OEFFA's Next Farm Team: Stories From The Field

Welcome to OEFFA's Begin Farming Program blog! Check back often for more beginning farmer profiles, stories from our farmers and about farmland access opportunities, and information about upcoming programs and events.

OEFFA's Begin Farming Program provides aspiring and early career farmers the support they need to understand what it takes to get into farming and grow their businesses, with the goal of increasing the number of successful sustainable and organic farmers in Ohio.

If you are interested in participating in these programs, or if you'd like to contribute to this blog, please contact Kelly Henderson, Begin Farming Program Coordinator.

How the Farm Bill Affects Beginning Farmers

by Amalie Lipstreu
The farm bill is, for many, an abstract behemoth of federal legislation, something far removed from planning for and working on a farm. But thinking about and engaging in this and other pieces of legislation is critical. A house needs to be built on a firm foundation, and have strong structural supports, good plumbing, and safe electrical systems to stand the test of time.

Similarly, for sustainable, small, and mid-scale family farms to be successful, legislation that provides incentives or disincentives, subsidizes certain practices above others and regulates (or doesn’t regulate) different aspects of farming, is the foundation on which some farmers will be successful, and others will fail.

As a nation, we pride ourselves on the concept of individuality and the success of farmers is often judged on their work ethic, management practices, and the market. But the reality is that there are many factors that can affect the success of an individual farm or a whole class of farming. This is certainly the case when it comes to beginning farmers.

Access to land and credit are often cited as two of the biggest barriers to entry for the next generation. The free market is not concerned about concentration of land and resources in the hands of fewer and fewer farmers but we, as a society, are. These issues are a national security concern. We want a diverse and plentiful food supply that is not jeopardized by the decisions of a relatively few people.

Subsidized insurance, commodity payments, limited recognition of practices that protect the base of agricultural land and environment, and availability of credit are the structural foundation of our collective agricultural house.

These policy decisions are all influenced by farmers, and commodity and special interest groups. Many of those issues are being decided now.

The House and Senate have each passed their respective version of the farm bill and the chart below highlights key policies that relate to beginning farmers in both chambers of Congress:

As you can see, the Senate bill provides more structural support for beginning farmers.

In the next step, representatives from both chambers will come together and try to resolve the differences between these two bills. It will be a heavy lift, due to differing policies on providing food assistance in the nutrition title. They only have until the end of September before the current farm bill expires.

There are still opportunities to share your views with your representative. Contact OEFFA to learn more or get involved.

Photos: That Guy's Family Farm (top, bottom), Honey Blossom Orchard (middle)

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In The Field: Long Time Comin'

This is the second feature written by Miami County farmer Caroline McColloch. Caroline is working to build soil and community through her work as the owner and operator of Chez Nous Farm.

As a participant in
OEFFA’s Heartland Farm Beginnings program, Caroline has been implementing important decision-making tools for her operation. “More than anything else, this course has given me confidence in my decision-making skills. Everyone knows that to make good decisions you need as much detailed and comprehensive information as possible, and the classroom component certainly delivered on that! In particular, the parts on finances and enterprise budgeting were invaluable.”

Are you interested in growing your farm business through a whole farm planning approach? Learn more and apply to participate in OEFFA’s second cohort of Heartland Farm Beginnings farmers
here. If you are a beginning farmer interested in writing a story for the blog, email us for more information.

This year is a colder spring than usual. According to land management consultant Terry Lavy, our soil temperature is eight degrees below the five year average. So now I don’t feel so distraught that here we are one week out from May 1 and the field planted to perennial grasses last fall still has numerous bare spots. That’s right, bare ground even after two seasons of cover crops. No self-respecting farmer ever wants to see bare ground

On a brighter note, today was a joyful milestone! I planted a little over a half acre of native grasses and forbs for pollinator habitat in the southeast corner of the woods, thus replacing a jungle of invasive scrub and a whole lot of dead trees. This been a monumental land conversion project in the making for eight months. We’re also closing in on three grand in expenses, but the Conservation Stewardship Program payments will more than make up for that. After sawing a couple of downed trees on the access trail, I began in earnest. The seed mix customized for Monarch butterflies was applied using a hand spreader. Having never done this before, it was especially intimidating. Did I get the mix right? Am I getting the right amount in the right places? With a sense of purpose I recalled my grandparents’ commitment to conservation, and spoke my little prayer into a most beautiful morning sky.

I managed two passes without running out of a ridiculously paltry amount of seed. It was so light weight that it had to be mixed with rice hulls while I swirled my hand in the bucket and cranked the handle with the other hand, for a full two hours. The homemade drag harrow (comprised of a bundle of chain link fence) finished the job. It actually popped right over all 86 tree stumps and an ample spread of woody debris that had been previously cleared for the project. Terry says it is a long term process for these plants to get established—some might take several years—and at least a month before I see the first growth of other species. But it helps at least to know, sort of, what to expect. Such timing! The first rain fell as I was heading back to the barn.

Another milestone came to pass on the same day. I finally ordered the long awaited high tunnel greenhouse structure for raspberry production. There is no turning back.

