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Taking full advantage of the Beginning Farmer Mentorship Program

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This article comes from the NOFA/Massachusetts 2016 March Issue Newsletter

By Brittany Sidway Overshiner

Jamie Lombardo is the CSA manager at Cape Cod Organic Farm in Barnstable, MA. This year she is managing a small cut flower operation, in addition to her other management responsibilities. She applied for the NOFA/Mass mentorship program, specifically requesting Lynda Simkins of Natick Community Organic Farm as her mentor. Lynda was glad to participate. I attended their kick-off meeting at NCOF in early February.

In an effort to improve the experience and community connectedness of the participants in our mentorship program, we held a “kick-off” meeting at the Winter Conference for all participants. The Mentors and Mentees got together to accomplish these tasks:

  1. Establish goals for the mentorship that are specific and measureable
  2. Create a rough plan for the mentorship with defined method for reaching those goals
  3. Talk about preferred methods of communication, and create a communication plan that will be effective for meeting the mentorship goals
  4. Leave the meeting with a plan for the next time they two will talk/email/meet

Farming can be an all-consuming job. When the cows get out and zucchini needs to be picked, a beginning (and experienced farmer) can become overwhelmed by pressing demands and the important work of professional development and planning can get pushed down the priority list. A part of my job is to make sure our mentees keep the mentorship, and their goals, from falling off that list.

When I explained this to Jamie Lombardo, who wasn’t able to make our group meeting at the Winter Conference because she manages a Saturday winter farmers market, her response was:

“I’ve got Lynda Simkins on the line. I’m going to take full advantage!”

The mentorship program depends upon the initiative of mentees to set goals and maintain communication with their mentors. When we review applications we are looking for people who not only have proven a dedication to the craft, but who are able to set clear goals, and demonstrate an ability to take full advantage of the program.

There is no doubt Jamie will take full advantage. She showed up to her initial meeting with two pages of hand written questions about timing, varieties, arranging and marketing cut flowers for Lynda. They toured the farm, viewing the greenhouses where the flower seedlings are started and the unheated hoop-house where overwintering flowers and newly transplanted spring sweet peas were already growing.

Partnering with Lynda in the mentorship is her assistant, Deena. Deena has taken Lynda’s flower production systems, some parts of which have only lived in her head over the years and has created a written planting schedule which she was able to share with Jamie. A great benefit of most mentorships is that farmers usually have a great team supporting them, and those team members can be a huge asset to the mentees.

Jamie left the meeting with catalogues, lots of detailed information about crop planning for a cut flower operation, some strong words of wisdom, and a plan to come back during maple sugaring season to sit with Lynda and Deena as they stoke the fire under the evaporator and go over her next round of questions. In the meantime she has access to them both via email and phone if she needs them.

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