From incubators to independence: Providing training and technical assistance to refugee farmers in New Hampshire
The problem the Organization for Refugee and Immigrant Success sought to address through “From Incubators to Independence” was that despite the success of refugee farm businesses on ORIS’ incubator farm, these farmers needed additional supports to plan for transitioning their businesses to operate independently. The primary stakeholders are Congolese, Bhutanese, Somali Bantu and other refugee farmers living in Manchester, NH.
13 farmers are currently receiving transitioning farmer support services through this project. At the beginning of the project period, staff met with farmers to identify goals for transitioning their businesses towards independence, and areas where they needed training and technical support. Farmer feedback informed ORIS’ approach in addressing long-term land access, access to capital, and business planning support services to ensure the long-term sustainability of immigrant farmers’ business operations.
- Farmers were interviewed at the beginning of the project period. Their feedback helped to shape the methods ORIS has used related to land access and access to capital.
ORIS contracted New Entry Sustainable Farming Project to share resources and best practices for transitioning farmers off of an incubator farm. ORIS staff compiled a questionnaire that was used as a discussion guide for this “training of trainers” conference call. ORIS staff facilitated the conference call with 1 staff member from New Entry Sustainable Farming Project, 2 staff from Cultivating Community and 2 staff from ORIS. The call focused on the following topics: Specific strategies for transitioning farmers off of the incubator farm; Major challenges and how New Entry is addressing them; farmland matching services, technical assistance provided to farmers after they leave the incubator farm.
ORIS developed a training schedule for winter of 2015, that includes workshops on cooperative development, finding and assessing farmland, secure and affordable tenure, and financial literacy. ORIS is collaborating with Cooperative Development Institute, Land For Good and New Entry Sustainable Farming Project to deliver these workshops.
ORIS staff interviewed farmers individually, to identify and document long-term land access priorities. These interviews revealed that all of the farmers wished to remain on the farm site in Dunbarton. When asked about how they would manage the daily farm operations without ORIS staff, the farmers said they wanted to “work together.” Based on this feedback, ORIS began approaching long-term land access support from a different angle than initially proposed in this project. Rather than seeking to transition farmers off of the incubator farm site, ORIS is now exploring opportunities to transition the active management of the Dunbarton site to the existing group as a land based cooperative, while ORIS seeks land elsewhere for its incubator farm. ORIS connected early on with the Russell Foundation, a non-profit committed to conserving and supporting the viability of active sustainable farm and forest land in New Hampshire. The Russell Foundation provides customized assistance to accelerate the pace of important farm and forest land conservation and to secure access for farmers.
Staff provided technical assistance to 12 farmers to complete their farm business annual profit and loss assessments for 2014. These will be utilized in helping farmers to create annual cash flow projections for 2015.
ORIS staff have scheduled meetings with farmers for January 2015, to develop holistic farm business plans that will include an action plan for transitioning their business toward independence.
After assessing farmers’ needs related to capital/credit, it became apparent that loans are not culturally appropriate, especially for Muslim farmers. ORIS staff reached out to the NH Community Loan Fund, which oversees a Small Business Individual Development Account (IDA) program, with an 8:1 match. In this IDA model, entrepreneurs can save up to $500, with a match of $4,000 that can be used toward the purchase of business related expenses. This money has to be saved for a minimum of 6 months, and a maximum of 18 months. After several discussions, the NHCLF and ORIS are partnering to enroll up to ten farmers. In order to qualify, the individuals must fill out the IDA application to prove income eligibility, complete 8 hours of financial literacy training, complete a business plan, and demonstrate the ability to save money without hurting their family’s financial health. ORIS has delivered 10 hours of financial literacy to 13 refugee farmers. This included helping farmers develop monthly household budgets and cash flow statements.
Objective 1: 15-20 farmers participate in advanced trainings related to: cooperative development, access to credit, and access to farmland.
Sub-task: Draft annual training and conference schedule (April 1, 2014)
- This task is complete
Sub-task: Inform producers of training and TA opportunities; coordinate translation (A Bye, Ongoing)
Sub-task: Collaborate to deliver 4-5 workshops on farmland access, cooperative development, access to credit (A Bye, April 1, 2014-February 15, 2015)
- ORIS delivered 5, 2-hour financial literacy workshops using ISED Solutions’ “Picture This” curriculum. This was added to the work plan, as part of the eligibility requirements for the Small Business IDA.
- ORIS is collaborating with the Cooperative Development Institute, New Entry Sustainable Farming Project, and Land for Good to fine tune workshop content for the following workshops: Introduction to Cooperative Principles, Secure and Affordable Tenure; and Finding and Assessing Farmland. These workshops are scheduled for January-February of 2015.
Objective 2: 20 farmers will receive technical assistance with finding and assessing farmland.