Risks notwithstanding, there is little doubt I have prepared in every possible way for this new farming endeavor,  with years of studying, working, and learning to be a well-equipped “decider.” You try to have a well-controlled plan, but experience shows generally, the outcomes are what one couldn’t possibly have guessed, and miraculously, good outcomes have abounded! Yes, I am betting the farm—literally—and one consolation at this juncture is that these decisions and risks have not been taken lightly and are of that rare breed: a good risk.

I suppose no one can accuse me of being complacent. Nor of being impatient or faint of heart. Working with land, weather, plants, and animals demands patience and observation. I’m astonished with the magnitude of waiting involved, and the confidence it takes to put a seed in the ground—and mostly very expensive seeds, at that. Then there is all the planning! I seem to never be quite sure what the next task should be, but somehow a strategy emerges, and it all seems to work.

The multi-tasking, the calculations and projections, the collaborations, the phone calls and emails, the recordkeeping, the reading and thinking! And of course, the deciding. Now that’s where rubber meets the road. And all that happens before you actually do anything. At some point, the time for planning and preparation is over and it is time to commit. Some things can be learned only by doing. Observe, imagine, research, plan, decide, execute, tweak, and repeat. And all this is performed in beautiful, complex ways: thinking about and working with sun, soil, water, seasons, people, details, time, and life.

Now the negative side of me is always harping about not being able to get it all done. Yes, I do quite appreciate that I am wearing three hats: entrepreneur, manager, technician. Everyone has an inner critical voice. Though you shouldn’t completely ignore it, the critical voice should never have the final say on whether or not you decide to take the risk to try something that you are passionate about, and for which there is potential, and that you have done your best to prepare for.

Other consolations have come to me: faith, diligence, the stock and trade of building a sustainable farm and a community around that farm. I am grateful beyond expression for the opportunity, no matter how it all turns out. I’ve been given the privilege to dream, to love others, commune with the out of doors, to practice fitness of mind, body and soul... to risk it all for this complex and dynamic natural creation that is, without a doubt, good. 

Caroline McColloch is the owner and operator of Chez Nous Farm located in Piqua, Ohio (Miami Co) and is working to develop a pasture-based goat meat and diversified fruit, vegetable, and herb operation. Chez Nous farm is twenty five acres of rolling pasture and woodland dedicated to mindful food production that integrates conservation, community, and health. Now in its third generation of a family devoted to stewardship, the fullest potential of its abundant natural resources is being developed not only for nutrient-dense food production, but also as a practical teaching and learning resource for the people of Miami County. Chez Nous Farm products will become a valuable component of the growing local food commerce in Ohio. This will be accomplished through wise management of habitat, soil and water, and business acumen that provides adequate income to support sustained profitability and a satisfying quality of life.

Photos: Chez Nous Farm

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OEFFA's Next Farm Team Spring Training at 2018 Conference

by Kelly Henderson

2018 beginning farmer scholarship recipients at the OEFFA Conference (Photo: Ed Chen)

As part of our Begin Farming program, we awarded 20 scholarships to early career farmers to attend OEFFA’s 39th annual conference February 15-17, 2018 to learn how to grow their budding farm businesses and network with other farmers.
We asked the scholarship recipients about their farm businesses and how their conference experiences are helping them grow this year.

Jenny Vaughn, co-owner of Pink Elephant Farm & Kitchen traveled from Smithfield, Kentucky. Jenny is coming into her third season as a grower, tending a diverse market garden, an acre of blueberries, a small herd of jersey cows, and an entertaining flock of hens that rotate through the farm. She is also working to plant trees, repair old barns, revive springs, and clean streams on the farm.
She gained a lot out of grazing consultant Sarah Flack’s grazing workshops and picked up more tips for improving grazing routines and new ideas for improvements to hen-mobiles. Jenny also gleaned some very tangible pointers for assessing and tracking the health of her cows, including learning about an app for that!
When asked about her biggest takeaway, Jenny said, “Good grazing management is the best solution to 95 percent of pasture issues. In a diversified farm, it's easy to let lots of things steal your attention away and that was a good reminder of the benefits of focus and intention around that work.”

Josh Stephens of Urban Renaissance Farms in Euclid, Ohio is a new farmer beginning his third season growing berries and raising bees on a piece of rented city-owned land in an eastern suburb of Cleveland.
One of the most useful workshop sessions Josh attended, "Urban High Tunnel Tomato Production" with Annabel Khouri and Eric Stoffer of Bay Branch Farm, will allow him to expand his tomato production this year and launch a value-added ketchup enterprise.
Networking was a key for Josh during the conference stating, “A real highlight for me was meeting the wonderful people from Bay Branch Farm in Lakewood, Ohio. They are local to me and meeting them has put me in touch with local, urban farmers who I can contact for assistance and guidance.”

