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Beginning Farmers Unite at Mentor Match Meeting

Beginning Farmers Unite at Mentor Match Meeting

SMADC is delighted to be part of the Maryland Collaborative for Beginning Farmer Success which received a three year grant from the USDA’s Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program. SMADC has supported the effort with enhanced resources on the Maryland FarmLINK website and managing the Mentor Match Program for beginning farmers.


This past Monday we held the annual Mentor Match meeting. Over 20 Maryland farmers came together around the table, farmers who are interested in helping one another grow the next generation of farmers. The Mentor Match program connects new farmers with experienced farmers in the region. The annual meeting is the one time of year that brings them all together to connect. The evening started with SMADC offering an overview of the program,  equipment available for rent, and the emergence of food hubs in the region. Paul Goeringer, University of Maryland Extension, followed with a presentation on farm labor issues, crop insurance and leasing laws in Maryland.

2015 mentees
Photo of some of the 2015 mentees! SMADC will be doing a similar set of stories of this group for the Tomorrow’s Harvest website in early 2016.

Most of the time was dedicated to the Mentees, who had the chance to network with each other (many for the first time) and share information about what they were up to on the farm. The mentees gave examples of how they worked with their mentors, and expressed appreciation for the ability to communicate with them often, and make connections that will last beyond the mentor program.

As the age of the average farmer continues to rise, programs like the Mentor Match are in place to keep farming– not just alive– but thriving in our region. There are many barriers for new farmers, such as high cost of land and having access to necessary infrastructure, which prevent many new farmers (and especially young farmers) from being profitable. A mentor to lean on, someone with expert knowledge and wisdom, provides the new farmer with information that can prevent a costly mistake or two in those first few years.  This was echoed around the room.mentor Match Food

Collectively, the group felt it was helpful to have someone to work with who has the same communication style, since farmers are constantly ‘on the go” during the season. One Mentor Match team told us they preferred to use texting and picture messaging while in the field. The mentee said he would send pictures of insect-ridden crops to his mentor, and the mentor said she would send the same photo right back, providing assurance that, “don’t worry, I’m dealing with it too! And here’s an idea of what you can do about it.” The mentee shared that these situations gave a quick and helpful solution, but also some encouragement. Others also mentioned that living close to each other was a bonus, allowing them to take advantage of bulk purchasing and shared equipment.

Menu featuring organic produce from Jug Bay (’15Mentor), Good Fortune (’14Mentor), and Prickly Pear (’15Mentor) farms, and local meat and cheese from P.A. Bowen farm and eggs from Locust farm.

And, I have to mention the catering for the event because, well it’s exactly what this meeting was about– helping local farmers. Pineapple Alley Catering made us chili (one veggie and one beef). The produce, meat, and cheese came from three of the farmers sitting in the room that very night, which the caterer could identify by first name. It stands to reason, that if we are going to be meeting to talk about the food we are growing, we should carefully consider the food we are consuming at that meeting too.

The feedback from the meeting was what we had hoped– many of the farmers had formed valuable connections through the program that now allows them to share community resources with each other. If that’s not one way of building a stable regional food system, I don’t know what is!

For more information on the Collaborative beginning farmer program led by University of Maryland Extension, and our other partners, University of Maryland Eastern Shore and Future Harvest CASA, visit the Beginning Farmer Success website. The grant funding has come to an end; however SMADC is excited to be able to continue to fund the Mentor Match program in 2016 for farmers who are farming in the five counties of Southern Maryland. To apply to be a part of our Mentor Match Program in 2016 or just to learn more about it, click here.

Tomorrow’s Harvest: Beginning farmers share their stories

Tomorrow’s Harvest: Beginning farmers share their stories


SMADC has launched a new webpage called Tomorrow’s Harvest showcasing a series of stories about farmers in SMADC’s Mentor Match Program. Eight mentee farmers of the inaugural program agreed to share their stories in hopes that their experiences will be useful to others just beginning the journey.

Cathy Tipper, of Roberts Roost Farm and 2014 Mentee, rinses a cluster of bright-green sorrel just picked from the field. click the photo for the full story.
Cathy Tipper, of Roberts Roost Farm and 2014 Mentee, rinses a cluster of bright-green sorrel just picked from the field. Click the photo for Cathy’s story.

