The hurdles a new farmer faces are many. Farmland, equipment and all the minutiae of an operating farm make start-up prohibitively expensive. Add to that the large body of knowledge needed to farm successfully.
A number of new farmers will receive help thanks to Practical Farmers of Iowa (PFI) new Savings Incentive Program (SIP), which is matching 31 veteran farmers from across Iowa and surrounding states with the next generation to share knowledge and offer the guidance while encouraging financial saving. Amongst those mentors is Mike Lind of Driftless Organics, an organic farm located in Star Valley. Lind is acting as mentor to Glen Elsbernd of Cresco, Iowa.
Despite their relatively young age, the farmers at Driftless Organics (Josh Engel, Noah Engel and Lind) have drawn a fair amount of attention through their success and diversification efforts. Their farm yields a diverse array of vegetables and fruits boxed and sold through their Community Supported Agriculture operation, as well as to retail sellers. They also produce small grains, sunflower oil and grass-fed beef.
“As are many new farmers, Glen is working in the CSA model,” Lind explained. “So, he is looking to learn from our failures, and hopefully more importantly, from our successes.”
CSAs are a locally based model of agriculture and food distribution in which subscribers pay at the onset of the growing season for a share of the anticipated harvest. Once harvest begins, they receive weekly shares of vegetables and fruit and other farm produce throughout the growing season.
For a farmer that wants to expand, success is about smart expansion. With so many options, Lind stressed, making the choices that will work with your operation is essential - not all equipment or all nutrient and soil management plans fits every farm.
“The office stuff, it’s a bit boring and you can probably learn that on you own,” Lind explained. “But, the field aspects are more complicated. Being able to learn how different equipment really works with your operation is important as is learning to plan fertility management.”
Lind will meet with his mentee several times over the year, once on their farm and a few times at Driftless Organics. In addition, they will communicate by e-mail or phone as questions arise.
“We have been approached before,” Lind said. “But, we have shied away because we have kind of been transitioning the last few years. This time, it seemed right and somehow I was the one named to do it.”
“We have all given talks about our work,” Lind continued. “We also gave a workshop over the winter. We knew this was a direction we wanted to go, mentoring and sharing information.”
Besides matching mentors with starting farmers, SIP requires mentees to make regular deposits into a farm savings account each month for two years, at which point PFI matches each farm’s savings dollar-for-dollar up to $2,400. Upon completing the program, participants could have up to $4,800 to use toward a business purchase.
Enrollees are also required to complete a business plan, attend at least four PFI events each year of the program, live or farm in Iowa, and be Practical Farmers of Iowa members.
While the 2011 inaugural class comprised just 10 beginning farms, SIP expanded this year to admit 25 additional farms into the program. The new enrollees are diverse in both farm location and enterprise. Of the 25 farms admitted, 14 produce fruits and vegetables, eight raise row crops, six raise beef cattle, four raise poultry, four raise sheep, two are growing herbs, one has meat goats, two operate a dairy and one raises niche pork.
PFI programming stresses farmer-to-farmer networking through research, demonstration, field days, conferences and more.
For more information, call 515-232-5661 or visit www.practicalfarmers.org.