We received a grant from FarmAid this year. This is exciting for two reasons: 1) the email telling you that you got the award also comes with a picture of Willie Nelson signing the grant documents, which really is a reward in its own right; and 2) we get to start a phenomenal program here at The Land Connection.It’s our new Mentorship Program, and the concept is simple: if you are looking for expert guidance on a farming topic, we will connect you with a mentor in central Illinois or Indiana. Our network of mentors is comprised of a huge variety of farmers, from growers raising livestock on a few acres or producing vegetables for sales at the farmers’ market all the way up to organic grain farmers who are growing on thousand of acres and selling into wholesale markets. Thanks to this grant, we were also able to double the amount of mentors in our network, which included bringing in farmers from Indiana and increasing the expertise we can offer on grain production.
The application is free, and once we receive your information, we will select 1-4 mentors from our network (depending on how many of them may be a good fit for you) to share your information with. If the mentors think you might be a good mentorship match for them, we’ll then share their profiles with you. If you think one of those mentors might be a good fit for you as well, we’ll put you in touch. Then it’s up to you to meet with your new mentor, determine your learning needs and how you will conduct your mentorship (phone? Farm visits? Attending workshops together?), and get a mentorship agreement signed.
Now if this sounds familiar, that’s because we’ve offered something similar through our Farm Beginnings program for the past ten years. Our Farm Beginnings program is really the full package, offering the voices and support of dozens of farmers as our students craft their business plans and begin realizing their farm dreams, and then getting students connected with a farmer-mentor. This model has worked and will continue to work phenomenally for our students, but it’s not for everyone. If writing a business plan is not your priority, or you just need to develop specific production or marketing skills, or you can’t make it on winter Saturdays for the class, then the new Mentorship Program might be just the right thing for you.
Yes, the Mentorship Program does have a cost associated with it: $350.00. Most of this goes to your mentor, to make sure they are compensated for their time. But this investment in the future of your farm can be among the most worthwhile investments you make to ensure your success. In fact, in our interviews with our mentors, we would ask them what were some of the resources they would recommend to aspiring farmers. The most common answer? “Getting mentored by other farmers.”
One of this year’s Farm Beginnings student said it from the mentee’s perspective. Kacey Nelson is the owner of Two Million Blooms, a new honey business in Champaign, and he is being mentored by Sheri and David Burns of Long Lane Honey Bee Farms. Their mentorship has quickly evolved beyond a question-and-answer learning experience into a partnership of sorts. “The Burns really set the tone for what has become a warm dynamic rooted in friendship. While there are formal responsibilities in place, the mentorship has played out very naturally in a number of forms and we’ve been able to help each other out in some unforeseen ways.” As for what he is learning, Kacey describes his mentorship as impossible to replicate through any other means. “Books and YouTube videos can be informative, but there are just certain questions that surface which can only be answered by someone who is living it–in your location and market.”
If you’re interested in our mentorship program, applications are free and open now, and our Frequently Asked Questions page might be helpful as well. There are talented farmers out there, waiting to show you how to join them in the growing good food movement. Make a worthwhile investment to help your farm thrive.