Connecting beginning and aspiring farmers with mentors is essential in an era when 60% of Michigan farmers are 55 or older. Mentors make the difference between farm entrepreneurs who overcome the formidable barriers to success and those who cannot. This project aims to inspire a future where all beginning farmers have mentors.
Michigan Sustainable Farm Mentors will create 42 mentor-mentee pairs to engage in meaningful, directed conversations. Uniquely, mentors will also review farmer documents to provide “positive, actionable” feedback and peer mentee discussions will follow each mentorship meeting.
Online forms and an online Meet & Greet will match mentee-mentor pairs by enterprises and choice following one-on-one conversations. Beginning farmer pairs will have five discussions about financial viability, environmental sustainability and social responsibility (FES sustainability). Aspiring farmer pairs will discuss land/credit access and opportunities to gain production/entrepreneurial skills.
Michigan Sustainable Farm Mentors will benefit mentees through collaboration with an experienced farmer and a peer to improve FES sustainability or overcoming startup barriers. Mentors gain opportunities to transfer farming expertise to the next generation. Mentors and mentees will be fairly compensated. The project will strengthen beginning farmer success, bolstering Michigan’s food and agriculture systems, land tenure, economy, environment and rural/urban communities.
Project objectives from proposal:
- Recruit mentees via farm networks, social media, conferences and webinars
- Connect 21 beginning farmers with mentors for FES sustainability discussions
- Connect 21 aspiring farmers with mentors to discuss land/credit access and business/production skill-building
- Pair 42 mentees for peer discussions
- Provide positive, actionable feedback on documents
- Train farmers as mentors and document reviewers
- Coordinate trainings and evaluation where mentors and mentees lead project planning
- Document improved FES sustainability of beginning farmers
- Document aspiring farmer actions to access land, credit and skills
- Compare impact of farmer mentors to peer discussions
- Create a replicable farm mentorship model to share via conferences and articles