- Animals: bovine, goats, sheep
- Animal Products: dairy
- Animal Production: animal protection and health, pasture fertility, pasture renovation, grazing - rotational, stockpiled forages, watering systems, winter forage
- Crop Production: multiple cropping
- Education and Training: farmer to farmer, mentoring, networking
- Farm Business Management: whole farm planning, marketing management
Beginning farmers as well as farmers transitioning to more sustainable systems such as grazing can greatly benefit from the guidance of more accomplished farmers. Four years ago, the Regional Farm & Food Project inaugurated an acclaimed Farmer-to-Farmer Mentoring Program with support from Northeast SARE.
Since then, it has become clear that a more structured, group-oriented approach would better serve beginning farmers and be more cost-effective. Thus, we devised "Farmer-Led Learning Groups to Mentor Beginning Farmers." For a 12-month period, we will pilot this program with four mentors each working with four to eight farmers in structured groups that meet for several hours monthly on farms. The groups will combine hands-on activities with conceptual learning. Each group will have a particular pasture-based animal agriculture focus, such as small ruminants for direct marketed meat and fiber, and a geographic focus. A number of likely candidates for these learning/mentoring groups can be identified from attendees at recent RFFP educational programs.
A skills and experience checklist developed by each mentor/group leader will structure the group's curriculum. The checklist will serve as a program evaluation tool and will help individual farmers track their progress.
To expose participants to additional farmer expertise, RFFP will organize three relevant one-day seminars. After one year, learning groups may decide to reconfigure as farmer networks.
Project objectives from proposal:
For one year, four Farmer-Led Learning Groups will each mentor 4 to 8 beginning farmers to deepen their skills in grass-based livestock or dairy farming.
Three one-day workshops will provide additional training to farmers in the project and others.
At the end of the project, several learning groups will expand into pasture networks.