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Stories from Beginning Farmer Mentees

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This article comes from the NOFA/Massachusetts 2013 March Issue Newsletter

By Suzy Konecky NOFA/Mass Beginning Farmer Coordinator

“Lightning. Lightning and thunderstorms. I asked them what to do in that situation.” Rae Jones, a mentee in the NOFA/ Mass Mentorship Program, asked her mentors what to do in the case of lightning. It’s so important to know what to do on the farm in all weather, and I’m glad that Rae had an experienced farmer to go to with all her questions. She has also talked with her mentors about more common farm questions such as pest disease issues and the business end of farming for profit.
 
Rae has been working at a not-for-profit farm but was
interested in learning more about the business side of
farming. She also wanted to find someone who she can
regularly ask questions to; someone with more experience
than herself and the farmer she works for. Rae joined the
NOFA/Mass Farmer Mentorship Program last summer and
has been working with two mentors, Ben and Hannah of
Skinny Dip Farm. She visited their farm twice, and each
time learned a tremendous amount. Rae says, “there is a
really strong learning component to just a visit”. During her
visits, Rae helped with seed harvesting, unloaded a delivery
of a new greenhouse, and saw their harvest and washing
systems. Rae valued the experience of getting to work
alongside other farmers for a short time and seeing their
unique systems.
 
Rae says that biggest challenge with the mentorship program
was that it started in the middle of the farming season last
year. She wishes that she had been able to spend the whole
growing season in the program. This year mentors and
mentees are being paired in March, so matches will indeed be
set before the season begins.
 
Rae is grateful that Ben and Hannah are available for
questions whenever she has them. Since she knows that
they have formally entered in the Mentor Program and are
being compensated for their time, she feels very comfortable
going to them with questions. Ben and Hannah have
helped Rae make connections, including introducing her
to the Education Director at The Farm School, since she is
interested in agriculture education.
 
Rae has also taken advantage of the educational stipend
to NOFA events that all the mentees in the program
receive. She used part of the stipend to attend a workshop
at Waltham Fields Community Farm, and will use the
remainder at a beekeeping workshop.
 
Luke Pryjma is another mentee in the program. His mentor is Dominic from Moon in the Pond Farm. Before they were matched in the Mentorship Program, Luke attended a poultry slaughter workshop led by Dom. Dom took his time with everyone, gave handouts to the participants, talked about why his chickens enjoyed a
good life, and he was very professional. Luke enjoyed the
class and was glad to be paired with Dom.
 
Since they were matched as mentor and mentee, Luke and
Dom have done more animal slaughter together. Luke
helped Dom process his Thanksgiving turkeys, and Dom
helped Luke process the turkeys that Luke had bought from
him. Luke appreciates Dom’s perspective and practice of
taking each step of the process from beginning to end. Luke
says of Dom, “The quality of his work is very high. He is
building a reputation of uncompromised products”. Most
of their interactions have been focused on raising and
processing livestock. Luke likes to share with Dom everything
he is learning about nutrient density and re-mineralizing the
soil. They often discuss specific questions, but they also just
like to talk with each other about a variety of agricultural
issues.
 
Dom is making value-added products with ingredients
completely from his own farm. For example, he grows
the herbs and pepper for his own sausage. He has
a Bay plant. He grows juniper berries. Luke finds
this thoroughness and attention to process and detail
impressive. Luke appreciates just talking with Dom and
listening to his opinions. Luke says of Dom, “I’d rather hear
a strong opinion than a wishy-washy person.” They get to see
each other every couple of weeks at farmers’ potlucks in their
area (Southern Berkshire County).
 
Luke finds it interesting that he and Dom have taken a similar
trajectory to farming. They were both rooftop gardening in
New York City before they came to be raising livestock in
Berkshire County. Luke knows that soon “the mentorship
will expire in the eyes of NOFA, but our friendship is just
beginning.” If Dom needs a hand, “he can call me”.
 
If you are interested in learning more about the NOFA/Mass
Beginning Farmer Program, please be in touch. I would like
to hear from you if you are interested in being a Mentor or a
Mentee in future years. For more information: http://www.
nofamass.org/programs/beginning-farmer-program or email
Suzy Konecky at suzy@nofamass.org.
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