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Farmer Mentorship - An Invaluable Career Move

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

By Suzy Konecky, NOFA/Mass Beginning Farmer Program Coordinator

The Beginning Farmer Program aims to cultivate
the next generation of committed organic farmers in
Massachusetts. Through three distinct educational
components of the program, as well as educational
conference scholarships, we are able to offer young
farmers, and those who are coming to farming after
a diverse range of careers, the opportunity to engage
in educational opportunities that are appropriate
for where they are in their professional farming
development. The Mentorship Program is the largest
component. In this program, Beginning Farmers are
matched with experienced mentors, who over the
course of a year share their skills and experiences.
This month I talked with two of the participants in
the program, Lana Cannon and Zannah Porter, who
shared their experience in the program thus far.
Lana Cannon works as the CSA Coordinator for the
Crop department at Drumlin Farm in Lincoln, MA.
She has lots of goals for this year: “I aim to commit
myself fully to ask questions, adapt my body and mind
to the physical and mental challenges of farming...to
continue on this path that makes me feel whole and
fulfilled.”
 
Lana’s mentor is Linda Ugelow of Dancing Tomato
Farm. Lana visited the farm and helped Linda and her
husband put up the end of their new hoop house; they
had to cut the plastic, hang it on a track, and stretch
it tight. “It was nice to be able to contribute to a pretty major step in the development of her farm,” said Lana.

Lana’s goal for the next few years is to work on her aunt’s sheep farm in Springvale, Maine. She wants to integrate crops into the farm and help increase the flock from its current size of 120 sheep. To this
end, Lana and Linda have spent some time talking about business planning. Linda has generously offered to share her business plan with Lana and offered to give feedback on Lana’s plan. With Linda acting as a sounding board for Lana’s business ideas, Lana is confident that she will continue to learn a lot from this relationship with her mentor.

Already Linda has helped Lana prioritize her thoughts and plans and has given some valuable second opinions on things. Lana has been working at Drumlin Farm, which is 15 acres, and knows that if she farms on her own some day, it will need to be a smaller operation. It was good for her to see Linda’s farm, which is on a much smaller scale. Lana hopes to continue to learn from Linda’s experiences, successes, and challenges. Of her participation in the Beginning Farmer Mentorship Program, Lana says, “I am so thankful to be part of the program. It was a really great career move.”
 
Zannah is the Assistant Grower at Waltham Fields
Community Farm (WFCF). This is her second year at
WFCF where she is responsible for managing a fouracre
satellite site. The satellite site is about a 20-minute
drive from the main site, and she has a lot of autonomy
there. Zannah decided to grow vegetables on three
acres and use the fourth acre for raising pastured pork.
 
Zannah’s mentor is Jim Buckle of The Buckle Farm.
Zannah had three pigs this season; they are almost
ready to go to slaughter. This is the first time Zannah
is the primary caretaker for a group of animals, but
“I have dabbled in livestock before,” she says. The
learning curve was steep for her, but Jim’s experience
and advice were priceless. “We talked about how to set
up a rotation, about feed, sourcing feed, sourcing pigs.
Actually pretty much every step”. Jim also advised her
on to slaughter—like which slaughterhouse to use and
how to transport the pigs to the slaughter house.
 
Zannah tells a story a hot day in August when she had
a pig who was not doing well. The pig was lethargic,
and she could tell that something was very wrong.
The pig was lying by itself, which her pigs rarely do.
She knew that she didn’t want to have to cull the pig,
but she also was fearful that illness might spread to
the other pigs. Zannah shares: “I talked to Jim a lot
that day. Someone on my small scale can’t pay for
a large animal vet to come out to the farm; it’s just
not financially feasible.” Zannah is right; it is very
expensive to even have a vet step foot on your farm,
not to mention the costs of diagnosis and treatment
of a sick animal. Zannah’s relationship with Jim and
his role on that day is exactly the intention of the
Beginning Farmer Mentorship Program. Jim was able
to be both a source of emotional support, and a source
of knowledge and experience for Zannah.
 
Going forward, now that Zannah won’t have the pigs,
she knows that her mentorship with Jim with change.
She plans to utilize and learn from Jim’s other skills
and knowledge. Zannah’s experience has been working
for nonprofit farms, but Jim purchased and started his
own farm. She plans to talk with him about buying
land and equipment.
 
Zannah also plans to visit Jim and walk his farm. This
has been a challenging growing season, mostly with
respect to the weather. Zannah wants to talk with Jim
about what the challenges of the season mean for him.
She has experienced very high weed pressure, periods
of high precipitation and then none, and pest pressure
that was higher and earlier than previous years.
Zannah plans to seek Jim’s advice for how to structure
planting differently.
For more information about the Beginning Farmer
Program, see the website at: http://www.nofamass.
org/programs/beginning-farmer-program or contact
the Beginning Farmer Program Coordinator at: suzy@
nofamass.org.
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