Farming for the Future: Cultivating the Next Generation of Farmers
We are well underway with our effort to develop a training program in small-scale, ecologically and economically sustainable agriculture for beginning and transitioning farmers. This three-part course series emphasizes the practical skills that farmers need to succeed and is delivered by combining the expertise of county extension and land grant faculty and successful local farmers. Offered through county extension offices for college credit or continuing education units, these courses emphasize the development of practical farming knowledge in the areas of whole farm planning, resource stewardship, livestock and crop production strategies, finance, marketing, and business entrepreneurship. We have begun to adapt a parallel program for East Asian (specifically, Hmong) and Latino immigrant communities. .
1. Develop and offer a WSU course that provides an overview of sustainable, small acreage farming systems for beginning and transitioning farmers.
2. Develop and offer a WSU course that assists new and existing small-scale farmers in developing a business plan.
3. Develop and offer an on-farm, for credit, internship program for students that have completed the two classroom courses described above.
4. Develop and refine the three-part course series described above for East Asian and Latino immigrant farmers and aspiring farmers.
To date we have offered an overview of sustainable agriculture course in five counties (Clallam, Jefferson, King, Pierce, and Snohomish*) In 2005 the course has been conducted in two of these (Pierce and Snohomish) at local county Extension offices, each making use of local farm experts, county faculty, and WSU faculty to teach the courses. A total of 15 new and transitional farmers completed the 14-week course in Pierce County and 31 will complete the course at Snohomish County in January 2006. The cumulative total since the beginning of the grant period comes to 209 farmers. Each student is required to begin developing an initial whole farm plan for their final presentation.
Jefferson and Clallam Counties have continued to offer the courses without support from this grant.
To date we have utilized this grant money to conduct farm business planning courses based on the NxLevel Tilling the Soil of Success curriculum in four counties (Clallam, King, Jefferson, and Pierce). Two local county extension offices (King and Jefferson) conducted the business planning course in 2005. A total of 42 new and transitional farmers completed the 14-week course at these two sites adding to a cumulative total of 81 farmers since the beginning of the grant period. As part of the course, each member created a business plan for either their entire farm enterprise or a specific component of their farm enterprise; approximately 90% of participants did complete their business plans in the 2005 courses. Follow-up evaluations with past students indicate that having a business plan and a greater understanding of the business planning process has had a positive outcome on their farm management practices. For example, over 90 percent of the students that returned evaluations stated that the course had significantly improved their ability to do farm planning.
We are developing an on-farm internship/apprenticeship program to provide an effective practicum for county-based Cultivating Success students. Our pilot for-credit farm internship programs at S&S Homestead Farm on Lopez Island, WA and with farmer Dianne Green in the Moscow Idaho area have provided a starting point for developing hands-on education and mentoring that will complement the Cultivating Success courses.
In 2005 we have accomplished:
• Compiled a list and short description of a variety of programs by looking at internship, mentorship, and apprenticeship farmer programs around the country.
• Developed a survey to send out to farmers that are potential mentors.
• Held a focus group of potential farmer mentors at WSU King County Extension and at the Washington Tilth annual conference. A chart was developed from this focus group, where we discussed the various challenges inherent in setting up such a program and our plans for the year.
• We also gathered information from past students in our Cultivating Success courses about the type of practical mentorship/internship program that would interest them.
• Developed an internship format and prototype of a “learning agreement” for farmers and student mentors.
In 2005 we accomplished:
• Developed a year-long curriculum for sustainable farming and agricultural entrepreneurship education with Hmong farmers.
• Began to pilot curriculum adaptations with Hmong farmers in January 2005.
• Staff continued to develop and adapt our project plan based on the farm visits and listening sessions held during 2004 and ongoing feedback during educational activities.
• After learning that Hmong farmers wanted to learn more about pest management, an Integrated Pest Management series was developed and offered as part of the Hmong program. Upon request from the farmers, this series included 45 hours of class time.
• The pest management series included interactive presentations on the fundamentals of Integrated Pest Management (or IPM), an introduction to pest identification and biology, and alternative pest management strategies for vegetables and cut flowers. Growers also received training on pesticide and pest management safety along with Federal and State laws and regulations.
• Coursework was developed around life skills training where students learned basic math, vocabulary, decision-making and record-keeping.
