MOSES farming mentors offer advice on mentoring other farmers
By Chuck Anderas
One of my favorite things about MOSES is our mentorship program. The kinds of farmers mentoring others in our program are typically people who have served in that capacity informally for many years. They are great examples of one of the most striking aspects of the organic farming community—the willingness to share hard-earned expertise to help others along the way. When I thanked one of the mentors last summer for being in the program, he told me that when he started farming he didn’t know anybody else doing what he was doing and he’s just happy to share what he has learned. I really appreciate that spirit, and it makes me thankful every day to be a part of this community.
The Farmer-to-Farmer Mentorship Program pairs beginning farmers—farmers new to organic production or farmers adding a new enterprise to their farms—with experienced organic farmers. The mentors and mentees check in with each other regularly, visit each other’s farms, and attend the MOSES Conference together. The program really gets to the heart of what MOSES is—farmer-to-farmer education—and more importantly what our community is. Our practices and solutions are locally adapted, bottom-up ideas, and we share those ideas with others.
When you get a diverse enough group of farmers in a room together to solve a problem, they are going to come up with some good ideas. In that spirit, we hosted a virtual get-together with the MOSES mentors back in February so they could learn from each other about how to best shepherd along their beginning farmers this season. In the meeting, I asked the mentors to discuss a pretty broad question in small groups: What makes a mentorship relationship successful? The mentors identified five key principles: expectations, goals, listening, humility, and trust.
• Set clear expectations for the mentoring relationship.
• Have clearly defined tasks. What is the role of the mentor? What is the role of the mentee?
• Structure is important—write down expectations, goals, and agreed-upon communication methods and times.
• Prioritize goals together, with what the mentor can offer to help them achieve their goals.
• Include quality of life goals.
• The mentor needs to understand the mentee’s motivation.
• Set a timeline for goals—what do they want to accomplish throughout the mentorship?
• Determine what a successful year look like.
• Don’t assume you know what they want or need.
• Don’t give them too much information all at once.
• Ask questions.
• You (the mentor) don’t have to know everything.
• If your expectations for yourself as a mentor are too grand, you won’t be able to live up to them.
• People need to find solutions for their own situations.
• Realize that the trajectory and the solutions you have had on your farm aren’t necessarily the right trajectory and solutions for everybody.
• Know what you can and can’t offer your mentee. Find resources for them if you can’t help them with something.
• Trust is built over time spent together.
• Vulnerability—share mistakes you’ve made; don’t just talk about things that went well.
• Don’t shy away from difficult subjects—“Don’t be afraid to talk about money.”
• Tell the truth—be upfront and honest.
• Be available and reliable.
• Set up a schedule so you have some kind of regular communication, so it’s harder to get distracted from the mentorship as the season gets busy.
• Set boundaries.
I hope that you find their advice helpful in your own mentoring relationships, whether they be formal or informal. If you are interested in being a MOSES mentor or mentee, let me know. You can reach me through the Organic Answer Line (888-90-MOSES) or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Chuck Anderas, the lead MOSES Organic Specialist, coordinates the Farmer-to-Farmer Mentoring Program
From the May| June 2020 Issue