Our Beginning Farmer Program
Phase 1: Recruitment and establishing a solid foundation
Recruitment. Every winter we are on the lookout for new and prospective farmers who have the attitude and motivation to be successful farmers-but who need a few more skills, more knowledge and a better network of production and marketing contacts. The goal of this phase is to identify about 50 potential participants in Phase 2 (an intensive series of learning events for the 15 “could-be” farmers we select). Each of these participants will make a financial contribution to show their commitment to the project. They also agree to participate in all the learning events. Prospective students must also commit in the next growing season to be interns, apprentices, work on a farm, or actually be farming independently with help from their new network established through events below.
We have been a loosely organized group helping beginning farmers get started for more than 10 years. This history includes state-wide conferences with a beginning farmer focus nearly every year since 1997 (Here’s an sample agenda from our January 2003 conference on Petit Jean Mountain). In the last two years, we have moved from the single annual conference model with an overwhelming number of tracks to multiple learning events spread throughout the year at working farms and processing and marketing businesses.
We have now reached a critical mass and a synchronicity of events, (including exponentially growing local food market and bankruptcy of traditional chicken, hog, beef, and grain farming) that we must join forces and establish a formal system for creating new farmer/vendors to meet the emerging demand of consumers and the need for new farming systems to replace the non-working conventional system. We envision a self-sustaining system of learning experiences which helps beginners become successful at raising and marketing healthy food. To maximize learning and networking, we have organized a dozen learning events throughout the fall, winter and spring. Scroll down to Phase II to find out what they will be.
Obtaining Land and Capital for New Farmers. One crucial aspect of successful beginning farmer programs in the Northeast, Midwest and West is pairing landowners who are lacking folks to farm their land with farmers who are lacking land. Oregon Sustainable Agriculture Land Trust is one organization with a specific goal of helping land-owners reap tax benefits from giving up development rights and assigning their land to the land trust which then provides the land to farmers. Intervale in Vermont links providing land to beginning farmers with completion of a farmer training course. One possibility in our region is Ozark Regional Land Trust. Our objective here is to have land available for use by those who have mastered the “Beginning Farmer Teams” process. To do so, we and our partners provide both tangible and intangible benefits to landowners including income tax deductions.
Similarly, beginning farmers need capital for basic equipment. We will provide assistance with accessing USDA programs such as the the B&I guaranteed loans and the brand new Rural Microenterprise Assistance Program (RMAP) for start-up and expansion capital.
Phase 2: Learning Events from September to April
- Below are proposed 10 Gatherings-you can call them Participatory Learning Experiences if you want to get fancy.
- Nearly all of the gatherings incorporate more than one of the learning events with a total of 21.
- Times, pairing, and order of events are tentative and will be finalized upon selection of participants.
Gathering One: Petit Jean Mountain, September
1. POW (Participatory Organizing Workshop) Karen and Adam (from the wildly successful Land Stewardship Project “Farm Beginnings” program) will come down and meet with all partners and facilitators involved in the project to exchange experiences about beginning farming, beginning farmers and beginning farmer teams. Andrea and MaryJane facilitate, help form a great team among the facilitators, and help develop some skills for Day 2.
2. Day 2: We will invite about 50 potential new farmers to participate in a four session program
a. Ice-breaking activities for both facilitators and beginning students.
b. HRM whole farm planning beginning with values clarification. Developing a landscape description for you life and land by following natural laws. This will involve small group (7-10) sessions to enable participants to explore in depth their motivations, needs, desires, resources and constraints related to farming and healthy food and how those might result in a plan for new healthy food enterprises.
c. Team-building activities for both facilitators and beginning students. Andrea and MaryJane.
d. “Back of the envelope” business planning
Once you have selected the product(s) or services you are highly motivated to produce, and for which there is a readily available market, we will help you create a viable business plan (cash flow, sensitivity and breakeven analyses, income statements, balance sheets).
Gathering Two: Falling Sky Farm and Leslie late Sept/early October
The 15 selected participants gather for their first session.
3. Whole farm systems. Cody and Andrea host “A day in the life of Falling Sky Farm.” Participants get to help care for cattle, broilers (w chicken tractor), laying hens, hogs. Intensive introduction to a complete poultry system including feeds and feeding, chicken tractors, processing, storage, marketing and distribution. Hands on experience in processing and in construction of a chicken tractor. Debrief in Leslie at Ozark Heritage Arts Center. Overnight in Leslie. Next morning is:
4. Financial skills for new farmers. Cody and Andrea open the books of Falling Sky Farm as part of a session on financial management for beginning farmers.
5. Introduction of Phase 3 expectations: Mentors and Mentees. Mentoring, interns and networks: how to find a mentor or a job on a farm or an internship. Includes: “no volunteer is ever free” advice and tips from Cody, Andrea, and Jody. Participants begin establishing mentoring, internship relationships for next growing season.
Gathering Three: Little Rock mid-late October
6. Day at the market. Can you sell?
a. Interacting at Jody’s Basket-a-Month basket drop. Learning about how a 400 member CSA develops in 4 years. Participants assemble baskets, talk to customers at Argenta Market. and at NLR and LR Farmers Markets.
b. Helping Andrea, Cody, and Jody sell at traditional farmers markets. Comparison of qualities of contrasting types of farmers markets and of CSA.