Dana Workman Stacey is the owner/operator of Grass Powered Poultry & Meats
in Hillsboro, Ohio. She grew up a horse girl in the suburbs of Zansville, Ohio, but always had a passion for all things farming. By day, she is a rural property appraiser for Farm Credit Mid-America, and owner of Grass Powered Poultry & Meats by night. The farm business began in 2012 when Dana and her husband Jesse raised a batch of pastured meat chickens for themselves, family, and friends. Along the way, they added laying hens, turkeys, Scottish Highland cattle, and teamed up with another local farmer to raise pastured hogs.
The more they learned about the issues of our current food system, the more committed they became to growing a stronger local food economy and making sure their community has access to wholesome pasture-raised products. They are relearning many of the animal husbandry and cooking skills lost over time and doing their best to encourage others on the same path.
One of the top conference sessions for Dana was "Health Insurance and Risk Management for Farmers," which featured a panel of experts who covered health insurance, farm insurance, and agricultural employment law. Dana said, “We will be hiring our first employee in 2018, so it was perfect timing to learn about legalities and tax issues along with the need for workers compensation coverage with employees.”
      Farmers networking at the 2018 OEFFA Conference (Photo: Ed Chen)
The benefits of the OEFFA conference go beyond the direct learning that takes place during workshops. Beginning farmers, like Dana, consistently find and build their network at conference. “Each year I have met new contacts, both beginning and experienced farmers. I love knowing that I have a network of fellow farmers to call when I need advice or support, and that I can also be a resource to others too. Spending time with friends and being surrounded by a group of like-minded farmers is a highlight of conference. It’s empowering and inspiring to feel like I belong.”
Funding for the scholarships and the six-part Begin Farming conference workshop track was made possible through the U.S. Department of Agriculture Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program.

Are you a beginning farmer seeking help or resources? Click here or contact Begin Farming Program Coordinator Kelly Henderson at (614) 421-2022 Ext. 213 or kelly@oeffa.org.

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In The Field: This Learning Curve

OEFFA just recently wrapped up a 60 hour whole-farm planning course with its first cohort of beginning farmers. Heartland Farm Beginnings® is a year-long, farmer-led training and support program that is designed to help early career farmers, committed to creating a sustainable farm business, achieve their goals. Participants spent two Saturdays a month in class learning from other farmers and agricultural service providers as they developed a whole-farm plan through values-based goal-setting, financial management, and assessment of resources, skills, and markets. Upon completion of the course and business plan, farmers have now moved into an individualized learning mentorship with a local farmer engaged in a similar enterprise.

In September, our first cohort will graduate from the program and we will welcome our second cohort for another year of shared learning in October. Guest blogger and Heartland Farm Beginnings participant, Caroline McColloch shares some of her experiences in the program and as a new farmer.

What a day. There is something about working with like-minded people that is very motivating! Couple that with an attitude for nosing out opportunity, and now you’re cookin’. Things might just start happening.

One of the energizing things about this Heartland Farm Beginnings class® is the camaraderie of regenerative agriculture. There aren’t too many professions where all is done with such purpose and devotion. Though farming is often a solitary endeavor, as colleagues networking, we collaborate toward the larger goal of building commerce and community around healthy ecosystems and food production. The great benefit of restorative agriculture is the so-called triple bottom line, whereby a gain in one area of life does not come at an exorbitant expense to another: economics and ecology and social factors are all addressed in the way we steward our farms. We’re not in it only to make a living, but also to improve the world we live in, one healthy person and community at a time. It all begins with the soil and the sun.

Nearing the end of sixty classroom hours in the ninth session, we listened to the professionals outline funding and program opportunities and heard about state and national farm policy advocacy. My head was spinning with the proverbial “high bandwidth download.” But the day wasn’t over! One of the panel speakers from a previous class about buyers was expecting my visit at his recently opened butcher shop. And wow! What an amazing selection of artisanal offerings of cheeses, fresh meats, and special pantry items, all conscientiously sourced fresh from nearby producers. I visited a little with Tony Tanner, the proprietor of The Butcher and Grocer, discussing meat goat production. One can really appreciate that personal relationships are the bedrock of his business: another pillar of the new food and farming paradigm is relationships, whereas the industrial model to some extent treats relationships as a hindrance to efficiency.

Pastured goats at Chez Nous Farm

So much packed into eleven hours! I came home with these wonderful posters from the Natural Resources Conservation Service about Monarch butterflies and flowering trees for pollinators. Education itself can be a work of art. My homecoming was made especially enjoyable, having “voted with my food dollars” to partake of a delectable locally brewed IPA, some heavenly goat cheese, and a cured meat resembling prosciutto (“charcuterie”) from The Butcher and Grocer.

Locally made sausages at The Butcher and Grocer in Grandview

As the classroom marathon neared its conclusion, culminating in a written farm business plan...intimidating is one word to describe my feeling. We are swimming in resources: books, periodicals, worksheets, a gazillion websites bookmarked in my browser. But other words come to mind as well: Potential. Creative. Delightful. Challenging. Satisfying. Joyous. A dang lot of hard work (in a good way)! This kind of farming is a quietly honorable profession, a multi-dimensional work of art in space and time, with nature and society as its canvas.

Caroline McColloch is the owner and operator of Chez Nous Farm located in Piqua, Ohio and is working to develop a pasture-based goat meat and diversified fruit, vegetable, and herb operation. Chez Nous farm is twenty five acres of rolling pasture and woodland dedicated to mindful food production that integrates conservation, community, and health. Now in its third generation of a family devoted to stewardship, the fullest potential of its abundant natural resources is being developed not only for nutrient-dense food production, but also as a practical teaching and learning resource for the people of Miami County. Chez Nous Farm’s goal is to become a valuable component of the growing local food commerce in Ohio through wise management of habitat, soil, water, and business acumen that provides adequate income to support sustained profitability and a satisfying quality of life.

