Expanding the Beginning Farmer Network of Massachusetts

Project Overview

Project Type: Partnership
Funds awarded in 2014: $14,982.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2017
Region: Northeast
State: Massachusetts
Project Leader:
Jennifer Hashley
Trustees of Tufts College / New Entry Sustainable Farming Project

Annual Reports

Information Products


  • Agronomic: corn, potatoes, sunflower, grass (misc. perennial), hay
  • Fruits: melons, apples, bananas, berries (other), berries (blueberries), berries (brambles), berries (cranberries), peaches, pears, berries (strawberries)
  • Vegetables: sweet potatoes, asparagus, beans, beets, broccoli, cabbages, carrots, cauliflower, celery, cucurbits, eggplant, garlic, greens (leafy), leeks, lentils, onions, parsnips, peppers, radishes (culinary), rutabagas, sweet corn, tomatoes, turnips, brussel sprouts
  • Additional Plants: herbs, native plants, ornamentals, trees
  • Animals: bees, bovine, poultry, goats, rabbits, swine, sheep
  • Animal Products: dairy
  • Miscellaneous: mushrooms


  • Animal Production: feed/forage, housing, parasite control, animal protection and health, grazing - continuous, feed additives, feed formulation, free-range, feed rations, grazing management, herbal medicines, homeopathy, implants, inoculants, livestock breeding, manure management, mineral supplements, grazing - multispecies, pasture fertility, pasture renovation, preventive practices, probiotics, range improvement, grazing - rotational, stockpiled forages, stocking rate, therapeutics, watering systems, winter forage
  • Crop Production: conservation tillage
  • Education and Training: decision support system, demonstration, display, farmer to farmer, focus group, mentoring, networking, participatory research, workshop, technical assistance
  • Energy: bioenergy and biofuels, energy conservation/efficiency, energy use, solar energy, wind power
  • Farm Business Management: whole farm planning, new enterprise development, budgets/cost and returns, community-supported agriculture, cooperatives, marketing management, farm-to-institution, feasibility study, agricultural finance, market study, risk management, value added, agritourism
  • Natural Resources/Environment: carbon sequestration, biodiversity, hedges - grass, habitat enhancement, hedgerows, riverbank protection, soil stabilization, wetlands, hedges - woody
  • Pest Management: allelopathy, biological control, biorational pesticides, botanical pesticides, chemical control, competition, compost extracts, cultural control, disease vectors, economic threshold, eradication, field monitoring/scouting, flame, genetic resistance, integrated pest management, mulches - killed, mulches - living, mating disruption, physical control, mulching - plastic, cultivation, precision herbicide use, prevention, row covers (for pests), sanitation, smother crops, soil solarization, trap crops, traps, mulching - vegetative, weather monitoring, weed ecology, weeder geese/poultry
  • Production Systems: agroecosystems, holistic management, organic agriculture, permaculture, transitioning to organic
  • Soil Management: earthworms, green manures, organic matter, soil analysis, composting, nutrient mineralization, soil microbiology, soil chemistry, soil physics, soil quality/health
  • Sustainable Communities: community planning, ethnic differences/cultural and demographic change, infrastructure analysis, leadership development, local and regional food systems, new business opportunities, partnerships, public participation, public policy, urban agriculture, urban/rural integration, analysis of personal/family life, community services, employment opportunities, social capital, social networks, social psychological indicators, sustainability measures

    Proposal abstract:

    Formed in 2011, the Beginning Farmer Network of Massachusetts (BFN/Mass) is a collaborative network of farmers and service providers dedicated to beginning farmer success. In 2012, BFN/Mass created a website and resource finder (www.bfnmass.org) to help beginning farmers find needed information and services. A resource website is a starting point for information, but effective referrals and communication between farmers and service providers requires a deeper sense of shared purpose. The objective of this NESARE Partnership Project is to expand the BFN/Mass Network by strengthening partnerships among farmers, agricultural service providers, and community organizations to identify gaps, develop new programming, and expand utilization of services for new farmers. This will be accomplished by researching and mapping existing services, identifying gaps as compared to expressed farmer needs, and creating new programs or services. Working groups and key project tasks will address outreach and farmer engagement, network structure and sustainability, website and resource development, referral networks, farmer-service provider networking forums and events, and building regional partnerships. Project goals are to:

