This past week, I had the great pleasure of attending the annual meeting of the Farm Beginnings Collaborative hosted by the Organic Growers School in Asheville, NC. The Land Connection is one of thirteen organizational members of the collaborative, all of which offer Farm Beginnings®, a yearlong training program that provides farm business-planning sessions, on-farm field day workshops, and one-on-one mentoring from area farmers.
The Land Connection created Central Illinois Farm Beginnings (CIFB) in 2004 and became a founding member of the collaborative in 2009. Since we began offering CIFB, we have graduated more than 200 farmers from the program. However, over the last several years, demand for the program has dwindled in our region and for this reason, the program has been on hiatus since 2018. As the program requires a large time commitment (six in-person, all day meetings, several field days, and a commitment to meet with a mentor farmer regularly), we believe that this may be one barrier facing farmers accessing the program. This is our assumption though, and you could help us determine if this is correct and how to reduce barriers and improve the program by completing this brief survey.
We still believe that there are farmers in our region that would benefit from the Central Illinois Farm Beginnings program and we are exploring ways to make it more accessible to our community. A large component of the program is building a cohort of beginning farmers that can support each other and share challenges and successes. Farmers that have been through the program have expressed that there is great value in meeting in-person, even with the large time commitment. However, as technology has progressed, we also see the opportunity to reduce the amount of time needed to travel and meet face-to-face. We can see the program shifting to include more online work and virtual meetings, though rural internet connectivity may also present an issue for many in accessing this option.
In speaking with our partner organizations at the Farm Beginnings Collaborative, it is clear that we all see these challenges and opportunities; and we are all committed to working to serve our area farmers and support them in developing viable farm businesses. Please help us to best support our community of beginning farmers by completing this survey and sharing it with others in our farming community. Your participation is greatly appreciated.