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Why you should apply for the 2016 Beginning Farmer Mentorship Program

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This article comes from the NOFA/Massachusetts 2015 December Issue Newsletter

By Brittany Sidway Overshiner

Group touring Many Hands Organic Farm

The 2016 Beginning Farmer Mentorship Program is now accepting applications. The program pairs seasoned mentors with beginning farmers dedicated to developing their skills. Click here to access the application and view a full program description.

“I just saved myself thousands of dollars,” a beginning farmer recently said to me, after a farmer-led, on-farm workshop. He elaborated by describing the mistakes the farmer had made, which were explained during the event. “Now I don’t have to make those mistakes!”

Learning from experienced growers and farmer peers, through in-person workshops and personal relationships, is the greatest educational tool available to new growers. Witnessing a new approach to a similar problem, running an idea by someone with more experience, or just asking for help when stumped are all ways we, as beginning farmers, can utilize the proficiency of established farmers to increase our own capacity and likelihood of success.

We all have access to the internet and its endless supply of information. We can buy books and read magazines, but receiving advice or feedback from a person we respect, whom we aspire to emulate, is not replaceable. It saves us time. It saves us money. It saves us hassle and heartache. Maybe, most importantly, it gives us confidence. Farming involves a lot of risk and feeling confident in our decisions and our support network allow us to feel ready to react to changing circumstance and new information.

Farming is an experiential business. There is a reason the USDA considers anyone farming for less than 10 years a beginning farmer: the variables are endless. Soil type, climate, seasonal weather shifts, markets, customer base, farmer personality, farm resource base – the list of factors defining a farm varies in every instance. It would be impossible to franchise farms. No farming solution is ever one size fits all. An experienced mentor can help us evaluate our specific situation and give advice tailored to our success.

As we develop our skills, we should constantly be looking to expand our network of support. The Beginning Farmer Mentorship Program allows a beginning farmer, with some experience, the opportunity to create a learning plan, work with an experienced mentor and collaborate with a peer group to reach specific, professional goals. It also subsidizes participation in conferences and on-farm workshops to enhance the educational experience.

For the last 4 years mentees in the NOFA/Mass Beginning Farmer Program have utilized the experience and generosity of mentors to develop their skills. Participants have focused on goals such as increasing their understanding of soil fertility management, growing a small urban farm, developing season extension crop plans and infrastructure, and exploring no-till growing techniques.

Anyone ready to dedicate him or herself to a year of professional development, seeking support from an experienced grower and a network of farmer and peers should apply for the 2016 mentorship program.

Click here to read program details and access the application.

The culture of information-sharing within the farming community is strong and admirable. Most successful farmers owe a debt of gratitude to former employers, teachers, neighbors and mentors who helped them on their journey. Most continue to rely on peer networks for support. The Mentorship Program allows experienced farmers to pay that debt forward, helping the next generation of farmers succeed.

Click here to learn more about being a mentor.

Please contact our Beginning Farmer Program Coordinator, Brittany Overshiner, with questions: brittany@nofamass.org.

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