Supporting Relationships for Farm Success

goat producers with goats

Healthy on-farm relationships between spouses, employees, apprentices and family members are vital to a farm’s success. If these relationships are burdened by stress or lack of clear communication, the farm may not succeed. Sometimes the supports farmers need are as simple as having some time away during the week or setting up a farm-family meeting. As other issues arise, there may be needs for mediation or counseling.

The Project

The University of Maine Cooperative Extension and the Beginning Farmer Resource Network started a project in the fall of 2016 focused on farmers and social sustainability. The project began with a survey to better understand the needs of beginning farmers (in their first 10 years) with respect to the social, emotional, and relational issues that arise.

You are invited to participate in one of three ways:

  1. Complete the survey
  2. Suggest 1-2 farmers to participate in a focus group; this is optional
  3. Enroll in a yearlong program to help create new resources to support your work with farmers. You will receive training and copies of the materials; this is optional

The intention of working with ag service providers is to build a team statewide of professionals with whom farmers already have relationships. The trainings will provide the opportunity for you to better understand, gain confidence, and support the diverse needs of beginning farmers.

SARE_Northeast_CMYKThis project is generously funded by Northeast Sustainable Agriculture, Research, and Education.

In the fall of 2016, we began to explore the specific interpersonal and relational needs of beginning farmers at different points of time in farming with a survey. An undefined number of providers were sent a survey (a convenience sample; we are hoping for 45 responses) to better understand their needs on this topic and ask them to refer farmers to participate in focus groups in January of 2017. The data from the surveys will be used to develop a “job description” of beginning farmers and to create a profile of that includes interpersonal skills and needs (New England Small Farm Institute, 2000). Providers who completed the survey will be offered an opportunity to become part of a cohort that will help the project team develop written resource materials for use by other providers to help in their work with farmers.

Over the course of a year, the resource materials will be drafted and shared with a cohort of 20 providers who will provide feedback and review the ease and utility of the materials. The materials will undergo refinement, and a tool (like a checklist) will be created for service providers to use during one-on-one consultations that includes questions, prompts, and additional resources, as needed (O’Connell, 2014). The materials will include the following areas:

  • Beginning Farmer Learning Stages: Identifying the gaps in new farmer training models and learning about how interpersonal needs may change with development of the farm business or as family priorities change. For the purposes of this project, “interpersonal skills” will include:
    • Communication: Identifying the relationships and roles on the farm and tools to improve communication between family members, farm partners, employees, customers and other decision makers.
    • Decision-making: Utilizing existing tools to prioritize tasks and plan in advance
    • Goal-setting: Developing tools for assisting farmers in prioritization of farm, business and family goals.
    • Time Management: Utilizing existing resources to assist farmers in optimizing farm roles and responsibilities.

At the end of the year, the providers from the cohort as well as other providers will participate in a one-day training that focuses on the materials and has additional in-depth training about responding to interpersonal and relational needs of farmers.

Third, additional providers will be offered the opportunity to participate in a webinar that conveys the same information as the one-day training. The webinar is designed for those who were not able to commit to the full year of the project yet would find benefit in learning about this topic and utilizing the tools developed therein. The length of time for the webinar is not yet known. It will be available for providers who are unable to attend the in-person training or did not sign up at the start of the project.

At the close of the project a digital resource of all the materials will be compiled and provided to the participating providers and will be available online. All participants in the training and webinar will be provided an evaluation as well as assistance implementing the tools.

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