- At the beginning of the project, ORIS set out to identify potential farm sites within 20 miles of Manchester for use by farmers transitioning off of ORIS’ incubator site. Based on farmer feedback, ORIS is taking a different approach. One opportunity that farmers have advocated for is to transition the active management of the Dunbarton site to the existing group as a land based cooperative, while ORIS seeks land elsewhere for its incubator farm. ORIS connected early on with the Russell Foundation, a non-profit committed to conserving and supporting the viability of active sustainable farm and forest land in New Hampshire. The Russell Foundation provides customized assistance to accelerate the pace of important farm and forest land conservation and to secure access for farmers.
Sub-task: Compile sample farm land leases, develop lease template for use by ORIS and refugee farmers (A Bye, February 2015)
- Staff reviewed sample land lease templates provided by Equity Trust, Russell Foundation, and Land for Good.
- Staff drew from samples to draft a culturally appropriated lease template for use by ORIS and refugee farmers.
Sub-task: Identify long-term land access priorities for 20 participants (A Bye, June 1, 2014)
- At the beginning of this project, staff met with 8 advanced farmer participants to identify long-term land access priorities. Farmer feedback was recorded, and helped to inform the activities in this project.
Sub-task: Identify potential farm sites within 20 miles of Manchester (A Bye, Ongoing).
- Staff identified and visited 8 potential farm sites within 20 miles of Manchester. Farm assessments were documented along with photos for future reference.
- ORIS is pursuing one potential farm site as a future incubator farm. ORIS is collaborating with the Russell Foundation to submit a proposal to the City of Concord, requesting access to city owned farmland along the Merrimack River for use by refugee farmers. This site is currently being farmed by a retiring dairy farmer, growing feed corn. The farmer is gradually reducing his acreage on this 100 acre parcel. Staff created a multi-year land access plan that would phase in more acreage over time.
Sub-task: Facilitate farm site visits for participants to assess available farmland (A Bye, Jan 1, 2015) Based on farmer feedback, the activities shifted to securing long-term land access at the farm in Dunbarton.
- On July 8th, ORIS met with the Russell Foundation to discuss long-term land access priorities for the farmers in Dunbarton. As a follow-up to this meeting, the Russell Foundation provided an overview of how they could support refugee farmers to 1) Apply for an Agricultural Land Easement and find an easement holder. The model recommended was to work with 2 land trusts: one to hold the easement, another to own the land. Next steps identified were to invite the landowners along with 2 land trusts, to discuss the possibility of putting the land into an easement.
- ORIS staff followed up with the owner of Diamond Hill Farm who had placed her farm into an easement with 2 land trusts to get insight on the language for the long-term ground lease.
- On August 12th, ORIS staff met with the landowners of the incubator farm site in Dunbarton, staff from Equity Trust, 5 Rivers Land Trust and the Russell Foundation to discuss placing the farm into a conservation easement. The landowners had many questions about the process, which were answered by the staff of these organizations. The landowners, which are two sisters in their Seventies, agreed that they needed time to things over.
- A group of refugees approached ORIS with the desire to access farmland to raise goats. ORIS staff connected them to the landowner of one of the 8 farm sites visited, that had barns, fence, and other infrastructure required to raise small livestock.
Objective 3: 8-10 farmers develop holistic farm business transition plans, including to transition from “incubator farm site” in Dunbarton.
Sub-task: Conduct multilingual outreach to Business Planning Farmers about Transition Planning Support Services (A Bye, March 30, 2014)
- ORIS staff met with 20 farmers on March 15th to discuss the NASAP training program’s transition support services.
- ORIS staff conducted a farmer meeting on December 19th, to discuss key functions and supports that will need to be addressed by transitioning farmers, and a timeframe for that transition. During this meeting, 10 farmers identified goals and strategies for accessing land and markets independently. ORIS leveraged the technical support services of the Cooperative Development Institute to walk farmers through various strategies for filling the gaps, including the option for the farmers to establish a cooperative entity.
Sub-task: Conduct interviews with 20 participants to assess farm goals and transition planning needs (A. Bye, May 1, 2014).
- Staff interviewed 8 farmers to identify their individual goals, priorities and specific training and technical assistance needs relative to land access and transitioning their businesses off of ORIS’ incubator farm.
Sub-task: Provide One-on-One assistance for farmers to develop holistic farm business plans, including a long-term plan for farmland access (A Bye, February 1, 2015)
- ORIS staff scheduled individual business planning sessions for NASAP participants in January.
Sub-task: Monitor participants progress in achieving goals (A Bye, Ongoing)
Objective 4: 8-10 farmers develop financial plans, including annual cash flow and access to capital/ credit.
Sub-Task: Provide One-on-one assistance for farmers to develop annual cash flow projections that are in alignment with their farm business plans (A Bye, February 1, 2015)
- Staff provided technical assistance to 12 farmers in December, to complete their farm business annual profit and loss assessments for 2014. These will be utilized as a benchmark for farmers to create annual cash flow projections for 2015.