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The Farmer’s Toolbox: Join Fellow Greenhorns at the 2018 OEFFA Conference!

by Kelly Henderson and Michael Durante

The 2018 OEFFA Conference, A Taste for Change, February 15-17 in Dayton, Ohio is a great opportunity for beginning and young farmers to connect with experienced farmers, learn from farming experts and service providers, as well as network with other greenhorns. If you’re a beginner still looking for land, there are also several opportunities for you to begin your land access journey.

Educational and networking opportunities include the following:

Begin Farming Workshop Track
Helping beginning farmers start and grow their operations is the focus of a beginning farmers workshop track, featuring six 90-minute workshops.

The workshops will cover a range of topics from organic certification to farming with children:

  • Your Top 10 Organic Transition Questions Answered—Julia Barton, OEFFA
  • Land Access and Affordability for Beginning Farmers—Mike Durante, National Young Farmers Coalition
  • In the Trenches with Farming and Government Regulations—Jacob Coleman, Sweet Grass Dairy
  • Marketing for Your Farm: Sell More of Your Product—Gretel Adams, Sunny Meadows Flower Farm
  • Health Insurance and Risk Management for Farmers: Tools for Navigating Health Insurance—Shoshonah Inwood, Ohio State University
  • Pasture-Raised Humans: A Conversation About Raising Your Children on the Farm—Sherry Chen, Andelain Fields, Jeff Suchy, Darby Meadow Farm, Lindsey Teter, Six Buckets Farm, Rachel Tayse, Harmonious Homestead

Farmers attending a business workshop by Richard Wiswall at the 2017 OEFFA Conference

Learning and Networking to Help You Find and Fund Your Farm
The state's largest sustainable food and farm conference will also offer other opportunities geared specifically toward beginning farmers on February 15:

  • A full-day Food and Farm School class, "Finding and Funding Your Farm." Led by the National Young Farmers Coalition, this full-day workshop will prepare beginning farmers to approach their land access journey with confidence. Read on for a special featured blog piece by this workshop’s facilitator, Michael Durante.
  • A free, public Farm Land of Opportunity reception is designed to connect farmers looking for land with established farmers in need of employees, retiring farmers interested in a transition plan, and landowners with land to sell or lease.

Farmers visiting farmers and learning about land access in Duluth, MN

Guest Blog Feature: Michael Durante

Michael is the Land Access Program Associate at the National Young Farmers Coalition (NYFC). NYFC represents, mobilizes, and engages young farmers to ensure their success. Michael designs educational tools and programs for farmers seeking land and is a featured presenter at the 2018 OEFFA Conference.


Find and Fund Your Farm

A thin line separates opportunity from crisis in America’s agricultural economy. Farmers over the age of 65 now outnumber farmers under 35 by a margin of six to one, and U.S. farmland is overwhelmingly concentrated in the hands of older farmers. Nearly two-thirds of farmland is currently managed by someone over 55. Yet young Americans continue entering agriculture despite the odds. For only the second time in the last century, the 2012 Census of Agriculture registered an increase over the previous census in the number of farmers under 35 years old.

The demographics suggest that finding farmland should be easier now than ever, and indeed the National Agricultural Statistics Service estimates that over the next five years, nearly 100 million acres of US farmland are expected to change ownership and will need a new farmer. But beginning farmers consistently find that talent and hard work alone may not equate to farm success. The National Young Farmers Coalition’s (NYFC) 2017 National Young Farmer Survey found that 75 percent of young farmers did not grow up on a farm. First generation farmers have particular difficulty building the collateral necessary to qualify for financing while renting marginal land as farm owners, earning low pay as farmworkers, or paying back student loans.

The challenges faced by farmers are not shared equally. For farmers of color and indigenous farmers, the disappearance of family farms has not simply been economic, but systemic. These farmers have faced disproportionate rates of land loss, and the drop in numbers of their farms over the last century has been attributed to decades of discriminatory practices by the USDA, which the department itself has been forced to admit and begin to address.

NYFC’s 2017 survey found land access, overall, to be young farmers’ most significant challenge. That presents a major problem, considering secure land tenure–most often achieved by owning farmland–is a fundamental component of a viable farm business. Without building equity in land, farmers have trouble qualifying for loans, saving for retirement, or investing in long-term sustainable farming practices.

Farmers are well-known for their characteristic thrift and work ethic. Those qualities, with more awareness of the farmland financing process and a lot of business planning, will allow them to make the best of this financial challenge.

NYFC identifies several strategies for farmers seeking land access

Plan ahead. Envision your successful farm in words and numbers. By understanding your business goals and needs, you will more easily identify how people and programs can help you to achieve them. To apply for a loan, you will always need to show a business plan; even if you are running a business already, a plan will help you understand how to improve it.

Search, even before you’re looking. If you are seeking land for your business, start asking people about it. Go to your local USDA Extension office. Go to a Farm Bureau meeting. Often farmland is sold or leased without ever going on the open market; landowners need to know you’re looking. NYFC’s Land Affordability Calculator will help you understand this process and compare properties.

Visit your FSA branch. The USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA) exists to provide economic stability to American farmers and ranchers. If you cannot qualify for other credit, chances are FSA can still help you buy a farm or grow your business if you show them a solid business plan. Learn more about FSA loan programs with NYFC’s new FSA guidebook.