    • Expand farmer access to and use of programs and services to improve productivity, their economic bottom line, and quality of life;
    • Develop systematic strategies for beginning farmers to address education, training and technical assistance needs, coordinated through multiple provider organizations;
    • Strengthen relationships among service providers to foster new collaborations and partnerships;
    • Engage with regional and national networks to affect policy and address resource gaps.

    Project results will be disseminated broadly through online e-communications, social media, listservs, and promoted at conferences and agricultural events.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    Our overall objective of this SARE Partnership Project is to expand the BFN/Mass Network by strengthening partnerships among service providers and farmers to identify gaps in programs and resources for new farmers, prioritize new programming, and improve effectiveness and utilization of existing programs and resources. To start, we will develop a team of beginning farmers to solicit input on BFN/Mass resources and to evaluate existing programs/services in MA and surrounding states. Many of these farmers are already members of the BFN/Mass Steering Committee, others recently volunteered to participate in the project at our Fall Forum event, and others will be identified through outreach on farmer listservs. Our goal is to have a representation of at least 10-15 beginning farmers at different stages of farm development (prospective, start-up 1-3 years, expanding 3-6 years, and maturing 6+ yrs) participate in the resource assessment project. In conjunction, BFN/Mass will bring at least 10-12 agricultural service provider organizations together (in-person small group or one-on-one meetings, larger service provider meetings, and conference calls) to participate in shaping the resource assessment process. Several organizations have already formally agreed to participate in this resource assessment project and many more have expressed interest.

    Together, these farmers and service providers will create a matrix of currently offered programs and resources – by topic, target audience, geographic scope, and dates/times offered - and this matrix will be compared against the DACUM Profile for Skills/Competencies of Northeast Farmer. Any “major gaps” or missing core competency programs will be identified and “ground-truthed” by new farmers as a potential need. We will then conduct a survey of beginning farmers (goal of 150+ respondents) to identify the most pressing topics, skills, and resource needs and develop a comprehensive list of programs and policies that are needed in an order of importance and achievability. We will then schedule additional meetings with service providers and farmers to review feedback and discuss potential policy needs and collaborative programming to fill gaps. Our goal is to further increase collaboration, enhancement, and action to provide effective and needed resources for beginning farmers. Service provider connections will result in at least 5 new program or services to fill gaps in services and eliminate competing offerings (or purposefully acknowledging the necessity of geographic duplication of services) by streamlining and sharing resources.

    Additional BFN/Mass activities to expand the network will also be addressed through this project, as described below:

    Structure and Finance: Organizational structure, relationships, sustainable funding, and leadership capacity will be critical to BFN/Mass’ ability to grow as a statewide network. We will organize bi-monthly steering committee conference calls, an annual retreat, and create a listserv to facilitate communication. The outcome of structural activities will result in a dedicated leadership team who provide direction, inspiration, long-term sustainable financial resources, and coordination to a diverse network of farmer/service provider leaders over the long term.

    Marketing and Outreach: Participating organizations will provide extensive outreach to stakeholders across the state. Marketing and outreach efforts will include development of promotional materials; linkages between BFN/Mass’ and partner organizations’ websites; an outreach schedule to strengthen social media presence and activity (quarterly e-newsletters, weekly Facebook, blogs, Twitter, etc.); workshops about BFN/Mass resources and tabling at state and regional conferences, farmer gatherings, workshops and events; and promoting BFN/Mass at career fairs and high schools. Results will increase participation and attendance by farmers and service providers by 100% in network activities at events and forums, increase website visits/page views and registered users, and create documented connections between farmers and service providers who cite BFN/Mass as their connection point.