As the age of the average farmer continues to rise, programs like the Mentor Match are in place to keep farming alive in our region. High cost of land and necessary infrastructure to get started prevent many new farmers, and especially young farmers, from being profitable. During their time in the program, mentees work with an experienced mentor farmer who agreed to help grow the next generation of farmers in the region. The mentee visits the mentors farm and vice versa. They are encouraged to call the mentor with questions and occasionally the mentor contacts the mentee to see how things are going.

“I was trying to find more experienced people so I don’t make the same mistakes, especially as I’m scaling up…That’s one of the reasons to have someone in your region versus the Internet. The Internet doesn’t ask you how you’re doing. It doesn’t empathize,” Emma Jagoz of Moon Valley Farm says of her experience with the Mentor Match. “I wanted to be in the program forever.”

Generations ago, a parent or neighbor who lived on the adjacent farm could answer the questions of a new farmer. Today, the parent of a new farmer may not have farmed, the closest farm might be miles away, and a farmer with experience in a specific crop might be several counties away. A mentee can lean on someone with expert knowledge and wisdom, providing the new farmer with information that can prevent costly mistakes.

"The [mentor] made sure I had everything ready to go for market." --Jackson Webb, Mentee
“The [mentor] made sure I had everything ready to go for market.” –Jackson Webb, Mentee. Click on the picture to read Jackson’s full story.
“It has been such a joy to learn about and work with our farm mentees. They exhibit a passion for growing food and a quiet resolve to make a difference in their communities. Through the Mentor Match Program, mentees learn about tricks of the trade from a farmer experienced in their line of work, while mentors get to see farming through new eyes. The matches often form great relationships where both parties learn something,” said Greg Bowen, former Maryland FarmLINK Director at SMADC.

The beginning farmer stories are available online here.  The next round of stories will be added in the fall. If you are interested in the Mentor Match program, we have  rolling application process for mentees, you can fill out the form here. Contact us at or call 301-274-1922 x1 to become a mentor!


Millennials try their hand at farming with the help of a mentor and a farm owner

Millennials try their hand at farming with the help of a mentor and a farm owner

Screen Shot 2015-04-14 at 9.02.16 AMWhat a joy to visit with Ross Margulies, Leah Putkammer, and Rebecca Cecere Seward on a Mentor Match farm visit last week. Ross and Leah’s farm, Working over Thyme, is located on rolling hills near the Patuxent River in Prince George’s County. Rebecca’s  farm, Prickly Pear Produce, is a 40-minute drive away, in Charles County.

Ross and Leah are college educated professionals working in Screen Shot 2015-04-14 at 9.01.02 AMWashington, D.C. who found that growing food is their passion. Previously, they had taken classes, grown their own gardens, worked in community gardens and sold seedlings. They decided to begin farming through Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), which consists of a community of individuals who pledge to financially support a farm operation and share the risks and benefits of food production. They applied for a mentor to help them learn how to turn the joy of growing vegetables into a business.

Rebecca graduated with a liberal arts degree from St. Mary’s College of Maryland, not the Screen Shot 2015-04-14 at 9.00.01 AMusual form of training for a farmer. However, while at the college, she decided to earn some cash working at the Even’ Star Organic Farm near the campus, which runs one of the largest CSAs in the state. She rose to a “forewoman” position at the farm and found that farming was a perfect trade for her to be able to work outdoors and to promote environmental sustainability and community. Over the last 10+ years, she has worked on a number of farms. Prior to starting her own farm last year, she managed  a CSA and ran an apprenticeship program at the Accokeek Foundation’s Ecosystem Farm in Accokeek Maryland. She has agreed to serve as a mentor for Ross and Leah.

However, this mentorship meeting would not have happened without the help of Yates Clagett. Yates is not a newcomer to agriculture. His family has owned and operated a farm in Prince George’s County for decades and Yates is a District Ag Engineer for the Prince George’s County Soil Conservation District. Like many farms in the state, the family farm has a tenant house. When the tenant house became available, Yates reached out to see if a young farmer might be interested. With the help of Maryland FarmLINK, Ross and Leah met with Yates who offered to lease the tenant house and a small piece of land to help them get started in farming.

Maryland needs young farmers. Ross and Leah did not grow up on a vegetable farm, but farming has become their passion. Becky is willing to share her knowledge and experiences through the Mentor Match Program, supported by the USDA Beginning Farmer and Rancher Program. And farm owners like the Clagett family give young farmers a chance to succeed!



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