Work with a land trust. Land trusts are nonprofit organizations that conserve land for all variety of reasons. Increasingly, land trusts are preserving working farmland. Land trusts can help you access affordable farmland by purchasing a conservation easement to reduce the cost of a property. Read NYFC’s guide to working with land trusts for comprehensive information.

To find these resources and more visit www.youngfarmers.org.


 Thinking about attending conference but not sure how? Consider applying for a scholarship!

2017 Scholarship Recipients

To help budding farmers access these educational opportunities, OEFFA is offering a limited number of full scholarships for early career farmers. The application deadline is January 10. Please direct all questions to Kelly Henderson, Begin Farming Program Coordinator, kelly@oeffa.org.

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The Truth About Hiring and Teamwork

by Kristine Ranger

Photo: Begin Farming apprentices visiting Sweet Grass Dairy

Are you struggling with the current “job seekers” market?

Thinking more strategically about your human assets, especially in terms of how they perform on a team, can be a competitive advantage. Not having a deliberate approach to recruiting, hiring, and onboarding for improved team performance can be costly to your farm or business, but understanding the human resource (HR) system and narrowing your hiring criteria can lead to better hires and higher profitability.

The key is to design practices and processes that will positively impact team results, turnover, and profitability.

Remember, it’s not just the money

Salary is a satisfier, not a motivator. Work performance will improve when people receive constant feedback on progress towards goals and when you celebrate achievement.

Managing HR must be somebody’s job

Employees don’t leave jobs, they leave people—specifically their boss or supervisor. Approximately 75 percent of employees say their boss is the worst or most stressful part of their job, especially if the manager doesn’t have time in the day to think about strategic people management. Considering that the charter of HR is to “optimize the ability of a business to perform and complete,” you may want to utilize an HR coach or someone who can help you have meaningful conversations, listen, and ask the right questions around human assets.   

Increase engagement

Increasing engagement means eliminating the root causes of job misery:  anonymity, immeasurement, and irrelevance.  To accomplish that, ensure that the following conditions are present in your workplace:

  • Everyone knows and understands everyone else on the team.
  • Everyone understands their contribution to the farm and the overall success of the business.
  • Everyone has an opportunity to measure or monitor their progress.

Photo: Ed Snavely talking grain production with Begin Farming apprentices

Be clear about your culture

Businesses hire the wrong people because they are unclear about the kinds of people needed to fit their culture.  If you can’t communicate your culture, you also may not be able to identify a good fit for a job. If an employee isn’t a good fit with your culture, he or she quickly becomes disengaged and eventually leaves, often taking a good employee with them.

Find and keep ideal team players

Patrick Lencioni, author of The Ideal Team Player, has defined three individual virtues that are needed to overcome dysfunctional teams. If teamwork is critical to your success, your highest priority should be on identifying and hiring those who can demonstrate the three attributes of effective teamwork: humble, hungry, and smart.


Ideal team players are humble. They lack excessive ego or concerns about status and they are quick to point out the contributions of others. They share credit, emphasize team over self, and define success collectively rather than individually. Asking an applicant to identify a time when they showed humility can be a strong indicator of teamwork.


Ideal team players are hungry. They are always looking for more things to do, more to learn, and more responsibility to take on. Hungry people almost never need to be pushed to work harder because they are self-motivated and diligent. They are constantly thinking about the next step and the next opportunity. Identify this trait by asking an applicant for a time or situation that required them to go above and beyond expectations or work requirements.    


Ideal team players are smart. They have common sense about people. Smart people tend to know what is happening in a group situation and how to deal with others in the most effective way. They have good judgment and intuition around the impact of their words and actions.  Asking your applicant to analyze a scenario where the desired outcome requires them to accurately read people, display empathy, and carefully consider the outcome of their words or actions could help you identify this desirable trait.  


Photo: Three Creeks Produce

In summary, high performing team members trust each other. They avoid wasting time talking about the wrong issues and revisiting the same topics repeatedly because of lack of buy-in. They also make better quality decisions and accomplish more in less time and with less distraction and frustration. And they hold each other accountable to decisions. Desirable employees rarely leave when they feel like an insider and part of a cohesive team.

Hiring the wrong employees is toxic to teams and bad for business.  The key is finding the right ones to hire and weeding out the others through your HR practices.

Kristine Ranger is an agri-food systems consultant, lifelong educator, and advocate for agriculture.  She has degrees in Animal Husbandry and Agriculture and Natural Resources Extension from Michigan State University and a Masters in Adult Education from South Dakota State University. She has delivered lessons in classrooms, board rooms, arenas, and barns for more than 27 years. She coaches herdsmen in human resources management and teambuilding, and consults with farm owners to increase their leadership and organizational effectiveness.  She is an Authorized Partner for Wiley Workplace Solutions and an Accredited Facilitator for Everything DiSC and The Five Behaviors of a Cohesive Team. For more information on HR systems, building cohesive teams, or finding ideal team players, contact Kristine at (517) 974-5697 or kristine@knowledgenavigators.com.

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In the Field: Connect and Get To Work

by Kelly Henderson
Photo: Farmer Ed Snavley of Curly Tail Organics with 2017 Apprentice Cohort

What happens when you mix young and beginning farmers with experienced farmers? Beautiful things! Take, for example, a recent field day visiting local farms in Fredericktown, Ohio with the Begin Farming Apprentice cohort. Long-time farmer, Ed Snavley of Curly Tail Organics met with us this hot summer morning to talk grain farming, soil fertility, and crop rotations.

