Growing Farmers Training Program
The Growing Farmers Training Program at Community CROPS had an impressive year in 2013. The workshop series continued to grow with 31 participants representing 26 different farms attending. Prairie Pines, our new incubator site, accepted the largest number of participants yet; seven new farms are being started at the site. The farm advisory committee continues to help guide the program, and the CROPS CSA continues to be a valuable market for beginning farmers, as well as a strong example of what a collaborative CSA could look like. Funds from this grant have allowed CROPS to continue to improve the quality of education the farmers of southeast Nebraska are receiving as well as improving our available library of resources and tools.
In 2013, 17 farmers attended the full winter workshop series from 12 farms. We successfully transitioned to Prairie Pines and took on three new farmers. This brought the total number of farms up to eight with 15 different farmers participating. In 2014, we will be taking on seven new farms, for a total of nine farms and 16 farmers at the farm. We anticipate the number of farmers growing each year at a steady pace. Our CSA became a bigger market for our farmers in the incubator program and for our farmers from the workshop series, with 174 shares sold. This allowed more of our farmers to gain experience with large wholesale contracts, as well as experience participating in a collaborative CSA. The farm advisory committee met twice in 2013 including during a workshop class to provide participants with assistance on their farm plans.
Our most dedicated third year farmer made over $8,000 this year, our other third-year farmer found he had less time to focus on his farm but still managed to earn $5,000. Our second year farmers all brought in about $4000 each while overcoming obstacles such as a increase in work off the farm, new babies, and months out of the country. Each of our first year farmers execeeded their goals of $1000 in income. They explored different markets and found out which market worked for their lifestyle. One of these second year farmers is doubling his land at Prairie Pines and taking more of a leadership role at the farm, while the other has left to farm off site and is making market connections in anticipation of this growing season.
This year, we had roughly 40 total participants in our workshops and classes, a lower number than anticipated. The primary reason for this smaller number is the timing of the classes. We heard from beginning farmers that while they would have loved to come to the classes they were held at inopportune times. We are now trying to restructure our classes so that more farmers can come to them, which is a delicate balance between offering classes in the off season, when farmers have more time, and offering them when crops are growing so they can be hands-on and in the field.
We were able to attend the 8th Annual Immigrant and Minority Farmers Conference hosted by the Association for the Advancement of Hmong Women in Minnesota, Minnesota Food Association, USDA Farm Service Agency and USDA Natural Resource Conservation Services. One staff attended along with one of our third-year farmers. Together they were able to make connections with over 30 farmers, comparing stories and sharing information. Community CROPS also participated in the National Incubator Farm Training conference this fall. At this conference, 30 different incubators shared their stories. We also attended the Kansas City Dig Deeper Tour and visited 8 different sites and about 10 different farmers. At each of these events we invited regional incubator programs to a regional meet-up. Unfortunately, none of the participants could make it down for the meet-up this year despite us having funds to compensate them for their time.
The farm advisory committee was available when called upon to set polices and give our farmers guidance about starting up small businesses.
In 2013, we successfully finished transitioning to the new site, Prairie Pines. The infrastructure was completed and we were able to start the season on time. Our farmers hit the ground running and had one of their most successful years to date. The CSA grew to 174 members making it the largest wholesale market available for our farmers. The farmers at Prairie Pines sold more than $23,000 to the CSA and about $8,000 at the farmers’ market. The farmer from Prairie Pines who attended the Holiday Harvest Farmers’ Market sold out of his produce within the first few hours of the market. The two graduates of our program are in the process of securing land for this next season. The 2014 Growing Farmers class is the biggest to date. We have 31 participants from 26 different farms. We also are continuing to see graduates retake classes and asking more specific questions. They are still in need of more information that is tailored to their businesses growing needs, which is encouraging us to plan for intermediate level classes on specific skills and expanding markets.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
The CROPS CSA purchased over $45,000 worth of produce and eggs from beginning farmers in 2013, including farmers who had been through our program but are farming on their own. These vegetables went to our CSA members, to youth group homes, families in need through a backpack program and were donated to a food distribution site for people in need. Seventeen farmers attended 7 or more workshops in 2013 and started six different farming businesses. Of the eight farmers who were out at Prairie Pines last year, 2 graduated and are actively planning on farming, three are staying on site and expanding their businesses, two left to start a farm on their own, and one left due to family reasons.
Growing Farmers Training Program Manager
1551 S. 2nd Street
Lincoln, NE 68502-1908
Office Phone: 4024749802