Beginning Farmer Education: What is our role?

September 23, 2021

MSU has received a USDA beginning farmer grant (2021-2024) to create curricula and resources to support educators and programs for beginning farmers across the state.

We will share the intent of this grant, other existing approaches that help farmers learn and engage in conversation to discuss approaches that do and do not work from the lens of the presentation participants. The goal is to glean ideas to improve beginning farmer educational platforms and develop opportunities for our educators to engage with beginning farmers and their educators.

Following a description of goals of the grant, we will share some past outreach for beginning farmers in Michigan. Then we will invite the participants to share their experiences and ideas of best bet approaches to engage beginning farmers as well as educators of beginning farmer programs.

Video Transcript

 - [Vicki] Welcome to the Beginner Farmer Education session. Today, we're gonna share with you a little bit about what we're doing, and hopefully we capture a little bit of what we all can do as a team. My name is Vicki Morrone. I'm with the Center for Regional Food Systems, and I work a lot with organic farmers, but I also work with beginner farmers, and this session will focus on my work with beginner farmers in Michigan. - [Mariel] I'm Mariel Borgman. I'm a Community Food Systems educator with MSU Extension. I work in southwest Michigan, and a lot of my work focuses on farm marketing and produce safety. - [Vicki] So we say, who are Michigan's beginner farmers? Well, we have many and, thankfully, we have many, but it's our job I feel as Extension to help them grow, produce and be successful. And I hope you see this, too, as a value in your job. - [Mariel] Yeah, one of the unique things about our beginning farmers in Michigan is that we have a mix of rural and urban folks that are interested in getting into agriculture. So there's a lot of different needs that we need to address, and there's not one size fits all solution that meets their needs. And there's over 10,000 beginning farmers in Michigan according to the Census of Agriculture. - [Vicki] Absolutely, and most of our beginner farmers are under 30 years old. Keep in mind that our current farmers are over 50 years old, and we all want to keep that flow of food coming. And it's up to us and many others in the food world to help these young people step up and learn to grow for markets and find their niche in what makes them a good businessperson to produce food, to work with markets. - [Mariel] Yeah, and that many of these are not coming from backgrounds in farming. They didn't grow up on a farm. Some of them have pursued traditional education, gone to college. Some have not. But they don't typically come to farming with a lot of actual hands-on experience, and a lot of times they don't have land that's been handed down to them from another generation. So they're seeking capital to look to acquire land and to build their farm from scratch. - [Vicki] And that's the challenge for us today is to figure out ways to help these folks gain access to capital and gain access to land, as well as the technical portions of farming. Some resources that we have are us, educators, and we work across the state, and that's a great benefit because there are Beginner Farmer Programs across the state. We offer many online programs already, as well as in-person programs that can be beneficial to beginner farmers. But it's up to us to maybe modify the curriculum a little bit, the program, so that it does fit beginner farmers' needs but also to promote it to these audiences because sometimes they're a small group. They're 10 or 15 people working together. And so, hopefully, we can discuss ways we could reach out to these organizations and these beginner farmers so that they, too, have access to this information. Technical resources are everything from things like the Enviroweather, understanding how to use that and how it benefits a farmer to understand to watch for IPM purposes for degree days or just upcoming weather events so they can figure out when to plant, to just having an older farmer or a farmer with experience to talk to about how they managed to accomplish a task. - [Mariel] Yeah, and we do have a good sense of what those needs are. This program has been developed collaboratively with growers. There was a roundtable that was held by the Center for Regional Food Systems that identified needs of beginning farmers as well as existing farmers and what they wish they would have known. And we're also operating under the assumption that there are benefits to not only having the technical training and skills, but also learning through experiential hands-on. - [Vicki] We've listened to many farmers say that it was one thing to read about it and maybe even watch a video, but it was another thing to go out and work with the farmer to actually do it and to realize the challenges that go along with it, as well as the protocol, how to make it happen. And so, experiential learning is, especially with something so hands-on, if you will, is so important to allow the farmer to gain the experience but also gain the confidence to be able to modify a system to meet their resources and expectations on their farm. - [Mariel] So we know there's over 70 organizations across the state of Michigan that are working with beginning