While not all of the apprentices have a particular interest in becoming grain farmers, the wealth of knowledge that Ed was able to share can't be found in a book. When we consider the impending number and age of retiring farmers in this country and the need to get new farmers on the land, we often do not acknowledge the importance of retaining the deep agricultural knowledge ingrained in experienced farmers and ensuring transfer of skills and knowledge.

Photo: Farmer Ed Snavley of Curly Tail Organics with 2017 Apprentice Cohort

Through apprenticeship and mentorship programs, we can start to crack this very tough nut in more formal ways. But through additional field days, skill-sharing opportunities, and informal networking events, we can start to truly build community relationships and support around budding farmers.

Our second stop of the day was at Fox Hollow Farm, visiting farmers Chelsea Gandy and Jesse Rickard. These young, but quite experienced farmers, shared knowledge about multi-species intensive grazing management on their 180 acre farm. They also shared insights about utilizing resources available on farm to lower input requirements and maximize efficiencies.
Photo: Farmers Chelsea Gandy and Jesse Rickard of Fox Hollow Farm with 2017 Apprentice Cohort

 With the help of interns from Kenyon College, we also learned about the solar micro-dairy that is managed on farm. While these new interns didn't have a lot of experience in farming, they were able to demonstrate some of their experiences in milking cows this summer. We are finding that peer-to-peer learning can also play an important role in training beginning farmers.

Photo: Kenyon College Interns with 2017 Apprentice Cohort

Our last stop of the day was at Sweet Grass Dairy, owned and managed by Jacob and Elizabeth Coleman. Sweet Grass Dairy is a grass-based farm that raises a variety of livestock. As we toured the pastures, Jacob talked about the natural cycles on the farm and how they impact the nutrients in the grass and forage that the animals consume. As we walked out into the herd, there was an overwhelming sense of quietness that swept over the group. If you have ever stood out in a field with such large and magestic creatures, you may understand the need for such humbleness. After spending their days working in vegetable fields, and my days in the office, it was a welcomed change to witness the grace and calm nature of Jacob's herd.

Photo: Farmer Jacob Coleman of Sweet Grass Dairy with 2017 Apprentice Cohort

The apprentices learned about alternative marketing models and after visiting the animals in the field, they had the opportunity to tour the farm store and see the food products made from the animals.
As we work to train the next generation of farmers, it is important to recognize the wealth of knowledge existing within our farm communities, among both experienced and budding farmers. Farmers are known for growing food, but they are also knowledge keepers and educators. We have so much gratitude for the farmers who train, support, and share with new farmers! So, as you head to get started with your field work, remember the importance of connecting with other farmers and think about how it could improve your own business and social capital. Or maybe you're an experienced farmer willing to share some farming insights with a rookie. As Phil Collins once said, "In learning you will teach, and in teaching you will learn."

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Learning by Doing: Developing Resiliency Through Farming

by Claire Saunders

Pho: Apprentices Paige Saho (left) and Claire Saunders (right) at Sunbeam Family Farm

Having no previous experience with farming I knew that I would be wildly unprepared for the Begin Farming Apprenticeship. Still, I was confident enough in my physical capabilities, and knew that this was something that I was eager to learn about, and I held on to hope that although it would certainly be challenging, the rewards would be just as great. There was no way of preparing myself for exactly how challenging, and how rewarding, the program would end up being.

Pictured: Guest blogger, Claire Saunders

There is never a dull moment on Sunbeam Family Farm. Busy, frustrating, exciting, at times nearly overwhelming, but never dull. One Tuesday we were set to plant watermelons in an off-site field. For a while now our host farmer, Ben Dilbone, had been lamenting that these needed to get into the ground, but it had taken a while to prepare the site, so it had gotten pushed further and further back. As we drove down to the site, small drops of rain began to fall, but it didn’t seem like it would be a problem. For a while things were going smoothly, and then the rain got heavier. We stayed out in the field putting the plants in the ground until someone saw lightening. For about 15 minutes we sat in the car, drenched, trying to get enough bars on our phones to look at the radar. Eventually we drove back to the main farm, thinking that the rain was going to continue, when it began to taper off. There were still a good amount of plants that needed to be planted, so we headed back to the field yet again. After we had finished there, we went back to the farm and had lunch.

It wasn’t till we got out into the home fields that we saw the worst of it. There were plants that needed to get into the ground there as well, so we were back out in it. By now the cloud cover and rain were gone, replaced with the bright sun, turning the field into a sauna. The mud was so bad that we kept getting stuck, so we ended up taking off our shoes and socks and wading barefoot through the rows, because it was easier to move that way. We had to plant on plastic mulch, so while the ground beneath our feet was a mudslide, the ground where the plants were headed was dry as could be and needed to be watered. Hauling the hoses through the mud took four people. Planting that should have taken an hour and a half at most instead took about three. By the time it was finished we had water in every crevice, sore muscles where we didn’t know muscles existed, and some of the strangest sunburns we’ve ever seen. The mud had been so thick and the suction so fierce that my boots and the boots of another apprentice came completely apart at the seams, rendering them useless. It was by far the most exhausting day of work I have ever done.