Sub-Task: Inform producers about existing lending opportunities for farm businesses including, Farm Service Agency’s Microloan Program (A Bye, January 1, 2015)
- ORIS staff set up a preliminary meeting on August 5th with the NH Community Loan Fund to discuss small business IDA opportunities for refugee farmers participating in NASAP. This collaboration was set up as a pilot, and the meeting covered the roles of each partner to support farmer enrollment, as well as the funding available, and the number of IDA’s NHCLF could support.
- 3 ORIS staff attended a 4 hour training on the application process and primary IDA rules and procedures at the NHCLF office on November 20th.
Sub-task: Informational Meeting at FSA county office with senior loan officer (A Bye May 1, 2014)
- ORIS invited 10 farmers to an informational session with the NH Community Loan Fund on the Small Business IDA opportunity, on October 24th.
- ORIS has scheduled a workshop in February, at the USDA Service Center in Concord, NH to cover programs and services to farmers, including the Farm Service Agency and Rural Development loan programs, and Natural Resource Conservation Service cost share programs.
Sub-task: Provide support for completing loan application paperwork on an as needed basis (A Bye, Ongoing)
- Staff have helped 7 farmers complete the NH Community Loan Fund’s initial Small Business IDA application to date. More are scheduled to receive t/a with the application in January.
Objective 5: Conduct evaluation and share resources and best practices with other refugee training programs throughout New England and the country.
Sub-Task: Consult New Entry Sustainable Farming Project for guidance on project design and implementation (A Bye, June 1, 2014)
- ORIS contracted New Entry Sustainable Farming Project to share resources and best practices for transitioning farmers off of an incubator farm. ORIS staff compiled a questionnaire that was used as a discussion guide for this “training of trainers” conference call. ORIS staff facilitated the conference call with 1 staff member from New Entry Sustainable Farming Project, 2 staff from Cultivating Community and 2 staff from ORIS. The call focused on the following topics: Specific strategies for transitioning farmers off of the incubator farm; Major challenges and how New Entry is addressing them; farmland matching services, technical assistance provided to farmers after they leave the incubator farm.
Sub-Task: Develop and distribute surveys to evaluate program workshops and activities (A Bye and consultant, Ongoing)
Sub-Task: Conduct in person evaluations farmers, focusing on client satisfaction and the long-term effectiveness of assistance received (A Bye and consultant, February 28, 2015)
- ORIS developed an MOU with a 3rd Party consultant to develop protocols and tools for a participatory evaluation of this project.
Sub-Task: Coordinate participatory evaluation via focus groups (A Bye and consultant, February 28, 2015)
Sub-Task: Curricula posted on ORIS’s website
Sub-Task: Document use of farmers’ business transition strategies, such as transition planning, farmland assessment, and accessing capital (A Bye, Ongoing).
- To date, ORIS has documented farmers’ business transition goals and strategies, including cooperative agreements for shared land access, plans for the development of a farmer-run marketing cooperative, and participation in small business IDA’s.
Sub-Task: Farmers’ strategies identified for reports to NESARE (A Bye, February 28, 2015)
- Farmers’ transitioning strategies to date are included in the annual report.
Sub-Task: Share training resources and materials developed with NESARE funding via the National Incubator Farm Training Initiative’s Online resource center and incubator farms list serve (A Bye, February 28, 2015).
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
Feedback gathered from 8 refugee producers participating in ORIS’ New American Sustainable Agriculture Project revealed an important transitioning strategy that we had not previously considered regarding land access: transitioning active land management of ORIS’ incubator farm to the group of farmers as a land based cooperative, while ORIS seeks land elsewhere to run its farmer training program with new participants.
As a result, ORIS set out to explore the viability of a long-term ground lease of the farm site in Dunbarton. We have engaged the landowners in discussion around the possibility of placing the land under a conservation easement in partnership with two land trusts. While the landowners consider, it is important to note that this process could take anywhere from 18 months to 2 years. It may be necessary for ORIS to remain engaged in discussions throughout the endeavor. Meanwhile, ORIS has prepared a long-term lease for use by the refugee farmers.
In order to better prepare farmers for the transition towards active land management, ORIS developed and communicated a list of the services provided to the farmers through NASAP that farmers will have to take on, including liability insurance, lease agreement, tilling of the farm, applying for and managing Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP) contracts with USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service, coordinating bulk purchases of farm supplies, installation and maintenance of shared farm infrastructure (ex: post- harvest handling station, tractor, rototiller, irrigation system). ORIS has connected farmers to the technical experts at the Cooperative Development Institute to explore opportunities to formalize as a cooperative entity to address the functions where this would be required and/or beneficial.
Based on ORIS’ ability to provide business planning support, we are leveraging new partnerships with the NH Community Loan Fund, that will connect farmers to small business Individual Development Accounts, with an 8:1 match. This opportunity is available for up to 10 farmers in 2015, enabling farmers to save up to $500 to receive up to $4,000 in matched savings towards eligible purchases for their farm businesses.
31 George St.
Portland , ME 04103
Office Phone: 2079393854
Fresh Start Farms-NH
434 Lake Ave.
Manchester, NH 03103
Office Phone: 6032960443