farmers in some capacity. And so, our colleague, Katie Brandt, has put together this amazing map that has all of these resources listed out. And you can learn more about the map and its functionality by attending another one of these Ed Talks. - [Vicki] Take advantage of taking a look at those and seeing where they are in the locations that you serve. And the next time you have the opportunity to go out and about, maybe you'll stop by and visit one of them so you can see what they're doing and give them a chance to meet you and you meet them because it's a tremendous opportunity for us to gain familiarity with the program managers, as well as the actual protocol or how do they do it? How are they managing? And we have some Beginner Farmer Programs within our own MSU system. We have the North Farm, we have the Tollgate, and then we have the Organic Farmer Training Program. All of them have unique ways of approaching beginner farmers and they're all different and they're all good, but hopefully we could glean what works, what doesn't, what could be an alternative when you run into a certain situation. But by discussion as a whole group, we could gain a lot of understanding to better serve these beginner farmers. - [Mariel] We have secured some funding. We've been awarded a USDA Beginning Farmer Grant to do some curriculum development and educator training for the next three years. So this is a collaboration among MSU Extension Educators and Beginning Farmer Educators across the state. We'll be working to co-develop curricula for identified needs. - [Vicki] And we're working really hard to embrace needs of both urban and rural Beginner Farmer Programs and beginner farmers. And we've selected carefully the topics based on farmer express needs. - [Mariel] The topics that were really of interest to the beginning farmers of Michigan were things like IPM, pollinators, food safety, especially produce food safety and kind of the things they have to meet under the FSMA Produce Safety Rule, farm financials, land acquisition. As we talked about, that's a very important piece as a lot of those new farmers are not inheriting land, and they also need those farm financials to assess their business but also to assess startup costs and readiness for financing. Also, urban agriculture policy as a lot of these growers are looking to start their farms in urban areas, and they may or may not have urban agriculture policy established in those areas. As well as understanding soil health, and all of the different market establishment opportunities. So whether they want to sell their products direct to consumers or wholesale or anything in between, we'll be helping to create curriculum that allows them to explore all of those different options. - [Vicki] These will be developed with teams. We have a facilitator who is a more of an expert in that area. And then there'll be a team that will consist of Extension educators, beginner farmer coordinators and some beginner farmers, and these will be tested with the audience, the beginner farmers. And then we'll also, we'll do some trainer of trainers using the curriculum that's developed by these teams and the initiation of the curriculum, well it'll be just test it with the farmers. We get their feedback, we edit it, and then the curriculum will be made available to Beginner Farmer Programs across the state and beyond. They'll be free to access through the internet, and we're going to attempt to be compatible with other websites. So that, say for example, the Detroit Black Farmer Network wants to put that on their website as a curriculum, they can put that right there without having to just have a link. Now you may say that, "Oh, we have many of these resources "already available online through D2L programs, "through YouTubes," and it's true. Those are great resources, and they'll be included in the various curricula, but we need to have some sort of format for a new Beginner Farmer Program to follow so that they can be assured that the materials they are sharing with the beginner farmers are current and are factual. - [Mariel] A number of beginning farmers are Spanish speaking, and so we are making sure that we have bilingual resources available, as well. - [Vicki] And that's a great opportunity that MSU has offered us. They provide a little bit of upfront money for each program that's translated to Spanish, but as well, we've included that in the budget, some to support that to make sure that it happens, and it's done well. - [Mariel] Vicki is the PI on this grant and I'm the co-PI, so if you have questions, if you want to talk about your ideas, please feel free to reach out to either one of us. So we hope that you'll join us during the Ed Talk discussion on Monday from 12:30 to 1:00 p.m. Just bring your lunch and have a conversation about how you've been interacting with beginning farmers. What's worked for you? What do you find that you're lacking in terms of resources and tools? What kinds of approaches do you find to be most effective in working with the beginning farmer audience? And our ideas for how we might better serve beginning farmers in Michigan. So we really look forward to you having a really rich discussion with you about your experience. - [Vicki] Together, so we can help our beginner farmers do the best they possibly can and make a good business of it. And thanks for your time.

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