The next week we returned to the off-site field, and I was delighted to see that the plants we had put in during the storm were doing well. Not only were they still alive, but they were thriving. It’s still amazing to me that something so small and delicate could survive such a downpour, but time and time again the plants surprise me with their resilience. It’s a trait that I’m trying to take to heart.

A few days ago I woke to find my hand completely numb. I was unable to bend my fingers, and even once I warmed it up, had very little grip strength. The likely culprit: the two hours of hand hoeing and weeding that we had done in the celery root the day before, combined with making sure the garlic had been tied tight enough that it wouldn’t slip out of the twine once it began to dry.
Two months into the apprenticeship, and still I’m running into challenges that I never would have expected, just like that rainy day with the watermelon. I’m grateful though, because so long as I’m still being challenged it means that there’s still more for me to learn. There are still many more difficulties to come, but along with those are the sweet rewards that are sure to follow if you persist. I plan on being there for all that will come my way, the good and the bad, and try my best to learn and be resilient, just like the plants. I just might need a new pair of boots first.

Claire joins the cohort from Westerville, Ohio. She received a degree in business finance from Kent State University and while she formerly worked in the business sector in Columbus, she knows that her heart is in agriculture. She first became interested in sustainable farming after reading The Self Sufficient Life and How to Live It by John Seymore and has recently spent time volunteering on local farms through WWOOF. As someone with no background in agriculture, she has been excited to apprentice at Sunbeam Family Farm because it is a balance of hands-on experiences and classroom education.

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Farmlink: Land Access Opportunities and Challenges for Beginning Farmers

by Kelly Henderson

All farm photos taken at Sunbeam Family Farm

I recently had the opportunity to attend the national conference on land tenure and land access, Changing Lands, Changing Hands, hosted by Land for Good in the mile high city of Denver, CO. As an agricultural educator who provides services to beginning farmers, this was the place to be! Land access and affordability continues to be among the top challenges beginning farmers face, and increasingly so, as we see more non-heir farmers taking root in the countryside.

Daniel Bigelow, Research Agricultural Economist with the USDA Economic Research Service shared some important, and a bit alarming, statistics with us from the 2014 Tenure, Ownership, and Transition of Agricultural Land (TOTAL) survey, which are important in understanding the barrier farmers are up against. For instance, the survey found that of 911 million acres of farmland in the U.S., 39 percent are owned by non-operators. In 2014, more than 2 million landowners rented out 353.8 million acres of land for agricultural use. Of these landowners, 87 percent were non-farm operators, and the remaining 13 percent were farmers and ranchers.

 So, a lot of land that is not owned by farmers, is being rented out to farmers. These numbers suggest two important trends that are important to beginning farmers. First, over half of farm operator renters need to rent from multiple landlords in order to meet their land needs. Second, of the non-operator land rental arrangements with farmers, many of these agreements and leases continue for multiple years (some 10 years or longer).

For smaller scale, diversified beginning farmers the existing rental barriers are very real. If you cannot afford to buy farmland yet, or if you prefer to lease land before buying it, you may find yourself negotiating with multiple landlords, or simply having a hard time breaking the existing tenant/landlord relations that are trending towards longer term arrangements. These statistics shed some light on the larger land issue, but not necessarily a bright one.

While all of this may be frustrating to a beginning farmer trying to gain land and start a sustainable business, with a clear vision, a plan in place, and the right guidance and support, there can be a path forward. Nearly every land tenure and land access expert at the table had the same advice to share.

First, what are your goals? Not just your farm goals, but your personal life goals? What matters most to you? What are your income goals? Have you sat down to think about this before? Often, we get so caught up in the dream that we don’t think through the logistics of that dream. Sitting down with your family and business partners, and drafting a clear vision for your life and business are absolute keys to success. Without that lighthouse to guide you, it may be easy to get lost at sea.

Second, once you understand your goals and your vision, you need to understand the financial implications of those goals. Without financial stability, both in your personal and professional farming life, there will be no way to support your ultimate vision. If you are fresh out of college, or entering farming as a second career with no previous experience, no land, and no capital, then buying the 500 acre farm in a rural town, 75 miles from a big city, to start a diversified vegetable operation may not be the best place to start. Know what you can afford, but also know what kind of investment the enterprises you want to have will cost you over the long haul.

You may be saying to yourself, “This all sounds great, but I don’t have the time or knowledge to do any of this.” OEFFA has designed several educational opportunities to help support you in this process, whether you are an aspiring farmer still planning out the dream farm, or whether you are an early career farmer looking to solidify your farm plan.

The Farm Vision workshop, held in Columbus on Sunday, October 15, is a 4 hour course designed to help you clarify your goals and assess your strengths and weaknesses in preparing for your farm business. This workshop is for aspiring farmers in the very early stages of starting or thinking about starting a farm.

The Heartland Farm Beginnings® program, designed for early career farmers with some experience, is a 10 part intensive winter course (October 2017-February 2018), which provides 60 hours of learning to help guide you in whole farm planning from a holistic management perspective. In addition to the 10 classroom sessions, fees include a two day registration to the 2018 OEFFA Conference, business plan development, creation of a Growing Season Learning Plan, and mentoring opportunities with experienced farmers. This is a field-tested, farmer-led training program with proven results: 71 percent of Farm Beginnings® graduates were still farming in 2016.  

