Sustainable Agriculture Mentor Program
Interest in sustainable agriculture is growing, but conversion to sustainable agriculture practices
is not widespread. This bottleneck is due to a lack of knowledge and experience by farmers in
how to implement sustainable practices and technology. The best source of this information may
be neighbors and other farmers who have already experienced the transition. The Nebraska
Sustainable Agriculture Mentor Program is a state-wide program initiated in the fall of 1993,
with the focus of connecting transitional or beginning farmers with experienced, successful
sustainable agriculture farmers. The program is co-sponsored by the University of
Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL), Nebraska Sustainable Agriculture Society (NSAS), and the Center for
1) Create a mentoring program to help farm families implement sustainable agriculture practices
2) Evaluate the mentor program and share progress with others.
Eighteen mentors, reflecting a geographical and subject expertise dispersion, were recruited for
this project. A mentor handbook was developed and used throughout the project as a reference.
Contact was made with the mentors from time-to-time to check on progress of the mentoring
process and to inform them about professional improvement (PI) activities (meetings, farm tours,
and other educational activities and opportunities). Participating farm families met one-on-one
with a program mentor who assisted them in implementing sustainable agricultural practices.
Mentors were reimbursed for their time and expenses by the program.
Project publicity and promotional efforts were conducted throughout the life of the project,
including: newsletters, newspaper articles, and popular magazine articles. Project brochures were
sent to all the major agriculture agencies. The project was also promoted at a number of
agriculture meetings by UNL Extension and NSAS staff at the NSAS Western and Annual
meetings, and the Nebraska Cooperative Extension Association annual meetings. Mentors were
encouraged to give presentations at the meetings and to give farm tours that highlight their
Results from evaluation of program participants conducted at the end of the project showed that
farmers like one-on-one mentoring. Nearly 90 percent of the participants said that the project
should continue, even if no further funding was secured. Participants in general were very
pleased with the project. Almost 70 percent of the mentored farmers said that they changed their
operation as a result of working with a project mentor. Of those that didn't change their operation
the most common answer was that the timing was not right for change. Only 35 percent of the
mentored farmers said they changed their thinking about sustainable agriculture due to working
with a project mentor. Those that didn't change their thinking went on to say that they already
were in agreement with sustainable agriculture.
Potential Contributions and Practical Applications:
A number of positive benefits have resulted from the mentor program, including leadership and
human capital development from the training of the mentors. Also, the mentees expressed
appreciation for personalized one-on-one help from the mentor. One-on-one mentoring provides
a positive relationship for technology transfer. It also works towards building community in rural
areas. Information from this project has been sent out to others interested in starting a mentorship
Areas Needing Further Study:
Promotion is critical to the success of this project. A formal marketing/advertising campaign
with an appropriate budget would have been useful. Farmers liked the mentoring process but
continuing efforts are needed to nurture the process from initial contacts by interested farmers to
a successful mentor-mentee relationship. If left on their own many initial contacts would produce
little follow-up. It seemed that an outside person (project coordinator) was needed to get both
parties to advance further in the mentoring process. More work needs to be done in this area.