News from the Cornell Small Farms Program, Spring 2020
Farm Ops Project to Continue Event Series for Veterans in Agriculture
We are pleased to announce that our Farm Ops project will be continuing its series of training workshops for veterans interested in agriculture throughout 2020. These single-day focused trainings will be covering a variety of topics relevant to small-scale agricultural endeavors, and each workshop consists of hands-on learning opportunities, along with paired reading materials, and connection to additional resources.
The events are free to attend and will be held at the EquiCenter Farm in Mendon, NY, unless otherwise specified, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. with lunch and refreshments provided. Trainings are open to all farmers, with no prior knowledge of the specific topic required. Spouses of NYS veterans are also welcome to attend.
Our Farm Ops project will also be hosting two week-long Armed to Farm (ATF) trainings this year. These ATF trainings allow veterans and their spouses to experience sustainable, profitable small-scale farming enterprises and explore agriculture as a viable career. There will be one standard ATF training offered in Ithaca, NY, from June 6 to 12. In the fall, there will be an urban agriculture training offered in Buffalo, NY.
ATF’s engaging blend of farm tours, hands-on experience, and interactive classroom instruction gives participants a strong foundation in the basic principles of operating a sustainable farm. Participants learn about business planning, budgeting, recordkeeping, marketing, livestock production, fruit and vegetable production, and more. NCAT Sustainable Agriculture specialists will lead the training sessions, with additional contributors from Cornell University and USDA agencies, plus experienced crop and livestock producers.
For more information about the various events and other offerings of our Farm Ops project, visit: https://smallfarms.cornell.edu/projects/farm-ops/.
Labor Ready Trainings Help Farmers March into Better Management
Management skills are not something people are born with, but are learned with time and practice. With labor as one of the largest on-farm costs, it is wise to invest in people and improve your management skills.
Our Labor Ready project works to ensure that new farmers and advancing employees in our region can access high-quality information, supportive networks and proven tactics essential to effective management of labor. These efforts support new farmers scaling up and Latino agricultural employees to move up the ladder of management on existing farms.
We were excited to co-host two intensive sessions of “Supervising Farm Employees” training in March. Farm owners and managers left with the skills they needed to effectively hire, train, and supervise their farm’s employees.
Some key aspects of the trainings covered:
Moving from Individual Performer to Supervisor – “People don’t leave bad companies, they leave bad managers.” The skills that make someone a top performer on the farm do not necessarily translate to being a great manager of people but supervisors are often selected from the pool of high performers in an organization to reward them for their contribution to the organization, without consideration of their people management skills or aptitude. This session helped identify the skills needed to be a great supervisor of people, and how farmers can develop and apply those skills on their farm.
Onboarding New Employees – Onboarding is a relatively new term that describes the process of bringing new employees into the business. The goal of onboarding is to have safe, productive, and engaged farm employees, from day one. Farmers learned to create an employee onboarding program for their farm with clearly assigned responsibilities, designed training experiences, full regulatory compliance, and basic evaluation. They also learned about the onboarding program being developed by a team of ag industry professionals.
Performance Management – This is where the rubber hits the road in management. One of the hardest challenges of management is effectively communicating performance expectations to employees and ensuring that those expectations are carried out. This session covered effective communication, developing training and assessment programs that get employees off to a good start and providing timely and supportive feedback to get the best out of staff. Tools discussed included using standard operating procedures, other communication strategies, training resources and feedback and incentives.
For more information about the Labor Ready project, visit: https://smallfarms.cornell.edu/projects/labor-ready-farmer-2/.
Marketing Intensive Offered a Day of Learning, Feasting and Fellowship
Our Baskets to Pallets project held a holistic training for farmers in search of new markets this February. The one-day training offered strategies and skill-building for successfully entering wholesale markets — such as food hubs, grocery stores, schools, restaurants and cooperatives. Special consideration for participants’ overall comfort and well-being was taken.
The training was held in a warm, light-filled space for learning, feasting, fellowship, and a walk at Hawthorne Valley Farm in Ghent, NY. Learning throughout the day included food and market trends, evaluating market channels, relationships with buyers, cooperative and collaborative marketing, and more.
After the marketing intensive, our new “Be Well Farming” project held a focus group. This reflective conversation focused on how well-being, equity/fairness, and connection to community play out on participants’ farms and in the farmers’ lives. Never more than now do we have to work to increase our social connection with each other and our communities.
For more information about the Baskets to Pallets project, visit: https://smallfarms.cornell.edu/projects/baskets-to-pallets/.
For more information on the Be Well Farming project, read the project’s introductory blog post below.
Caring for Your Farm’s Greatest Asset
What is your farm’s greatest asset? Deep, fertile soil? A steady, hard-working farm crew? A reliable market that pays good prices?
If you have any of these, you are blessed, but a group of agricultural service providers are embarking on a new research project focusing in on a different asset … you!
Farmers face stress and uncertainty in many aspects of their businesses and livelihoods. Yet with animals to feed, crops to tend and food to sell, it can be hard to take time to rest and relax, to invest in one’s own well-being and cultivate supportive relationships within a community. This attentiveness toward personal resilience is important, as the entire system is dependent on the vitality of the farmers and farm employees.
While conferences and farmer discussion groups offer opportunities to gather and discuss technical topics, few sessions offer a quiet space devoted to conversation, for farmers to share more personally about the ‘behind the scenes’ ups and downs of farm life. In actuality, there isn’t a curtain between issues such as pest outbreaks and low morale. The tensions, fatigue and disappointment inherent to running a farm business might be harder to talk about, but they are not separate from the farm. Both the joys and hardships of life affect the health of the whole system in the same way that the beneficial organisms and pests do.
Our new three-year research project, funded by Northeast SARE (Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education), looks at the whole health and resilience of the farmer(s) and farm employee(s). Our project focuses health and well-being can be improved for farmers and those working on the farm as they go about their daily chores in building the farm business. Specifically, we’ll be focusing on themes of well-being, equity/fairness, and connection to community.
We have been hosting focus groups for farmers and farm employees of all enterprises, sizes, and farming styles throughout the winter to better understand farmers’ perspectives and needs relating to well-being, equity/fairness, and connection to community. During the subsequent phase of the project, we’ll identify common ground based on the collective stories that emerge and work with farm partners to co-design retreat spaces for farmers to dive into issues more deeply and explore strategies that can ameliorate challenges and bolster farmers’ quality of life.
Our project team includes Leslie Forstadt from the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, Anu Rangarajan and Violet Stone from the Cornell Small Farms Program, Jennifer Hashley from Tufts-New Entry Sustainable Farming Project, Rachel and Steffan Schneider from the Institute for Mindful Agriculture/Hawthorne Valley, and Daniel MacPhee from Blackbird Rise Farm.
For more information about the project or to get involved, read the project overview in the SARE database.