For those looking for land, or trying to sell or lease land, OEFFA can also help assist by connecting you to our landowner and land seeker listing. By completing a landowner survey, or land seeker survey, you’ll be connected to dozens of others in your region, and you might find a match. OEFFA also holds a Farmland of Opportunity networking event at our annual conference.

The bottom line is that there are resources and support systems in place to help you succeed in the development or expansion of your farm business, and you simply need to learn where they are and how to use them. If you want to learn more about our Begin Farming offerings, or have questions, please email me or give me a call at (614) 421-2022. We are here for you, farmers!

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In The Field: Farm Tour Season Is Here!

by Kelly Henderson

Photo: Sweet Grass Dairy
The 2017 Ohio Sustainable Farm Tour and Workshop Series information has officially been released and we are so excited about the many learning and networking opportunities for beginning farmers. Among the 43 events that will take place this growing season and beyond, many have been developed specifically to meet the needs of our region's aspiring and early career farmers. Let's take a look at the tours and workshops lined up for the next farm team!

Photo: Homecoming Farm

Diversified Beginning Farm Tour

Homecoming Farm in Amesville, OH - Athens County
Sunday, June 25 1-4 p.m.

John Wood, an Amesville native, started Homecoming Farm with the help of his parents George and Marcia, in 2015. This start-up is managed sustainably and ethically, and John is currently exploring organic certification. On this tour, John will share some of his experiences and lessons as a beginning farmer. John's farm is managed with a whole-farm approach with a focus on diverse, year-round income streams including fruit trees, vegetables, wood products, and non-timber forest products, such as maple syrup. The tour will include the farm's vegetable plots, flower beds, and sugar shack.

This tour is great for anyone interested in learning more about how to diversify a farm and manage both forested and unforested land! The tour is free, but pre-registration is encouraged. You can contact caitie@ruralaction.org and find directions or learn more here.

Young and Beginning Farmers Q & A and Networking Session

Rambling House Soda in Columbus, OH - Franklin County
Tuesday, August 8 6-8 p.m.

Networking events and opportunities to gather informally can play an important role in building community around budding farmers. As new farmers grow, they need a space to share ideas and information about production, business, marketing, and even sometimes policy. In order to facilitate these bridges between farmers, and in coordination with the Central Ohio Young Farmers Coalition chapter, OEFFA will be hosting an evening networking event for young and beginning farmers. 

Rambling House Soda is a casual music venue and soda shop where attendees can mingle to talk all things farming. It will be a great opportunity to bring your business and legal questions for answers from local farm lawyers, Barrett, Easterday, Cunningham & Eselgroth, LLP.

Photo by OEFFA staff: NYFC chapter leaders at the 2017 OEFFA Conference

Vegetable Equipment Systems Farm Tour

Mile Creek Farm in New Lebanon, OH - Montgomery County
Sunday, August 13 4-6 p.m.

Mile Creek Farm is a family run certified organic farm located just outside of Dayton, OH. The farm began in 2007 and is now cultivating 10 acres of vegetables that sell at farmers markets and through a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program.

This beginning farmer focused tour will walk you through the process of equipment systems and the role that machinery can play in making established systems on the farm more efficient. Organic farmer Ben Jackle will provide an overview of the process and equipment used in their greenhouses, fields, and packing shed. Greenhorns will learn about seed bed preparation and cultivation for maximizing efficiency.

This tour will be useful for farmers interested in
learning about how equipment can facilitate effective flow on a mixed vegetable operation and how these systems fit together.
For more information and directions to the farm, click here.
Photo: Mile Creek Farm

Pasture-Raised Livestock Beginning Farm Tour

Moores Heritage Farm in Ashtabula, OH - Ashtabula County
Saturday, October 21 4-7 p.m.

Randall and Connie Moores are beginning farmers, breathing new life into Randall's grandparents' farmstead, which they purchased in 2014, after it had been sold out of the family in the 1990s. When Randall returned home from active duty service in the Army in 2015, they built a mobile chicken coop, raised small flocks of chickens and turkeys, and purchased two freshened dairy goats (pictured left) and Moores Heritage Farm was born. Last year was their first full season selling chicken, eggs, goat milk, fudge, and soap at two weekly farmer' markets. They also raised pastured pigs and grass-fed lamb, which were sold as whole and half animals directly to consumers. The Moores installed more than a mile of fencing around 32 acres and are in the process of reclaiming fields that have not been touched in nearly 30 years! They plan to seek organic certification in 2017.

As green farmers they have learned a lot from making mistakes but also from networking and sharing with other beginning and experienced farmers. The Moores have experience working with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), The Ohio State University Extension, their local Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD), and the Ashtabula Local Food Council (ALFC). If you're a new livestock farmer or considering transitioning to organic production, this tour is for you!

As part of OEFFA's Begin Farming program, there are additional workshops being offered this fall and winter which include the Farm Vision Workshop, Heartland Farm Beginnings® Training Course, and a workshop focused on scaling-up, Grow More Vegetables, Make More Money. You can learn more about these workshops at the links provided, and more information will be released this summer.
Stay tuned readers!

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Want to learn more about OEFFA's Begin Farming Program? Email beginfarming@oeffa.org.

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