7. Debrief at Jody Hardin’s Argenta Market (bakery/grocery/restaurant/bar) in N. Little Rock. . . New tool for Basket a Month. Exploring how a vacant 10 acres (fomer Prime Quality Feeds) becomes center for local organic milk, culinary arts school and top notch farmers market.
Gathering Four: Conway late October/early November
8. Relationship marketing 1: Conway Locally Grown dinner. Such as the one at Pia’s Locally Grown dinner last fall 60 customers. Farmer at each table.
9. Relations with churches and doctors
a. Developing relationships with health providers: Tie Betsy Hendricks into Conway event. (Cody facilitates) Salatin got his first 400 customers from 2 doctors (Who can give the reference for that fact?).
Supplemental Gathering. November
10. Farm to school Farm to cafeteria. Sessions with cafeteria cooks on what they need, food service managers, food buyers, students on what they like to eat. Other sessions could cover marketing to K-12 school systems, marketing to other institutional cafeterias, and including sessions on organizing to stimulate the students to push for healthier, more local food in the cafeterias. Heifer will have 50 slots for farmers, however BFT participants will have to apply individuals for a slot. Location is Heifer’s new conference center.
Gathering Five: Harrison and Leslie mid November
Creating your farm and its enterprises
11. Stimulating your creativity on how to add value:
a. Makindra: pigsheads, tamales, hosting a dinner for 200 people.
b. Heritage Seed Breeds Brian Campbell’s Conway focus.
c. Randy Williams farm outside Harrison. Options outside direct marketing, but still adding value to dairy calves through intensive grazing. Ed will contact. Stay in Leslie.
12. Land Access.
a. Greg Judy long term leases (Cody contacts).
b. Land trust and intensive farmer training paired up with land owner Cody contacts Intervale folks in Burlington, Vermont as inspiration since their “Farm Program” has been training and providing access to land for beginning farmers since 1990.
c. Ozark Regional Land Trust and others in Arkansas.
Gathering Six: Belleville mid-December
13. Amish country study tour. The most efficient and effective system for creating sustainable farmers. Best beginning farmer program in the country is the Amish way.
Gathering Seven: State Capital and Chefs mid-January
14. State policy. How a few days at the legislature can actually do some good. Hold during February or March when session is in full swing. Facilitated by Jim and Ed. Sessions with successful policy organizers (Nao Beda, Bill Kopsky).
15. A huge blowout “Beginning Farmer Teams” gathering at the Capitol with lots of publicity and push for healthy local food and specific focus other hot legislative topic related to healthy local food. These could include farmers market sales tax issue, saving local dairies tax on milk. Topics such as allowing raw milk will include chefs such as Lee Richardson of Capitol Hotel and his buyer Lee Warnecke as speakers. Hold it on steps of Capitol. Get lots of media.
16. Marketing to chefs, Little Rock version. Chefs in policy blowout and others interact with farmers on needs of chefs and best ways for farmers and chefs to work together.
Gathering Eight: Processing, Chefs and city market gardening mid-February
17. Fayette Packing outside Memphis helps farmers market carcasses and cuts of sheep and goats to ethnic and white table cloth restaurants (see January 09 Edible Memphis) Tim Grabeel organizes. Optional debriefing in lobby of Peabody Hotel, on Beale Street, at BB Kings. Overnight at Episcopal center NW of Memphis.
19. Followed by more sessions on marketing direct to chefs with field trips to farms near the Episcopal Center and to chefs with Edible Memphis.
Gathering Nine: Now go get your hands dirty mid-March
20. As early as ground is being worked in Spring: Get your hands in a vegetable bed. Rusty and Sue Nuffer’s farm 30 years. Also session on evolution of their marketing approach from farmers markets to restaurants.
21. Micro organisms, building soils, and biodynamics, Christian’s mentors facilitate.
22. “Graduation” on a farm which has grown from nothing to 30 years of success.
Phase 3: Learners become farmers
Immediately upon completion of the BFT Course, the new “masters of the process” become interns, apprentices, “willing workers on organic farms”, hired hands, or just start farming on their own with a much expanded team/network to help them be successful.
Most will benefit from working closely with a mentor experienced in the process. Relationships between mentor and beginner are built from September through April with multiple meetings between students and farmers to see where the best relationship is. Mentoring research indicates a few rules of thumb:
- Being a good mentor starts with a thorough screen to match mentor to beginner. Virtually anyone who has mastered a craft can be a successful mentor to someone. The personalities just have to complement. Often the relationship needs an outside catalyst before it can jell.
- It’s a mistake to channel beginners too tightly. They have to learn how to make mistakes.
- The most important initial accomplishment of a mentor is to establish an atmosphere of collaboration and respect.
- Don’t force beginners into a mold. Figure out what they are good at and encourage them to capitalize on that. Good mentorship never has all the answers. Initiative and creativity can be smothered when mentors act like masters, gurus, bosses or employers.
- “Nothing brings success like success. Once a new farmer has a good day at market, they feel empowered. When they’ve succeeded, mentees are encouraged to move on to more difficult challenges. Offering a venue of success is best way to attract new farmer/vendors.
- Mentor a person, not just a farmer. The beginner has to become personal to you. How can you help them to manage other barriers beyond the farm and its sales?
- Mentors who are compensated for their work with beginners are more likely to become serial mentors. If we can raise the money, farmers will be paid to have interns/apprentices.