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The 9th annual Beginning Farmer Retreat took place on February 10th and 11th at Ewalu Retreat Center in Strawberry Point. Seventeen aspiring and beginning farmers came together to build their peer network and strengthen the financial position of their newborn operations. These farmers run a variety of operations, everything from sweet corn and vegetables to pasture raised livestock.
Starting the retreat out Friday afternoon was Cindy Mensen, Ryan Marcus and Sarah Bohnsack of the Farm Service Agency. Together these three led the farmers in learning more about the programs that are available to beginning farmers through the Farm Service Agency. Ryan and Sarah shared tips for how to prepare when meeting with a lender along with key financials to prepare before your visit. They helped the farmers develop a better understanding of what lenders and investors are looking at in a beginning farmer’s balance sheet.
The remainder of the afternoon was spent in two groups. One group focused more on financials, digging deeper into the burning questions they had as they started to draft their business plans. The rest of the group met with Margaret Smith from Iowa State University to dig deeper into their goals. Using the “SMART” method they created goals and mapped out a path to accomplish them. They also discovered that the fireplace room in the basement was quite chilly without a fire.
The evening kicked off with a potluck and some delicious roasted vegetables and ham hock soup. The beginning farmer retreat and the Advanced Financial Planning for Fruit and Vegetable Farms with Holistic Management International workshop shared the retreat center for these two days. Over dinner and break times, the farmers from both workshops shared stories and tips they’ve learned on their own farms. After dinner was cleaned up, you could find clusters of farmers gathered around tables chatting and planning their evening’s activities. At this point- to all of our surprise- the power went out and stayed off for about three hours, leaving social activity plans amok! As farmers must do, they adjusted plans and found ways to work around the lack of technology. Some went on a full moon hike, others played cards by cell phone light and some gathered around the fireplaces to share tales of their farms. Luckily the power (and the heat) returned before bedtime.
After a good night’s rest they gathered back into the main lodge for some breakfast. You can’t beat a grits bar full of sweet and savory toppings. Then it was back to work. Ash Bruxvoort, digital marketing expert, joined the crowd to present tips and tricks for crafting a marketing plan. After learning these tidbits of information the farmers had time to break and capture those thoughts and place them into their marketing plans. Many of them enjoyed this time to work while learning.
Before wrapping up the weekend, they took some time to reflect on ways to incorporate conservation into their operations. Some shared how they have already done this and the programs that helped them make conservation possible, such as the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP). They then completed a conservation workbook to get their ideas into writing.
Thank you to all the beginning farmers who joined us for this overnight retreat. Jenny Quiner remarked before leaving “Having time away from the farm with like-minded farmers is very energizing and exciting.” Farming can take a community, it’s always wonderful to see beginning farmers come together to learn from each other as they are starting their own operations.
Also thank you to Practical Farmers’ Chef Nick Ohde for planning and preparing the meals throughout the weekend. Of course, Nick sourced our meals from PFI member farms, including Lost Lake Farm, Early Morning Harvest, Lee’s Greens, Lacewing Acres, Remnant Hills Farm, and Joia Food Farms.