Investment in training new farmers is paying off
Training people to farm is successfully preparing them for careers, according to a new report from the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. Their report, “Cultivating the Next Generation,” evaluates the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program, which was funded in the 2008 Farm Bill.
According to a national survey, Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program-funded project leaders estimated that over half of their participants are now engaged in a farming career, and that nearly three-quarters of them felt more prepared for a successful career in agriculture after completing the program.
The Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program has also helped nonprofit and community-based organizations, along with their academic partners, to build their capacity and serve more farmers with better services.
In California, UC Cooperative Extension has been providing beginning farming and farm business planning training in Placer and Nevada counties for over a decade. In a 2016 survey of Placer and Nevada county producers, 72 percent of respondents said they had taken one or more business classes from UCCE and another 9 percent had taken other business training. The training appeared to make a difference in their success.
“In a survey of local producers, over 90 percent were profitable as compared to 25 percent on the last national ag census,” said Cindy Fake, director of UC Cooperative Extension in Placer and Nevada counties.
In Sonoma County, UC Cooperative Extension offers "FARMING 101" workshops on the second Tuesday of the month. Experienced farmers, ranchers, and business specialists share a broad range of practical skills that new farmers and ranchers need to know. They also have resources at http://cesonoma.ucanr.edu/New_to_Sonoma_County_Ag to help new farmers and ranchers create a business plan and connect with mentors.
“For me, the full-time job I received is the direct result of my participation in the class,” wrote one Sonoma County participant. “Our products there provide 20 dozen eggs to three restaurants weekly in Healdsburg, and an average of 60 tons of wine grapes to two wineries annually.”
Jennifer Sowerwine, UC Cooperative Extension specialist at UC Berkeley, served on an advisory board for the USDA program's evaluation. The report gave her ideas for improving training for California's aspiring farmers and ranchers.
“There is an opportunity for UC ANR to take more advantage of Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program funding to increase our support for beginning farmers and ranchers,” said Sowerwine.
According to the report, more beginning farmer training programs are led by the nonprofit sector than by land grant universities – 56 percent of all programs were led by nonprofits, 40 percent were led by land grant universities and 4 percent were led by other universities.
“There is an opportunity to deepen UC ANR support for beginning farmers in accessing land, capital and farm business management training,” Sowerwine said. “In addition to UC ANR's valued expertise in providing technical assistance to beginning farmers, we can also foster more farmer-to-farmer mentoring and networking opportunities for beginning farmers and ranchers to enhance their support systems.”
She also sees opportunities to incorporate more principles of adult education – such as engaging participants in the design and evaluation of the training and offering more hands-on, experiential learning activities using multisensory techniques – which were found to be highly effective practices in training beginning farmers.
Sowerwine is wrapping up a three-year beginning farmer and rancher project titled, "Growing Roots: Deepening Support for Diverse New Farmers and Ranchers in California.” Christy Getz, UC Cooperative Extension specialist at UC Berkeley, and Rob Bennaton, UC Cooperative Extension urban agriculture advisor, and Sowerwine, together with their nonprofit partners, have trained 340 beginning farmers and ranchers in 10 counties to help improve the economic viability and ecological sustainability of their agricultural operations.
The training is offered in Alameda, Contra Costa, Fresno, Merced, Monterey, Sacramento, San Joaquin, Santa Clara, Stanislaus and Yolo counties. Most of the participants are Southeast Asian, Latino and other immigrant farmers in urban, peri-urban and rural areas, along with low-income urban farmers.
By partnering with National Center for Appropriate Technology, Sustainable Agriculture Education, the Alameda County Resource Conservation District and UC Cooperative Extension colleagues in Alameda and Contra Costa counties, the team has been offering in-depth, culturally and regionally appropriate workshops and technical assistance. They also developed materials about business planning and marketing, hosted field days and farmer tours to observe organic and sustainable farming and ranching practices, and provided opportunities for the new farmers to network with other farmers.
“Collectively our project has reached 5,050 participants to date,” Sowerwine said, noting that many are people who have attended multiple events. Of the 3,485 who filled out evaluations, 89 percent reported an increase in their knowledge of workshop and field day topics and 73 percent reported plans to change their farming or business practices based on what they learned.
“We are in the process of evaluating how many have adopted practices based on what they learned,” Sowerwine said. “Based on what we learned, we are developing culturally relevant training tools in various languages.”
To download the Cultivating the Next Generation report, visit http://sustainableagriculture.net/publications/bfrdp.