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What’s It Like To Have a Grazing Mentor?

Editors Note: Last week we shared the first in this three part series on how the Maryland Grazers Network is helping farmers acquire the skills to be good graziers. This week, we’ll meet one of the farmers in the program and find out how it worked for her. We hope it will help you think about what you would ask a mentor if you had one, how you might help someone, and maybe even how you might set this up in your own community.

Ginger Myers
Ginger Myers

The beauty of having a mentor is knowing that there’s someone on the other end of your call or text. Just ask Ginger Meyers. When Ginger and her husband started their farm, they took on leased land, and worked with the Natural Resources Conservation Service on fencing it, and with other specialists on where to put what and how to size pastures. They’ve been part of the Maryland Grazers Network program for two years, and Ginger says that having someone you can reach out to with a question about a sheep at 7:30 on a Saturday evening is priceless.

The Maryland Grazers Network mission is to help farmers become graziers. The program focuses on a partnership between farmers, with an experienced person sharing knowledge with someone new to the grazing business.  Ginger’s mentor is David Greene, who farms sheep. He is a retired county agent, and he really likes being able to spend one-on-one time with the folks he’s trying to help out. As a county agent, he could never work too intensively with any one farmer. Now, he expects plenty of regular calls from new farmers, and speaks to them regularly for several years. Greene explains that mentors sit down with their farmers to talk about goals for 1-3-5 years from now, and to build a business plan. They also hook farmers up with other experts. “We have other resources through the network we can utilize. Marketing people, for example. We have experts in that area. We have people that are able to help set up a farm business plan, based on what you want to do and the market available to you.”

David has shown a lot of folks how to shear sheep and grade wool.
David has shown a lot of folks how to shear sheep and grade wool.

They started by evaluating on-farm resources, and David came in to help establish priorities. But that doesn’t mean he told them what to do. Ginger says, “We will sort everything out and plan everything, and then David will say ‘you’ll just have to try it to see how it works for you’. Maybe it doesn’t rain, and that puts you off the planned schedule. It’s still a little trial and error individually. Both sides have to be prepared for that. There are a lot of variables that require you to tweak it a little bit.”

Ginger suggests reaching out to a mentor for help sooner rather than later, and her one wish is that she had started to work with David sooner. She says that having a mentor is like the idea of  measuring twice and cutting once. For example, if David had been involved in the field planning, he would have brought in the animal perspective in more, and then they could have avoid “the second painful cut,” she says.

Ginger and David have covered the gamut of what it takes to manage livestock on pasture: foot problems, breed selection, handling yearlings separate from older ewes, setting up training for fencing and more. And she’s not ready to stop learning from him.”There could be a time frame on this, but it’s not like it’s a six month timeframe and everyone’s done. I’m not sure when we’re going to be done with David.”

Ginger and David continue to communicate through email. He emails each quarter, even after two years, to see if they have concerns or problems. While they could talk on the phone, Ginger appreciates email because it leaves a written trail that she can reference later.

Mentoring could help a lot of us accomplish more and be more successful. With that in mind, stay tuned for next week’s article to learn more about the ins and outs of good mentoring as discovered through the Maryland Grazer’s Network’s efforts.

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Rachel Gilker
Rachel Gilker
Rachel's interest in sustainable agriculture and grazing has deep roots in the soil. She's been following that passion around the world, working on an ancient Nabatean farm in the Negev, and with farmers in West Africa's Niger. After returning to the US, Rachel received her M.S. and Ph.D. in agronomy and soil science from the University of Maryland. For her doctoral research, Rachel spent 3 years working with Maryland dairy farmers using management intensive grazing. She then began her work with grass farmers, a source of joy and a journey of discovery.

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