West Virginia Beginning Farmer Mentorship Program

Project Overview

SNE20-014-WV
Project Type: PDP State Program
Funds awarded in 2020: $43,918.00
Projected End Date: 09/30/2021
Grant Recipient: West Virginia University
Region: Northeast
State: West Virginia
State Coordinators:
Dr. Doolarie Singh-Knights, Ph.D.
West Virginia University
Co-Coordinators:
Daisy Bailey
WVU Extension Service
Emily Morrow
WVU Extension Service
Jodi Richmond
WVUES Mercer County
Lisa Jones
West Virginia University

Commodities

Not commodity specific

Practices

  • Education and Training: decision support system, extension, farmer to farmer, focus group, mentoring, technical assistance, workshop, youth education
  • Farm Business Management: agricultural finance, agritourism, budgets/cost and returns, business planning, feasibility study, financial management, market study, marketing management, new enterprise development, risk management, whole farm planning
  • Production Systems: holistic management
  • Sustainable Communities: local and regional food systems, values-based supply chains

    Proposal abstract:

    This project was driven by a 2014-2017 statewide ‘sustainable agriculture needs assessment’ process, and more recent discussions in 2018-2019 with ASPs and farmers, to better understand priority training areas, challenges faced, assistance needed and ideas for future programs, to better serve beginning farmers in WV. Results of the 2014-2017 survey, together with related state census statistics, have confirmed that higher demand for local foods has created new opportunities for WV producers, but points to information and experience gaps that continue to limit entry and business success for producers in WV. The needs assessment survey and other communications showed that 92% of beginning farmers (n=29), 100% of aspiring farmers (n=19) and 87% of ASPs (n=57) indicated strong interest in expanding production, product development/value-adding or market development, but require training and support in whole-farm planning and risk management to help them identify and mitigate business risks in these new markets. Respondents also indicated a desire to learn from more experienced ‘mentor’ farmers. While there are ‘informal mentoring opportunities’ in WV, they do not have ‘trained farmer mentors’ or a complementary formal mentorship training program,which is crucial in creating a mutually beneficial experience for mentor and mentee.

    This proposal grew out of the realization that WV ASPs can best serve our beginning farmers by creating a unique partnership of the state’s agricultural service providers to leverage available resources and build upon best-practices to enhance our overall impact while minimizing overlap. Our previous working relationships and current project efforts help strengthen our commitment as partners.
    This one-year project will train ASPs and Farm Mentors/Farmer Leaders (hereafter referred to collectively as ASPs) in WV to successfully work with beginning farmers, to help them start or expand operations, and improve the sustainability of their practices, through a comprehensive whole-farm planning and risk management training program, and to support these farmers in their early years of operation through mentoring, community partnerships and networking opportunities.
    Project participants (from WVU Extension, WVDA, NRCS, Farm Bureau, FSA, WV Farm and Food Coalition, WV Farmers' Market Association, and Farmer Leaders) will participate in the project which will comprise the following activities:
    - Beginning Farmer Advisory Team;
    - Mentorship Curriculum Development;
    - Mentor 'Train-the-Trainer' Training;
    - Mentorship Curriculum Discussion and Feedback with Farmers; and
    - Project Evaluation and Feedback.

    At the end of the project, 15 agricultural service providers will gain practical knowledge and skills needed to design and provide on-farm mentorship opportunities for their clientele.
    Beyond the project period, these ASPs will use this information to be able to confidently design and deliver on-farm mentoring and coaching to beginning farmers (small scale crop, livestock, and value-added and specialty producers with profit motives) in their region.

    Performance targets from proposal:

    Fifteen agricultural service providers will discuss the Mentorship Curriculum with at least 5 farmers each, to receive feedback and determine additional learning needs and interests to guide the next 3-year SARE PDP project. This will link the current mentorship program with future educational pathways for ASPs serving beginning farmers.

    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.