    BFN/Mass website, www.bfnmass.org: An up-to-date, user-friendly, “one stop shop/clearinghouse” website populated with current events, resources, farmer/service provider profiles, timely blog discussions, and other interactive features will keep farmers engaged and utilizing the website to find available resources. The website will be continually updated to meet these goals. Service providers will add offerings to the “Resource Map” which can be sorted and filtered; and a “Resource Finder.” Currently over 100 active service provider groups are posting resources, events, and services on the site. Our goal is to have over 400 by 2015.

    Referral Network: When farmers cannot find information or resources through the website, we will offer personalized TA through a reliable Referral Network that is connected to resource networks regionally and nationally. At least 20 farmers/month will receive targeted referrals via phone or email. We will track and monitor use of the referral service and follow up with farmers to determine effectiveness and further identify gaps in resources or programming.

    Create Educational Materials: Guest bloggers (expert farmers and service providers) can post articles with useful advice and resources for beginning farmers. Farmer profiles offer example agricultural career paths. Farmers and service providers can create user accounts to receive updates when new resources, events, blogs, or profiles are added. We will monitor the most popular topics via blog visits and time spent on those pages. Our goal is to develop at least 30 new farmer and service provider profiles and 40 blog posts and increase readership by 50% by 2015.

    Centralized Event Calendar: By continuing to promote a statewide agricultural event calendar, we can track views and service providers can use the BFN/Mass calendar to plan events that do not conflict topically or geographically. Our goal is to post all events pertaining to beginning farmers in MA.

    Host In-person Networking Events: BFN/Mass will co-sponsor at least four farmer-to-farmer events with other organizations engaging at least 80 new farmers in the network. BFN/Mass will host a Fall Forum where 100+ beginning farmers and service providers can meet and work together.

    Include regional resources, service providers, and farmers: In Massachusetts many farmers operate near state borders. We will connect to farmers, businesses and other service providers across state borders of CT, RI, NH, VT, ME, and NY by adding at least a dozen new key service providers in neighboring states to the online resource finder and posting resources, programs, and events that occur near the MA border.

    Project Timetable

    April 2014 – BFN/Mass Steering Committee meets to review SARE workplan and set schedule for outreach/marketing at agricultural events for 2014-2015. Outreach to beginning farmers to participate in project (steering committee and coordinator). A schedule and assignments for creating targeted blog posts and farmer profiles is developed. Outreach toolkits are developed and distributed (coordinator). Ongoing Monthly Activities (coordinated by coordinator): Events added to calendar, blogs posted, profiles added, referrals tracked, newsletter created / distributed, working groups/steering committee meetings.

    May 2014 – BFN/Mass Round Table meetings are scheduled (three geographically dispersed across the state) to bring beginning farmers and service providers together from across MA to review program areas, create a matrix of offered services, identify gaps in services, and develop collaborative programming. Create, administer, and analyze farmer survey to ground-truth programming gaps (coordinator, steering committee, and volunteer farmers and service providers). Strengthen connections to hyper-local farmer-based groups such as CRAFT and Young Farmer Night (steering committee members). Ongoing Monthly Activities (above) continued.

    June – September 2014 – Conduct monthly co-sponsored new farmer events in each region of Massachusetts. Partner with CISA, CRAFT, SEMAP, Berkshire Grown, Northeast Harvest to host a BFN-Co-Sponsored on-farm event that features a targeted service provider and new farmer group. Continue monthly service provider-farmer conference calls to create plans for new program development to address the top five identified most important and achievable gaps (coordinator facilitates). Host five in-person service provider meetings across the state, one dedicated to each gap, to facilitate collaboration and develop new programming and funding strategies (coordinator and Gaps working group). Ongoing Monthly Activities (above) continued.

    October 2014 – Steering Committee Retreat to review ongoing structural and programming operations of the network. Plan and outreach for Annual Fall Forum (coordinator and Engagement working group). Ongoing Monthly Activities (above) continued.

