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Building Farmers in the West: Creating New Capacity, Community and Opportunities for Specialty Producers


The goal of the six-state Building Farmers program is to train producers in Colorado, Idaho, Oregon, New Mexico, Nevada and Washington to successfully enter and compete in emerging markets by providing a classroom and experiential learning program that improves knowledge and skills in several areas including: farm business planning (strategic planning, combined with specific tools such as recordkeeping, financial management and understanding the legal and regulatory environment governing direct markets for various products, business succession planning); expanding farmer networks in local farm communities; food safety approaches appropriate for direct marketing; organic production issues and marketing opportunities; production certification choices, benefits, costs, and marketing opportunities; and exploring feasibility of value added product enterprises. <P>

Objectives: 1: Identify, refine and develop curriculum modules and decision tools that are well-suited to the educational needs of the target audience, build capacity for strategic business planning among producer participants, and use existing resources from governmental, NGO and University sources. Completed in 2009-2010.<P>
2a: Deliver customized business planning programs targeted to the needs of 350 producers in 5 states and 12 sites (to augment 200 producers in 5 regions of Colorado already planned). A complementary train-the-trainer model will be developed for those regions and institutions that are able to offer this level of instruction (Cultivating Success in the Northwest and FFA instructors in Colorado). Completed in 2010-2011.<BR> 2b: Organize and coordinate experiential learning programs for all sites in Colorado and at least 3 other sites. Participants who complete the classroom program will qualify to apply for mentoring from experienced producers, or a cost-shared intern to work at the farmer producer's operation or with a production oriented community organization. <P>
3: Evaluate curriculum, program learning objectives, evaluation instruments used for the classroom and experiential learning programs and post-program producer outcomes assessment. Begins in 2010 and extends through 2012. <P>
Outputs: 1. Building Farmers training programs in 16 areas across 6 states that address local input availability and constraints as well as local marketing opportunities, directly engaging 550 producers; <P>
2. Mentorship programs in many areas to provide hands on training for the programs classroom producer participant; <P>
3. An experiential learning pilot program in Boulder County, CO to extend farmer knowledge & resources which can then be replicated in 3 other sites outside of Colorado; <P>
4. The Building Farmers curricula available in different electronic & print formats to increase accessibility, and in Spanish, Hmong and other languages where demand is documented; <P>
5. Curriculum modules around core topics that comprise a complete instructional methodology for beginning farmers and ranchers across the Western US.

More information

NON-TECHNICAL SUMMARY: Growing demand for local, fresh foods has created new market opportunities for Western producers and has highlighted the information and experience gaps that limit entry and successful competition for new and transitioning small-farm producers. Agricultural production possibilities vary greatly throughout the West due to topography and climate and access to consumers and marketing infrastructure as do opportunities and risks resulting from: a) changing production modes, b) engaging in direct marketing, and c) changing business planning to capture new markets. The project team, drawn from 6 states with a mix of community based organization and university personnel, will equip 550 producers with the improved knowledge, planning skills, and directed technical assistance necessary to compete in specialty produce and livestock markets. Beginning farmers participating in this project will learn to build and maintain economically viable operations based on the knowledge, skills, tools, and experience developed through the cooperation and education from community food organizations including Farm to Table, Rocky Mountain Farmers Union, the Northern Colorado Food Incubator, state-based Farm Bureau and Healthy Community Food Systems, successful growers, and Land Grant Universities in Washington, Colorado, Nevada, Idaho, New Mexico and Oregon. The project scope focuses on four activities supporting local food system-oriented producers: 1) identifying, developing and refining essential curriculum, 2) delivering this curriculum to producers or partner educators, 3) innovating experiential learning strategies to complement classroom lessons, and 4) evaluating program materials and delivery methods. Structured classroom training will build capacity among producers on core topics in business planning, accounting, regional direct marketing strategies, and business development, which is reinforced through interactions with University collaborators, producer peers, and input providers and community resources. The program will link producers with direct marketing outlets to strengthen local agriculture and food systems in several ways. Sixteen program delivery sites will offer classes to approximately 550 participants. In some regions, course OgraduatesO will apply for field-based producer mentorships or other experiential learning to advance their business goals. Mentorships allow participants to gain on-demand access to an experienced, successful farmer or pool of farmers to answer questions related to business planning, production and marketing issues, as they arise throughout the season. This project fosters development of a comprehensive new farmer education tool kit for the Western United States, building on existing materials from various USDA, University and Organizational programs, drawing on the strengths of individual partner states and collaboratorsO knowledge of local and regional production and marketing conditions, and relying on the collaborating institutionsO ability to provide long-term technical assistance.

<P>APPROACH: A sustained educational framework to support new and transitioning producers is achieved through structured but interactive classroom sessions, followed by guided mentoring in targeted locations that enables classroom participants to apply their knowledge gained to their own farm or ranch enterprises. Experiential learning programs offering on farm or ranch work experience will teach producers how to find and effectively allocate different community labor resources including unpaid volunteers, interns, and paid workers for critical transplanting, weeding and harvesting tasks. The interactive nature of these courses responds to the varying needs of new and transitioning producers, as newer producers gain knowledge from contact time with more experienced producers, and more experienced producers graduate to mentoring positions where they are able to enhance their knowledge of non-traditional cropping patterns, labor management, input utilization and marketing outlets in their region while being compensated for the educational roles they play. Although there are many valuable materials available, we believe it is essential to: 1) identify the most relevant curriculum pieces; 2) test and refine these materials in conjunction with producers; and 3) develop missing elements in order to provide a sustainable business development foundation that can be completed in a short planning horizon but will be sufficiently detailed to help small farmers and ranchers enter emerging markets throughout the West. The multi-state, collaborative basis for this project provides several advantages that improve current state- and local-level programming for beginning farmers and ranchers, including: developing new curricula based on best practices in many states (i.e., adapting production and revenue planning decision tools to intensive intercropping, CSA share-based production, or non-acreage based enterprises), engaging new farmer populations for which partner states previously had limited or no resources, and testing new program delivery methods across a diverse producer population (i.e., experiential learning or developing alternative educational formats using Web-based curricula and on-line communities). The assessment team will draw on producer advisory boards, where they are established, peer reviews among the University and organizational partners and current agricultural education literature to evaluate the curriculum and learning materials. In evaluating the participants' learning experiences, we will consider the types of evaluation instruments, timing of each type of evaluation, use of focus groups and inclusion of community partners in evaluating the participant business plans and other outputs. At the end of the project, we hope to use an extensive evaluation to fine-tune programs while they are still being developed and taught in the region so that we can also assess if changes/improvements result in better outcomes for the program participants.

Newkirk, Jon
Washington State University Extension
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