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Sixteen farm families present new farm business plans

By: AOLC Grants Coordinator Laura Wetter

Each winter, the Learning Center offers Stateline Farm Beginnings, a year-long training program that helps beginning and transitioning farmers develop a vision and whole farm plan for their emerging farm business under the guidance of leading sustainable agriculture growers.

On Saturday, February 19, Stateline Farm Beginnings held the final session of the nine-seminar business planning course portion of the program. Since October, Stateline Farm Beginnings students have spent Saturday mornings and afternoons learning from experienced farmers and the Learning Center staff about the practical aspects of farming, and refining their visions for starting farms. During this final session, each farm family presented the culmination of this work to the rest of the class, including their farm names and branding strategies, budgets, and growing plans for the 2011 season.

From intensive urban market gardens to livestock, grains, and even an academic farm and food systems retreat center, the farm businesses emerging from our program are diverse in size, scope and product. Many of the individuals who took the class reflected on the importance of the business planning process and how it has allowed them to take steps forward to achieving their farming dreams. Trogg’s Hollow, an urban market in Elgin, explained that the course gave them tools for record keeping and planning. Another group found that the growth season chart presented in the curriculum a crucial tool in help them begin their CSA (community supported agriculture) shares production.

As one Chicago student explained, “Not coming from a farming or even a business background, it was an eye-opener. There were a lot of variables that I did not think about.”

Several of the students said they modified their visions throughout the class. A great example is Blessed Roots Farm, which developed a new line of safe and organic cleaning products to add to their farm business, which gave focus to their marketing and business plans. Another group presented a three-year plan to convert part of their family farm, which has previously been utilized for corn and soybean crops with conventional agriculture methods, into sustainable livestock rearing and animal husbandry.

Students reflected on networking and receiving presentations from experienced farmers in the class. One of the groups mentioned that their vision for livestock “clicked” when farmer-presenter Bob Van de Boom spoke to the class. They then decided to take advantage of the Learning Center’s mentoring program, and pursued a mentor relationship with Bob. Another group shared their interest in expanding their technical knowledge of machinery, and will pursue a mentor relationship with Dea Dia Organics, fellow Stateline Farm Beginnings graduates. This mentoring component is a new part of the Learning Center’s farmer training program and is available to all Farm Beginnings students.

“Actually learning to network is a definite bonus that I think will serve us well in the future,” commented Sara Naden of Naturally Naked Foods in Sugar Grove, Illinois.

Some of the students shared long-term vision that could spread out to others, including Joseph and Kimberly Sambou, who are moving to West Africa in the summer and plan to start a sustainable farm. Joseph, a West African native, hopes that their farm will not only allow them to generate income for their family, but could also present young farmers a whole picture of profitable farming in an area in which has long operated with a mindset of subsistence farming. Individuals working on the planning process for a retreat center for Loyola University students plan to develop a small sustainable farm that will inspire and teach students about enterprise development as well as environmental sustainability and food systems.

Next, members of the group will take part in a series of CRAFT Field Day workshops held at regional farms during the months of April- October, gaining hands-on experience in various methods of production. Many will take advantage of mentorship and technical assistance with partner farms. The Learning Center is extremely proud of our newest crop of Stateline Farm Beginnings graduates!