New Entry Sustainable Farming Project transitioning farmer program
The New Entry Sustainable Farming Project (NESFP) was started in 1998 to assist recent immigrants with farming experience to develop successful farming enterprises in Massachusetts. These immigrants reside primarily in Lowell, Fitchburg, and Worcester. They produce “ethnic” and conventional vegetables and herbs that they sell at farmers markets, to local ethnic groceries, and restaurants. With some exceptions, 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 communication 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.
Most of these new-entry farmers learn to grow crops successfully in this region, develop farming knowledge and skills in the Northeast, and develop some initial markets. 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. Some NESFP farmers have made this transition, but many more have not. They are seeking more assistance to help achieve this independence. As part of the NESFP 2003-2007 Strategic Plan, the project has started to develop and implement the strategies, procedures and conditions for helping farmers successfully transition to independence.
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 farm operations.
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. These transitional enterprise plans will be reviewed with NESFP staff and partners 3 times yearly, and updated annually through 2008.
NESFP was unable to begin utilizing the money awarded by this grant until the beginning of 2006 due to hiring constraints. A Technical Assistance Coordinator was hired in February 2006 to begin SARE-funded job responsibilities after a 10-month hiring process. The NESFP timeline for SARE related project goals is one full year behind in the usage of funds and in project implementation. Please take this into consideration when reading through this and the other 2006 milestones and outcomes.
NESFP staff began meeting with farmers in 2006 to begin the process of establishing goals and objectives for their transitioning farm enterprise plans. The Project has started to identify the needs and capacity of 8 growers in relation to their transitioning farm plans and have made progress in both evaluating farmer goals and assessing the farmers’ current degrees of capacity.
NESFP has discovered that many farmers are not ready to create transitioning plans until they have a better grasp on the technical aspects of production and access to farming resources. This year, NESFP piloted a new Technical Assistance Program that was designed to meet farmers’ technical production needs, marketing needs, and create greater access to farming resources. NESFP observed that a farmer’s proficiency and foundation in the aforementioned areas is critical to the development of his or her transitioning plan. A good deal of staff time and project resources were put into piloting the new Technical Assistance Program as a way of preparing farmers for the next steps towards their transitional farm plans.
Currently, NESFP is assembling a comprehensive Transitioning Farmer Manual that will be used by The Project and its farmers as a road map through the transitioning farmer process. This document will include guides, tools, milestones and tangible indicators of progress for the key areas of farmer transition such as: Business planning, Farmer self-assessment, Farming knowledge and skills, Farmland and agreements, and Farming resources. The template will guide staff and farmers through a series of competencies and indicators of progress outlined under each of the key areas listed above. The farmers and staff will be able to objectively see where the farmer is in their transition at any given point. Ideally, farmers will be working within the context of The Guide to create an all-encompassing, dynamic transitioning farmer document (enterprise plan) that ends in real farmer transition. The Guide will be primarily used as a tool for NESFP and project farmers, but will be made available to others in time. To this end, NESFP has been working with 8 project farmers and has assisted 4 to transition to their own independent sites.
NESFP recognizes that a farmer’s physical transition to new farmland (off NESFP training farm sites) is not necessarily the same as true farmer independence. Shifting farmers to new land does not eliminate the needs of growers who still rely on interpreted farming information, access to resources, and continual production and marketing assistance. This year, NESFP found that both trainees and veteran producers need more in-depth technical assistance and training if their goal is to transition to independence. More time is needed with many project farmers to increase knowledge, skills and access to resources. The 2006 season has been successful in providing project farmers with more opportunities to have one-on-one technical assistance, ultimately empowering them to make educated decisions about their future in farming. The 2006 season has been sobering because NESFP realized that the technical and business skills needed by new farmers and trainees are acute. The new 2006 T&TA program met more of these needs, thereby assisting farmers to be in a better position to define their transitioning goals and create their enterprise plans in the future.
