For the past two weeks we’ve been sharing stories about how farmer to farmer mentoring can help farmers transition successfully to grazing or improve their grazing operations. (How to Turn Farmers Into Graziers and What’s It Like to Have a Mentor?) The beauty of being a mentor, or having a mentor is that you have at least one colleague working with you towards similar goals. This can be especially important if you’re trying something different from your neighbors who might even think you’re crazy for stepping outside the box. We hope that by sharing this we can give you some tools or ideas for working within your community to support each other and help new farmers coming along behind you.
We’d like to close the series with some lessons learned, insights and time savers from the Maryland Grazers Network as well as some links back to past On Pasture articles to give you additional resources. You can download the Maryland Grazer’s Network Report as well to have on hand as you consider what you’d like to do.
One Size Doesn’t Fit All
This comes as no surprise to any of us. So when you’re shaping your network, do it in a way that fits your farm and ranch community. The Maryland Grazers Network didn’t limit itself to county or watershed boundaries, and you may not want to either. They opened the network to all interested farmers, not just mentoring pairs because some farmers appreciated access to the resources available but weren’t ready to enter into a formal mentoring process.
They did find that 50 miles was as far as farmers were willing to travel to meet with each other or a resource person. This may vary by state. For example, in the West long distances between folks is the norm and participants may be willing to travel a bit further.
Everybody will do things differently depending on what farmers need. Myron Martin mentors dairy farmers in the Maryland Grazers Network. When he meets a new farmer he starts by walking his own farm with them. Then the farmer thinks about what they have and what they don’t. Some farmers start the program with fencing, some don’t. Some are still working on finding land to farm. Myron helps walk them through the whole process.
Set Up Regular Communication
Everybody is busy, and if we don’t set up a schedule for working with our mentoring partner and other folks in the network, it will likely get forgotten in the daily routine. Decide when you want to be in touch, put it on the calendar, and then make the call, send the email, or head out to meet each other. It may seem inconvenient at first, but as you work together, it will become a natural and even fun part of your routine.
Keep Paperwork to a Minimum
A little paperwork can help things get off on the right foot, but too much can make folks with limited time lose interest. The Maryland Grazers Network wanted to be sure they were doing a good job matching mentors with farmers, so they put together a simple “contact sheet” and the Network’s liaison helped fill it out. They got the information they needed in the most painless way possible.
Be Flexible With Definitions of Success
Each operation has different economic pressures and different goals. For some, a major improvement is getting good fencing and water supplies in place. For others, just getting experience in managed grazing is the goal. Don’t let documenting environmental or economic changes get in the way of celebrating all the progress that goes on getting there.
Be Flexible About How Mentoring Works
The Maryland Grazers Network is just one example of how you might work in your community to increase grass-fed operations and their success. You can also work together in other ways to help and support each other. Here are some examples from past On Pasture articles:
Pasture walks can be a good way to get folks together to talk about what works, and what doesn’t. Here’s how to get one going:
Chip Hines found that working with others of like mind made innovation easier. Here’s how it worked for him:
We hope this will give you some ideas about how you can find the additional support you might like to be successful. Do let us know how things go, and if there are other things you’d like us to take a look at and report back on, do let us know. We want to keep on being a part of your community and a place you go to get the information you need.