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.
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.
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.
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.