Beginning winter 2005, NESFP will pilot its new transitioning farmer training and technical assistance (T&TA) program. Throughout the project period, 20-25 farmers will participate in advanced workshops, on-farm trainings, visits to other farms and marketing facilities, and attend farm conferences. Each farmer will receive up to 10 hours per month in individual and group consultations to address their transitional farming implementation.
In 2006, 3 farmers attended and participated in an advanced workshop on marketing, 3 farmers attended an advanced workshop on specialty crop production, and 4 more farmers attended a workshop visit on starting a new farm. Many more farmers were able to make time for on-farm workshops as opposed to off-site events this year.
The on-farm workshops were better attended than off-site events because on-farm events required less time in travel than many of the off-site events. The farmers had little time for faming in addition to other part-time or full-time off-farm employment, let alone time to spare for traveling to workshops. The on-farm trainings consisted of Equipment use and Management, Pests and Pesticide usage, and Seedling Propagation.
The Equipment Training was attended by 7 farmers who learned how to safely operate, maintain and problem solve with the NESFP BCS tractor/rototiller. This training was lead by NESFP staff.
The Pests and Pesticide usage training was attended by 7 farmers who learned the importance of safety when using pesticides. The workshop also taught the farmers how to calibrate their spray equipment, which pesticides were most effective for specific pests, how to calculate amounts of water and pesticides needed, and stressed the importance of record keeping when using pesticides. NESFP staff and UMass Extension Entomologist, Ruth Hazzard directed this training.
The Seedling Propagation training was attended by 6 farmers. This training taught the farmers about materials selection, and the role and importance of each material in the potting mix. The farmers were taught how to make their own organic potting mix, how to source the materials necessary and how to make their own soil blocks in which to start their own seeds. The farmers practiced making the soil mix, making the soil blocks, and also started some of their own seedling during this training. NESFP staff directed this workshop.
In general, the farmers gained a more in-depth understanding of the respective subject matter from the trainings. The trainings were approximately half-day events and were followed up on a one-to-one basis by NESFP staff throughout the 2006 growing season.
Individual technical assistance sessions were facilitated by NESFP staff and partners and served to increase farmers’ practical skills, record keeping capacity, farming and business-related knowledge, and access to farm resources in general. NESFP piloted an intensive T&TA program that ensured direct, individual and group assistance through the creation of a consistent in-field protocol. The application of the new TA program and protocol ensured that NESFP staff would be available and equipped to meet farmers in the field or in the office, on a weekly basis. Staff and farmers together chose the topics covered in the weekly technical assistance sessions. The 2006 TA program emphasized production, record keeping, marketing, pests and pesticides, water usage and soil moisture, post harvest handling, succession planting, season extension, and other areas of risk management. During the 2006 season, 24 farmers and trainees received a total of 327 hours of group and individual technical assistance. The technical assistance provided will hopefully serve to move the Transitioning Farmer Plans forward. Eight farmers received 83 hours of direct assistance in specifically addressing transitional farmer implementation.
The 8 farmers who benefited from transitional planning will continue to require in-depth project assistance in order to make their plans and transitions successful. It is the hope of NESFP that the continued development and implementation of the new T&TA program will afford progress with the transitional plans for more of our farmers.
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.
Over 88 potential farm sites with a combination of 1,544 available acres have been identified and are listed in an NESFP database. The database is available to all farmers enrolled in, or who have been enrolled in, any NESFP program. The 45 farmers who have graduated the initial training course since 2004 have the option of accessing the NESFP farmland files if they wish. The sites vary in ownership, geography, suitability, resources, and remediation needs. NESFP has been working with conservation organizations such as The Trustees of Reservations, various town Conservation Commissions, private land owners and many real estate agents to identify land that is suitable for farming and is located in eastern and central Massachusetts, close to urban centers where participants reside.
