic agriculture

    Abstract:

    This project addressed the need to educate and train beginning farmers who were immigrants, refugees or limited-resource individuals. They learned sustainable, small-scale farming methods with an emphasis on direct-market vegetable production. Community Crops built on the winter workshop series and on the incubator farm that was already in place. We chose to use a combination of classroom based learning and land-based training to assist beginning farmers start their own businesses. Experts lead discussions on their particular fields including business planning, whole farm management, pest control, season extension and food safety. Crops utilized a farm advisory committee and past participant surveys to shape and improve both the workshop series and the incubator program. We also added in-field sessions in the summer. These sessions were a mix of land and classroom training that specifically touched on seasonal skills and topics.

     

    Introduction:

    The Growing Farmers Training Program worked with limited-resource producers to help them start and succeed at farming. A Limited-Resource Producer is defined by the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service as farmers who gross farm sales of $40,000 or less for the past three years with no off-farm income, have total household net income below 75% of the non-metropolitan median for the state/county, lack capital, labor or equipment access, have farms significantly smaller than the average, or face social, cultural or language skills with below-average formal education. In this report we will use the term limited-resource producer to refer to immigrant, refugee and low-income beginning farmers.

    Our project expanded outreach to a larger number of participants attending workshops and field days, and growing on the training farm. This funding allowed Community Crops to build upon the successes of our 2007-2009 SARE project and further expand the number of local producers in our area.

    This report covers the time period from November 2011 through May 2014. This included two growing seasons, 2012 and 2013 and three workshop series, 2012, 2013 and 2014.

    Project objectives:

    1. 80 new and existing farmers per year will gain increased knowledge and skills in sustainable business management, marketing and productions techniques and systems through workshops and field days.

      Throughout the grant period, we had 85 participants in our workshop series and our field days. These farmers gained knowledge on business skills from local experts. They also saw first-hand sustainable farming practices. The knowledge they received improved their businesses. We found that the majority of farmers preferred the winter workshops to the summer workshops. Attendance decreased dramatically from winter to summer. When we reached out to farmers, many of them lamented not being able to attend, citing needing to work in the fields as the reason for their absence for summer classes.

    2. 150 families will purchase community supported agriculture (CSA) shares each year, with produce supplied by participants and the demonstration farmer-teachers.

      In 2012, we had 163 CSA members, and in 2013 there were 265. This grew the market for our farmers at Prairie Pines and gave them experience in wholesale marketing. Our CSA grew large enough to also support some off site farmers as well. We found that this market was crucial for many of the farmers, both on and off site, and their success.

       

    3. 10-15 limited resource producers per year will access land at the Crops farm to begin their farm business. They will gain skills and experience inorganic production, farm management and marketing through field walks, marketing support and one on one planning meetings.

      In 2012, our incubator program was located at Sunset. We had 11 farmers start the season. In 2013, we moved to Prairie Pines which was a larger location and allowed us to start 13 farmers on site. We found that by allowing farmers to get their businesses started some of them inevitably found it to be too much for them. We count these stories as successes as well, as it allowed them that experience.

       

    4. Gross earnings from farming of individual beginning limited resource producers will be at least $1000 in their first year, at least $ 4000 in their second year, and third-year farmers will earn at least $6500

      In 2012, farmers who were first year participants earned an average of $2500 from wholesale sales alone, second years earned on average $6200 and third-years earned $4675. The third-year farmers had many other markets, and we estimate that all together they earned $7000 on average in all of their markets.

      In 2013, farmers who were first year participants earned an average of $1700 from wholesale sales alone. Second years earned about $4000 and our third-years earned an average of $7000 from wholesale sales. Some of the farmers only had wholesale accounts while others focused on restaurants and farmers markets. We found it difficult to collect data on the various markets. Not many of them would share those numbers, and when we did collect them, they were often estimates. Going forward, we are focusing more on getting accurate numbers on the various markets and sales. The numbers that were reported qualified most of our producers for Schedule F reporting and the third-year farmers did have enough data to qualify for a Farm Service Agency Loan.

       

    5. 25-35 regional limited resource producers per year will share stories and knowledge with one another. Community Crops was involved in or hosted 11 different chances for limited-resource producers to come together to share knowledge and experiences. Through these events an informal network was started. Now there is a facebook group, for producers only, and approximately half of the members are Crops producers and mentors. This allows producers to ask questions and get answers as well as share experiences both positive and negative. We had planned to hold a regional gathering of staff and beginning farmers from other incubator sites, but scheduling it was challenging, as many of these producers were simply to busy. We had hoped by covering travel costs and offering a small stipend to attend, it would encourage attendance, but that wasn’t sufficient. In the future, we organize an event at the end of the season so that more participants could attend.

       

    6. Farm advisory committee provides consultation on needs and opportunities for project.

      The farm advisory committee met seven times in the past three years. They worked hard to provide feedback that ended up shaping the current workshop series, as well as the Growing Farmers program as a whole. The workshop series curriculum was fine tuned and restructured to provide more relevant training. The farmers that were involved had varying levels of experience allowing us to draw from their needs and knowledge.

       

     

    1. 4-6 additional service providers will be identified and receive support from Crops staff on how to better meet the needs of limited-resource producers (USDA, Extension).

       

      Crops staff worked with area agencies to strengthen the training our participants received. We focused on finding experts to cover each workshop topic. We brought in a USDA agent to speak about the opportunities and programs USDA has for beginning farmers. A micro lender presented about business plans, how to write them and why they are important for planning. We found extension agents to talk about pest control and common pests in our area. Finally we brought in seasoned farmers who could speak from experience on seed starting, integrated farm management, and season extension. As part of presenting to our workshop participants, Crops staff worked with the presenters on how they could most effectively share their information with a diverse, multilingual audience. Presenters also learned additional techniques based on participant questions during the sessions.

     

    Long term goals of this project were:

    • 20 limited-resource producers will realize their farm goals through long term leases or farm ownership

    • Supply of local, organic and sustainable produce will increase for the local community

    • 3 socially-disadvantaged producer referrals will be made for the Farm Ownership Loans and/or Operating loans through the Farm Service Agency

    • Agricultural land will be maintained in sustainable farming

    We are continuously working toward these goals and tracking this data. Production on sustainable land has increased over the course of this grant period, resulting in more vegetables on the marketplace. We have found that it is hard to connect limited-resource farmers with land available to purchase. The price of land in Nebraska and throughout the region has increased dramatically, making it challenging for a beginning farmer to purchase land. Long term leasing is a more realistic goal, but there are not many suitable properties as many are too large for the amount of land that a sustainable vegetable farmer needs, and others lack good water access. Crops is looking into strategies to get more farmers onto acres including finding land to sublet to these farmers for the long term.

    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.