New Entry Sustainable Farming Project transitioning farmer program
The New Entry Sustainable Farming Project (NESFP) assists recent immigrants with farming experience to develop successful farming enterprises in Massachusetts. They produce ethnic and conventional vegetables and herbs that they sell at farmers’ markets, to local ethnic groceries, and restaurants. They farm on land that NESFP or the farmers themselves lease from established farms or land trusts. NESFP staff and multiple partners (government agencies, Extension, academia, community groups, non-profits, and farmers) provide education, small loans, equipment, and marketing links. NESFP training and technical assistance (T&TA) focuses on sustainable vegetable production, financial management and marketing, and employs multiple communications strategies to reach farmers with diverse backgrounds, education, and literacy. Our Winter Training Program for new farmers entering the NESFP meets for 18 weeks and is followed by in-season training and on-farm technical assistance.
But this is by definition a transitional stage; our more fundamental goal is for them to establish sustainable, independent farming operations. During the initial three years of the beginning farmer phase, participants are expected to plan and begin to implement this transition. Once on their own, farmers should no longer require in-depth project assistance. This allows us to work with the next group of newly enrolled farmers. With SARE support, NESFP is designing and pilot testing a Transitioning Farmer Program to assist new entry immigrant farmers to develop independent enterprises. It will feature two linked components:
1. Transitioning Farmer Enterprise Plans: NESFP will help farmers to develop comprehensive transitioning farm enterprise plans that build on their existing farm business, crop production, and marketing plans. Each plan will incorporate a set of objectives reflecting NESFP’s Holistic Farming Framework that incorporates whole farm planning, sustainable farming, risk management, and market-based enterprise planning. Components will include: farm planning and self-assessment; farming knowledge and skills; farming resources – e.g., credit, labor, facilities, equipment, transportation; farmland access (lease or purchase); farmsite operations and site management; market-based production; post-harvest; marketing; financial management; recordkeeping; and farm sector access and participation. Each plan will also include specific target indicators of progress for each objective. For example, under farmland, objectives may include details for locating land or a farm of a desired size; securing a lease or purchase agreement; doing site improvements, and securing a source of water.
2. NESFP transitioning farmer training and technical assistance: In order to assist participating farmers to achieve their objectives, NESFP will develop and pilot a transitioning farmer training and technical assistance (T&TA) program. Core components include farm enterprise planning, business planning /management, sustainable/organic crop production practices, post-harvest handling, and direct marketing. Specific topics and priorities will be selected with farmers’ input and derived from experience working with immigrant farmers over 6 seasons. In-season training will feature on-farm workshops, visits to other farms and marketing facilities, and participation at farm conferences and meetings.
Performance target: Of 40 immigrant farmers who graduate our initial training courses between 2004-2006, 20-25 will participate in a 3-year Transitioning Farmer Program to develop sustainable farming enterprises. Of these, 8-10 will achieve independent farm operations, and another 8-10 will make significant progress towards achieving a viable farming operation. This will help to establish environmentally sustainable and economically viable farming enterprises, wherein recent immigrants succeed as part of the next generation of farmers in Massachusetts.
* In 2005-2006, 20-25 participating farmers will develop individual transitioning farmer enterprise plans, including specific objectives and indicators of progress for establishing independent farm enterprises within 2-3 years. In tandem, these 20-25 farmers will participate in a new transitioning farmer training and technical assistance (T&TA) program, beginning in 2005. They will build knowledge and skills through workshops, farm visits, and participation in farm conferences and meetings. Farmers will receive up to 10 hours a month of consultations to address their strategies and problems toward meeting their farm enterprise plan objectives.
* Transitioning and independent farmers will improve product quality and marketing through access to centralized post-harvest handling facilities and through participation in a new marketing cooperative, both beginning in 2005.
NESFP will help farmers locate independent farmsites, assess remediation needs, and plan site improvements. At least 2 farmers are expected to move onto independent sites by mid-2006, 3-5 by mid 2007, and 3-5 by mid-2008. Another 12-15 will make significant progress by the end of the project, based on indicators in their transitional plans. We will evaluate each farmer’s progress in meeting objectives and indicators, both during the project period and at the end. We will also determine and characterize how many farmers achieve genuine independent status, using reasonably objective criteria for assessing what constitutes a sustainable farming enterprise.
“From 2005-2006, 20-25 participating farmers will prepare individual transitioning farmer enterprise plans that will establish their personal objectives and indicators for establishing an independent farm enterprise within 2-3 years.”
We are delayed in getting this underway, because we spent more than 7 months trying to fill the position for the person heading up this initiative. It was much harder than anticipated to find the appropriate candidate, despite a national outreach effort. That person, McKenzie Boekholder, came on board at the beginning of February, and as a result, the overall timetable for the project more or less begins from this point. A second delay for some farmers occurred because the owner of one of our training sites, according to Hmong who farm there has been pre-empting opportunities for them to participate in the NESFP. We are actively trying to resolve this, but it may at minimum delay their participation this year or possibly beyond that.
“Beginning winter 2005, NESFP will pilot its new transitioning farmer training and technical assistance (T&TA) program.” This work with farmers is delayed, as we are just beginning to interview farmers about the program. On-site T&TA will be part of the 2006 season.
“Beginning in 2005, we will assist 20+ farmers to start identifying farm sites for sale or lease. We will assist 10 farmers to assess remediation needs and to plan site improvements.” Ibid. re. the delay.
“In 2005 NESFP will set up a centralized facility to improve handling, washing, storage, cooling, packaging, and transportation for use by 20-25 NESFP farmers in the Lowell / Dracut area, and assist 10-15 farmers in other areas to access similar facilities. NESFP and 12 farmers will initiate a marketing cooperative that will distribute products to both retail and wholesale outlets.” This is completed and the coop is underway. This season we have at least 9 farmers participating and the coop will look to at least double its sales.
“By mid-2006, at least 15 participating farmers will have made significant progress on their transitional plans, with 2 moving onto independent sites. By mid 2007 and 2008, at least 20 and then 25 participating farmers respectively will have made significant transitional progress and 3-5 will move onto independent sites each year.” This will be delayed per above for 6-8 months.
“Performance target: Of 40 immigrant farmers who graduate our initial training courses between 2004-2006, 20-25 will participate in a 3-year Transitioning Farmer Program to develop sustainable farming enterprises. Of these, 8-10 will achieve independent farm operations, and another 8-10 will make significant progress towards achieving viable farming operations.” We still hope to achieve these targets, though the timetable is pushed back as explained.
New Entry Sustainable Farming Project
9 Central St., Room 402