This year, NESFP has assisted 5 project farmers to assess remediation needs and to plan site improvements. In 2006, 4 project farmers were able to implement some or all of the NESFP recommended site improvements and have made significant steps towards individual site remediation. Remediation and site improvement steps included irrigation pond water testing, percolation/water feasibility studies, and soil testing.
In 2006, one well was installed on an independent site and 2 sites totaling 10 acres have been plowed, soil tested, amended and cover cropped . Other site improvements include fencing repair and outbuilding updates. NESFP staff has educated landowners and NESFP farmers about community resources available to them (EQIP, NRCS) that could help defray the cost of farm and site improvements in the future.
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.
During the summers of 2006 and 2006, NESFP set up a centralized facility for post-harvest washing, packaging, cooling and transportation at its Richardson Farm site in Dracut, MA. The new washing facility is easily accessible to most participants in the NESFP program and is designed so that the farmers can wash large (or small) quantities of vegetables in a cool, shaded area. Adequate space is available to then drain and package the vegetables. The cooler unit, which abuts the washing station, is located close-by so that the farmers can immediately place their clean, packaged products in a temperature-controlled facility. The NESFP produce transport van is parked at the Richardson’s Farm site, so that when the farmers are finished with their post harvest washing, packaging, and cooling, the transport van is readily accessible. Eleven NESFP farmers directly benefited from this station in 2006 and many used it regularly.
In 2005, NESFP assisted many project farmers in starting a farmer-driven marketing cooperative, called World Peas Coop. In the first season, the coop piloted sales at 2 area farmers markets. In 2006, World Peas Coop expanded its marketing efforts and distributed to 3 wholesale accounts, 4 farmers markets, an urban farm stand, and started a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program, which successfully served 15 members in the 2006 season. In total, 9 NESFP farmers were involved in and contributed to the marketing coop and sales increased four-fold over 2005. Plans are underway to continue to expand production and markets for the coop for the 2007 season.
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.
Because of the change in the timeline for implementation, NESFP is behind one full year (as noted above) in achieving its milestones set forth. The program has started transitional farming work with 8 program farmers. Of these 8 farmers, 4 have been successfully transitioned to an independent site, but are still reliant on the program for technical and other assistance. It will be the work of NESFP to help the farmers transition completely, so that they are no longer reliant on NESFP for in-depth technical services.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
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.
45 immigrant farmers have graduated our initial training course between 2004-2006. Of those 45 farmers, 9 have been actively participating in the next steps towards developing their sustainable farming enterprises. These 9 farmers have been working diligently and regularly with NESFP staff to build practical farming foundations that will enable them to envision a legitimate and individualized transitioning plan. The 9 farmers have each met with TA staff on a weekly to bi-weekly basis during the winter of 2005-2006 and on a weekly basis during the 2006 growing season.
8-10 farmers will achieve independent farm operations.
In the year 2006, 4 NESFP farmers achieved independent farm operations. These four farmers worked closely with TA staff to find and secure farmland, assess and address remediation needs, make site improvements, develop lease agreements and physically transition their production to independent farm sites.
The NESFP farmers who have officially moved to independent farm sites will still require in-depth technical and business assistance from NESPF over the course of the next growing season, perhaps beyond. These farmers are considered to be physically transitioned but are in no position to be independent of NESFP and other technical resources. The farmers will also require assistance with business and market planning and general production guidance as a whole. NESFP will continue to work closely with the farmers on independent sites to help ensure their full transitions.
Overall Outcomes for 2006
In 2006 NESFP has made progress with parts of the development and implementation of the Transitioning Farmer Program and also the Training and Technical Assistance aspect of the program. NESFP has produced a farmer field manual, staffed and piloted a comprehensive T& TA program, created a marketing co-op with farmers, started to assemble a farmland data bank, and started to assemble a Transitioning Farmer Guide.
The initiatives set in motion this year are intended to assist farmers in building a foundation that allows them to achieve long term independence and sustainable farmer enterprise plans.
New Entry Sustainable Farming Project
9 Central St., Room 402