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Calling all new and transitioning organic farmers!
Find farming success with help from the 2010 MOSES Farmer to Farmer Mentoring Program
This article was first printed in the Nov/Dec 2009 issue of the Organic Broadcaster, published by the Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service.
The Farmer to Farmer Mentoring Program developed by the Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service (MOSES) helps new or recently certified organic farmers make the transition to organic production with help from experienced farmer mentors. Now coming into its third session, MOSES has been happy to offer this successful program every year since its pilot in 2008.
Designed for both novice organic farmers and for any who have been farming for a few years and may be feeling stuck or frustrated, the year-long Farmer to Farmer Mentoring Program is a boon. Working with successful and experienced mentors, new and transitioning organic farmers (mentees) get help with everything from farm planning, marketing, and selecting seed to cover cropping, pest management, and soil fertility.
Most farmers agree that when it comes to learning how to do it right, the best kind of learning comes through a farmer-to-farmer experience. It is well known in the organic farming community that organic producers like to help those that wish to make the transition. Past mentors consistently say that they find it personally rewarding to see their mentees succeed. These elements are what make the MOSES Farmer to Farmer Mentoring program so effective: it’s about bringing farmers together to learn from and support each other.
In 2009 the MOSES Farmer to Farmer Mentoring Program teamed 20 successful organic farmers with 26 transitioning farmers and provided mentoring in a variety of farming types including dairy, vegetables, field crops, poultry, tree fruit and specialty crops. Mentees appreciate the advice they receive from their mentors and the extra push it gives them to buckle down to do the learning and the work. “I thought it was very helpful to have an experienced organic farmer get me through certification and feel less intimidated by the process,” said one mentee in the 2009 program. “He also inspired me to keep going in spite of problems and economic obstacles.”
In 2010 MOSES will continue to match farmers based on farming type and proximity to one another and will open the program to additional farming types. The mentoring relationships that have been most successful are ones in which the mentors and mentees live close enough to allow several farm visits throughout the year. Though we require mentors in the program to visit their mentee’s farm at least once during the year, in fact, the average number of visits in 2009 has been much higher. E-mail and phone call contact between mentors and mentees has been at least once a month.
All farmer participants to the 2010 program will be given admission to the 2010 Organic Farming Conference and Organic University, where they can broaden their organic farming education and network with other producers. The conference gives mentees and mentors alike a deep sense of belonging, camaraderie and support.
Mentors in the mentoring program receive a small stipend at the beginning of the farm year and again at the end. Mentees pay a small fee to participate. This fee, however, is offset by the fact that mentees receive free admission to the 2010 Organic Farming Conference and Organic University as well as to the 2011 Organic Farming Conference, where they will reconvene with others in the program to share their experiences and compare notes.
Mentors are finding the mentoring program as valuable for themselves as the mentees do. They enjoy sharing their expertise and experiences, the challenge of helping another farmer succeed, and the give and take that informs their own farming venture. “We really like to emphasize the relationship-building aspect of the mentoring program,” says Harriet Behar, MOSES organic specialist, and herself an organic farmer. “We love to take on interested producers who see the potential for long-term, mutually supportive relationships in the program.” Behar also said that many of the mentees liked the program because it gave them the comfort and permission to “bother” their mentors throughout the year.
Behar will be facilitating the MOSES Farmer to Farmer Mentoring Program in 2010 and will be in close contact with all participating farmers during the year to answer questions, provide additional support, and solicit feedback from participants.
MOSES is accepting applications for mentors and mentees right now. The application asks both mentors and mentees if they know of anyone who they would like to be their mentor/mentee. MOSES will make every effort to match mentors and mentees who already know each other and want to be matched and who live close to each other.
Farmers interesting in serving as mentors or in being mentored in 2010 should contact Harriet Behar (888-551-4769 toll free or email@example.com). Both mentors and mentees will find application forms on the MOSES website, http://mosesorganic.org/mentoring.html. The application asks farmers to describe their farming type and experience. This information will help MOSES link them with compatible farmers in their region.
Eric Hatling is the Communications and Development Coordinator at MOSES. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.Return to TOP