Bulletin #4807, Farm Coaching to Support Farm-Family Communication

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A Guide for Professionals to Develop a Four-Session Communication Coaching Program

stone farmhouse
Photo by Tori Lee Jackson.

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Developed by Leslie Forstadt, Child and Family Development Specialist, University of Maine Cooperative Extension, Karen Groat, Family and Community Mediation, Abby Sadauckas, Land for Good, and Polly Shyka, Villageside Farm.

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In this Guide


Introduction

This guide outlines a model of farm coaching that was developed as part of the project “Facilitating Communication in Farm Families with Personalized Coaching” funded by Northeast Extension Risk Management and Education (NERME).

Maine has a vibrant farming sector and fortunately, it also has a robust and responsive agricultural service provider (ASP) network to serve this farm sector. Since 2012, ASPs have collaborated as part of the Beginning Farmer’s Resource Network (BFRN). It is through BFRN that the need for more support for farmers’ communication and relationship challenges was first articulated. ASPs reported encountering serious relational “stumbling blocks” when meeting with farmers about financing, succession planning, and rudimentary business planning, for example.

ASPs noticed that farm teams were struggling with communication skills like how to listen, show and feel empathy, see another’s perspective, collaborate, and express one’s own needs and values. Thanks to the on-the-ground finding, a group of ASPs collaborated to address these needs. Prior to the NERME funding, a grant from NESARE, “Supporting Relationships for Farm Success” provided support for trainings for ASPs and the creation of a communication skills Toolkit for Agricultural Service Providers (contact the authors).

This guide was created through NERME funding to support direct service with farmers to provide on-farm communication coaching. The coaching sessions were designed collaboratively by the authors with input from the families that participated in coaching and an advisory group of ASPs and farmers. The advisory group included: Gary Anderson (University of Maine Cooperative Extension), Erica Buswell (Maine Farmland Trust), Leilani Carlson (AgrAbility/UMaine Cooperative Extension), Bo Dennis (MOFGA), Kathy Ruhf (Land for Good), Julie Ann Smith (Maine Farm Bureau), and Linda and Laughlin Titis (AgMatters).

Thank you to Erica Buswell and Leilani Carlson for their reviews. We are grateful for our collaboration with Atina Diffley of Organic Farming Works, who created many of the resources used in farm coaching (links to her website are provided throughout). And thank you to the farm families who helped shape this work.

This guide is for ASPs to provide a four-session program using a broad and flexible set of tools for farmers in any phase of their farming career. It is not written in script form. It is meant to be an overview of the process and learning tools that the authors gathered and developed. As new teams use this guide to develop new coaching programs, the authors suggest that each coaching team create new agendas (see Appendix) and basic scripts for each coach.

Questions or correspondence should be directed to:
Leslie Forstadt
University of Maine Cooperative Extension
207.581.3487
leslie.forstadt@maine.edu


Background

The farmers: In 2018-2019, we began a pilot project offering farm coaching to any Maine farmer or farm family that was interested in working on communication skills, developing a communication plan, and/or team building for the season. Participants in the pilot project included farm couples, multigenerational farms, farms with and without farm managers, and farms moving toward future transition.

The coaches: The authors were the coaching team, and our experiences reflected a variety of skills across the four individuals. Subject matter expertise varied from individual to individual and included production agriculture, mediation, inquiry, education, and land succession. The role of the coach was to be a guide and advisor, not a case manager, clinician, or to provide legal advice. Two members of the coaching team were farmers who had training and experience in facilitation and mediation. We recommend that if farmers are part of the coaching team, they have prior training in facilitation and mediation or are provided the opportunity to gain skills in these areas before coaching.

Coaching Design

Two coaches were paired with each farm and met with the farmers four times over a 5-month period, from winter-summer. Each session was 2 hours in length. Sessions were scheduled in person or using videoconferencing based on the availability of the farmers and others involved.

We used the following structure for the four coaching sessions. The farming metaphor was used to better clarify the goals and approach of the coaching sessions.

  • PRE-PLANNING — coaching team only. Metaphor of “crop planning, gathering supplies, and preparing the soil.”
  • SESSION 1 — coaching team in partnership with farmers. Metaphor of “planting seeds.”
  • SESSION 2 — coaching team in partnership with farmers. Metaphor of “weeding, watering, and thinning.”
  • SESSION 3 — coaching team in partnership with farmers. Metaphor of “harvesting.”
  • SESSION 4 — coaching team in partnership with farmers. Metaphor of “washing, packing, and marketing.”

Because this process was highly individualized for each farm, we offered a variety of activities, handouts, links, tools, and homework suggestions. In this guide they are organized beneath each session as possibilities. For ease, we are providing external links for all documents. Each activity can be used “a la carte” depending on the needs and goals of the farmers.

This material is based upon work supported by USDA/NIFA under Award Number 2015-49200-24225.

Northeast Extension Risk Management Education and USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture


Information in this publication is provided purely for educational purposes. No responsibility is assumed for any problems associated with the use of products or services mentioned. No endorsement of products or companies is intended, nor is criticism of unnamed products or companies implied.

© 2020

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