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New Farmer U builds strong foundation for beginning farmers' success

It’s exciting to start a farm. You come into it with a passion, sure that you are READY! You’ve worked on other farms to learn the ropes, attended conferences and field days, read dozens of books, and listened to podcasts and webinars. Now, you’ve secured some land and can’t wait to jump in.

All that zeal gets channeled into an over-the-top first season. You order 250 chicks to be raised on pasture (but haven’t yet priced out feed), select 50 types of vegetables to grow and sell through a 50-member
CSA, pick up two dairy cows (just for fun!), order 100 apple trees, seed pasture for 10 hogs to be sold by the whole or half, and order bees—of course, you need bees! You do all your planning in a spiralbound notebook that falls into a puddle as you run to save the chickens from a raccoon that got into your perfectly designed chicken tractor three days before they’re scheduled to be butchered, losing all your notes, plans, and records, not to mention chickens.

After three or so years, you’ve climbed a pretty steep learning curve while hanging onto your sanity by the skin of your teeth, and you’ve whittled things down a bit. You sold those dairy cows. You decided not to raise chickens, at least until you’ve really run the numbers on them. You already put the work and money in those apple trees and have decided to invest in an irrigation system for them because you now know that you’re on sandy soil. But how much money will you make on those apples? How will you market them? Is it worth the investment in an irrigation system?

You’ve also found that you do a better job of growing certain vegetables than others, but it’s not quite enough variety to supply a CSA. You’d like to start selling wholesale, but all the recordkeeping for food safety and traceability seems like too much to manage. And, how do you even approach a wholesale buyer? It turns out that local honey is a highly sought-after product in your area with few others doing it—should you step up your bee enterprise? You have two seasonal interns living on the farm being paid the agriculture minimum wage, with funds taken out for lodging. Is that legal? You have an Instagram account and tons of beautiful photos of the farm that you know can help your business, but how do you manage social media on top of farm chores? You want to transition your farm from leased to purchased land. How can you make that happen?

These are the kinds of questions answered at New Farmer U, a weekend training organized by MOSES and partner organizations. We have offered four of these trainings in the past, geared toward beginning farmers who were just starting out. With feedback from farmers in the MOSES community, we’ve developed a new training oriented more toward “intermediate” beginning farmers—those with a couple years of farming under their belts—focused on business and financial management.

New Farmer U takes place Oct. 29 and 30, 2021, at Camp One Heartland in Willow River, Minnesota. We’re planning this training in partnership with Renewing the Countryside. In 2022, we’ll work with The Land Connection to host New Farmer U in Illinois, and come back to Wisconsin in 2023 in partnership with Wisconsin Farmer’s Union. All farmers, regardless of experience level, will find the information shared at New Farmer U useful, and all are welcome!

New Farmer U in Minnesota this fall is a two-day event, starting with an optional half-day “Fearless Farm Finances” class. The fee for this class is $25, which includes a copy of the MOSES-published book, Fearless Farm Finances. To get the most out of the short class, participants will receive worksheets to complete prior to the class. They’ll receive customized advice from the instructor, Paul Dietmann of Compeer Financial, who is one of the book’s authors.

Participants will have the chance to get to know one another and share their farm stories at the Friday evening dinner and social. There will also be a pre-event Zoom meeting to learn more about the event and start introductions.

Saturday at New Farmer U will include three workshop sessions with multiple offerings. Topics include Developing Wholesale Markets and Institutional Sales, Income Diversification, Land Access and Financing, Online Marketing, Farm Employment Law, and Whole Farm Recordkeeping. Some workshops will include preliminary work to help participants get the most out of the workshops.

The training also will feature a panel of established farmers who will answer questions and share how they’ve managed growth and profitability on their farms.

Farmer Advancement

The USDA defines beginning farmers and ranchers as “those who have operated a farm or ranch for 10 years or less.” Within those 10 years lies a wide variety of experience levels. With the support of a NIFA Beginning Farmer Rancher Development Program grant (BFRDP), MOSES has launched the Farmer Advancement Program, targeting beginning farmers in different stages of their careers: the new beginning farmer in years 0-3, the intermediate beginning farmer in years 4-6, and the advanced beginning farmer in years 7-10.

The Farmer Advancement Program offers a career pipeline to support beginning farmers and ranchers throughout their different levels of development. This program focuses on the development of peer-cohorts of new, intermediate, and more experienced beginning farmer units based on experience level. It also pairs beginning farmers across these experience cohorts to help them support and mentor each other in the challenging lifestyle and financial risks they will all face daily.

Additional components of the Farmer Advancement Program focus on our Farmer-to-Farmer Mentoring Program, now in its 14th year. This year-long, one-to-one mentorship for farmers with at least one or two seasons of running their farm business aims to help them focus on specific production methods or business goals with the help of a more experienced farmer. The program starts and ends in February at the MOSES Organic Farming Conference—program participants receive free admission to the conference.

The application period for the 2022 Farmer-to-Farmer Mentoring Program is open now. Learn more at mosesorganic.org/mentor-program.

Sarah Woutat is the Farmer Advancement Program Coordinator for MOSES.

Issue: Jul 2021
By: Sarah Woutat