• After trying a number of different approaches the staff found that hands-on, interactive workshops with oral and visual presentations, combined with on-farm learning experiences and one-on-one farm visits were the most effective educational format.
• We adapted and compiled the course materials from the overview of sustainable small acreage farming systems and the business planning class into a whole-farm planning packet for Hmong farmers to give out at workshops and to work on individually.
• More than 100 Hmong farmers attended 7 workshops encompassing more than 20 hours of instruction based on the adapted whole-farm planning packet. The workshops took place all around King County on various farm-planning topics.
• Extension staff conducted 16 visits to Hmong farms to do follow-up work with individual farmers on the whole-farm planning packet.
• A December workshop at Pike Place Market offered tips on increasing farmers’ market sales and initiated an important dialogue with market managers about ways to improve vendor/manager relationships and communication.
• October 2005 worked with Heifer International to conduct cultural competency training for agricultural professionals working with Hmong and Latino communities.
• Hmong farmers have already identified several educational topics they want to have addressed in 2006.
• Existing curriculum materials were collected from other programs.
• Materials needing translation were identified and translated from the English sustainable farming course, including the Washington State Department of Agriculture’s handbook of farming regulations.
• A year-long curriculum plan for farmer education in sustainable farming practices and business planning was developed based on the English course, the already existing Spanish Language Tilling the Soil Course (by NxLevel), FSA materials, and the financial planning course materials developed as part of ‘Capatacion Analisis Financiero Agricola’ and the FSA loan application, to meet the needs and interest of the participating Latino farmers.
• Needs assessments indicated a need to focus the curriculum on pest management strategies, soils, drought management, marketing, record-keeping, and federal assistance programs.
• The educational format developed included a series of radio broadcasts, hands-on farm-based workshops, and classroom instruction in farm record-keeping and business planning with an emphasis on oral and visual delivery methods. Follow-up, one-on-one counseling was planned to help farmers develop individualized business plans.
• Supplemental RMA partnership funds were acquired to allow pilot testing of educational curricula in Yakima and Wenatchee in 2005.
• Additional plans have been developed for continuing to pilot test sustainable farming and business planning programs for Latino farmers in 2006 and 2007 utilizing RMA partnership funds.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
In King County, 17 people enrolled in our business planning class on agricultural entrepreneurship. Course participants were involved in a wide variety of farm enterprises including goat dairies, lavender farms, Community Supported Agriculture operations, and horse stables. Not all students were farming at the time they took the class. The goal of the course was for each student to complete a business plan and by the graduation ceremony, 12 students had done so. Those remaining were still working on completing their business plans. One participant has begun a new farming operation and has cited the business plan as valuable tool for his success.
The majority of the students in the class reported that the course did an excellent job of increasing their understanding of sustainable agriculture and business management. The high cost of land, water rights concerns, high work-load, governmental regulations, and high start-up costs, were all things that students identified as the biggest barriers to becoming successful as a farmer. Many indicated that additional sustainable agriculture practices would be incorporated into their operation such as planting cover crops, embracing crop diversity, conserving soil, and using integrated pest management.
Most students also said that the course helped them refine their farm business goals. Many indicated that the amount of direct-sales marketing they do was likely to increase as a result of taking the course. The most important insights that students took away from the course concerned financial management, preparing and analyzing budgets, and marketing strategies for agricultural products. Each student said they would recommend the class to others. Overall, students greatly enjoyed the class speakers and the opportunity to network with the other course participants.
24 people completed the Sustainable Agriculture Overview course class and 87% completed farm plans. The county now has 42 new food growers or value added businesses. The course was cited as a big reason for the 32% growth in the farmers market this year — the market has grown from $60,000 (4 years ago) to over $500,000 this year. Six people from the class are selling regularly at the local food coop. All of the students reported that they rated the course in the top 10% they’ve ever taken and 23 of them plan to take the Tilling the Soil of Success business planning class. Jefferson County will have its first cheese production starting in 2006 as a result of their last class. The local Economic Development Council cited the growing food economy as the #1 county business success of 2005. County commissioners unanimously voted that supporting small agriculture was a priority.