    November 2014 – Host Annual Fall Forum for 150 participants; secure donations; invite service providers and farmers; establish discussion tracks through pre-registration farmer selections; develop facilitators for topic areas. At the Fall Forum give update on the resource gaps project and invite participants to be involved moving forward through the creation of an on-going BFN/Mass working group on Resource and Program Gaps and Development. Communicate and share follow-up notes with attendees (coordinator). Ongoing Monthly Activities (above) continued.

    December 2014 – January 2015 – Attend outreach conferences, events to promote BFN/Mass. Offer workshops at agricultural conferences to introduce farmers to resources on BFN Website. Follow up with specific service providers who have committed to working together to address the top five identified gaps (coordinator). Share their progress with others to encourage energy and accomplishment. Ongoing Monthly Activities (above) continued.

    February 2015 -- New Entry staff (coordinator) creates online BFN/Mass evaluation survey for farmers and service providers; participants complete survey. Farmers, project partners, steering committee, and staff review survey feedback and develop recommendations for future BFN/Mass efforts. Ongoing Monthly Activities (above) continued.

    March 2015 -- New Entry staff (coordinator) obtains additional quantitative and qualitative project evaluation from farmers and project partners by phone, compiles with process evaluation to create SARE final report.

    Dissemination of Project Results

    The resources created through this project (blog posts, publications/fact sheets, videos, event postings, farmer and service provider profiles, new programming, etc.) will be made available to farmers on the BFN/Mass website (BFNMass.org) which currently has over 600 unique visitors/month, with over 100 people navigating through the resource finder page, and our blog page which has over 300 visits per month. We expect this to increase dramatically through this project as noted in our outcomes and through strategic search engine optimization strategies employed in ongoing website management. We will also promote the network and resources developed through New Entry’s broad organizational outreach (over 6,000 subscribers to our e-lists) and send electronically to relevant e-lists and target farm service providers who work directly with beginning farmers. Additional partner organizations to be targeted for e-outreach include NOFA Mass (via their monthly newsletter and quarterly The Natural Farmer), Country Folks News, Small Farm Quarterly, Massachusetts Buy Local organizations (CISA, Berkshire Grown, SEMAP, and Northeast Harvest), the Eastern Mass CRAFT (Collaborative Regional Alliance for Farmer Training) listserv, the Boston Food System Listserv, the Federation of Massachusetts Farmers’ Markets newsletter, the MDAR Farm and Market Report, NRCS Conservation Blast, and many more partner-identified outlets and newsletter publications. We also anticipate cross-promotional linkages on our project partners’ websites and through shared social media (Facebook, blogs, Twitter, You-Tube, etc.).

    The BFN/Mass working group is charged with in-person marketing and outreach using the BFN/Mass “toolkit” and promotional materials and will attend and lead workshops about BFN/Mass resources and staff information tables at state and regional conferences, farmer gatherings, workshops and events, and career fairs and high schools.

    The target beneficiaries of this project are current and prospective beginning farmers who access the referral network, blog posts, farmer profiles, resource finder, and make direct connections with service providers. Another primary target audience includes those who work with farmers, such as extension agents, governmental agencies, for-profit businesses and non-profit agricultural service organizations who share information with producers during technical assistance and make more informed and targeted referrals. Principal secondary audiences include policy makers, legislators, and media.

    New Entry will also incorporate new resources, event announcements, and networking opportunities into our Farm Business Planning and Field Training and Livestock Courses (through classroom, online, and field-based trainings) that reach over 300 new producers annually. These resources will also be shared directly with beginning farmers when providing one-on-one technical assistance. In addition, the resources and lessons learned from this project will improve the quality of our future instruction and technical assistance. We anticipate our partner organizations will do similar outreach and referrals during their hands-on programming with producers.

    The project’s partner farmers and those who attend BFN/Mass networking events will assist outreach by sharing useful resources with other growers they meet at networking events and beyond. They can also provide feedback on the project results—for example, input as to who might benefit most from particular resources, which can in turn help to target future outreach efforts.


    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.