Fifteen new farmers in Pierce and King County successfully completed the semester-long sustainable agricultural overview course that was offered in Fall 2005. Four of the students completed a holistic farm plan for their land or land they would like to someday own. The remainder of the students made significant progress toward completing their holistic farm plan and presented their ideas to the rest of the class. One of the students purchased 3o acres in Snohomish County and has posted his farm plan on the Web. His farm plan and photos of his land can be found at the following web address: http://www.goodfolkstomow.com/cdfarm/ . The types of farms planned in the class varied from a mixed vegetables market farm, to a micro diary, a beef/compost operation, a bed and breakfast, and a working livestock farm.
At the time of this report, WSU Snohomish County Extension is conducting the Overview course. Currently, 31 people are attending the class. There is already a waiting list for next year’s class. The class is expected to be complete in early 2006. Most of the same students plan to continue with the spring business planning class.
One of the most important outcomes of all the courses is that participants begin to take advantage of other WSU resources after they complete the courses. Surveys of past students from all counties combined indicated that 97 percent had an increased awareness of other university resources on small and sustainable farming and 80 percent had already participated in additional educational activities. Past students tend to remain actively involved in networks with one another and with other agricultural service providers. Past students have also become community leaders on agricultural issues; for example by serving on local agricultural commissions and leadership roles in local farm organizations.
While important mentoring has been going on between the students and the farmers invited to give presentations in the classes, developing a formal internship or mentorship program has been the most challenging aspect of our program. Challenges include finding ways to monitor the content that farmers teach to students; identifying farmers who are willing to invest time in teaching new farmers; the liability and insurance issues encountered on farms when hosting interns, and finding current and aspiring farmers who have the time and interest for a formal mentorship. To address the issue of monitoring the content of a mentorship, our Cultivating Success program, organized jointly with the University of Idaho, has developed a training handbook and a one-day training program for farmers interested in being mentors. Two of our cooperating farmers, Henning Sehmsdorf and Terri Carkner have participated in this farmer training. Finding additional farmers to serve as mentors has been difficult because of the time commitment and because many farmers have had unpleasant experiences with interns or apprentices in the past and are somewhat reluctant to repeat the experience. Collecting more information from potential farmer mentors about their needs seems to be an appropriate next step.
To find students for the mentorship program we approached people who had taken both of the Cultivating Success classes. While on past student surveys, 24 percent of the students indicated an interest in doing an internship, only three students actually volunteered to participate, and they had very limited availability due to the other time demands in their lives. It seems that the majority of the people who had taken our classes were either already farming and didn’t have enough time to take part in any sort of mentorship program, were already stretched thin by job and family commitments, or had decided not to go into farming after taking one or more of the courses.
Although we did spend time searching for farmers to match the three students interested in a mentor, success was limited. Two of the students were interested in kinds of farms (horse stables) that we do not have contact with frequently. The third student was interested in working with a farmer who was not interested in working with a student. Despite these challenges, the students that take the classes build very strong relationships and we know that many of them continue working with each other and the local farmer experts they have met long after the courses end.
Hmong and Latino Curricula Adaptation
Our initial pilot tests have indicated strong Hmong and Latino farmer interest in learning more about sustainable farming practices and business management practices if we can design culturally appropriate, optimal adult learning formats. Having bi-lingual staff members with strong connections to the target communities has proved to be critical. With the help of these staff members, we have identified 350 Latino farm families and 99 Hmong farm families who can potentially benefit from our WSU educational program in sustainable farming and business management. Of this group, over 50 Latino farmers and 35 Hmong farmers have now participated in at least one of our educational activities. We are beginning to build visibility and new relationships of trust with WSU Extension staff in these communities. In evaluations, program participants report knowledge gains in financial management, alternative pest management, drought mitigation, and a new awareness of public agricultural assistance providers. Results from our listening sessions have been communicated to appropriate government officials, agencies, and non-profits. Having this SARE grant as seed money to develop and adapt our English-speaking curriculum has enabled us to leverage new funds from other agencies to plan and pilot sustainable farming and business planning courses for Hmong and Latino audiences in three key areas of Washington State through early 2008.
Cascade Harvest Coalition
9019 32nd Avenue NE
Seattle, Wa 98115
Office Phone: 2065251098
Washington State University Extension
919 SW Grady Way, Suite 120
Renton, WA 98055
Office Phone: 2062053131
Outreach and Research Director
Washington State University
7612 Pioneer Way East
Puyallup, WA 98371
Office Phone: 2534454597
Imigrant Farm Specialist
WSU King County Extension
919 SW Grady Way, #120
Renton, WA 98057
Office Phone: 2062053154