Published Feb 12, 2015

Recap: 2015 Next Generation Retreat

By Steve Carlson
timber frame barn

The retreat was held at the Timber Frame Barn on the Celebration Farm near Iowa City.

Less than a week after most of our state was hit with blizzard conditions, thirty-five beginning and aspiring farmers found themselves traveling to the Iowa City area in warm temperatures under a bright clear blue sky.  Many Iowans may have taken advantage of the break in winter weather to get outside and check a few things off the to-do list, but not these folks. These thirty-five beginning and aspiring farmers took the time to hunker down inside and hammer out some solid pieces of their business plans. (Don’t worry– we had fun too!)

Attendees came from across the state, and even from Wisconsin and Illinois. All farm enterprises were represented, as were all age groups and stages on the beginning farmer spectrum. Ideas, energy, and passion were not in short supply from this group!

This was the seventh annual two-day Next Generation Retreat Practical Farmers has hosted for beginning farmers. In addition to everyone’s favorite components such as networking, good food, and financial advice, this retreat focused on business planning. Attendees not only left inspired and energized, but with something in their hands to continue working on.

In order to guide attendees through the ever-intimidating business planning process, we enlisted the help of Solon-based farm training program The Farming Institute (TFI). Consisting of businessman/entrepreneur Dick Schwab, long-time CSA farmer Susan Jutz, and young CSA operator Kate Edwards (all very active PFI members), the trio modified their normally-two-month-long summer course into a two day values-based business planning workshop.

These fearless leaders managed to keep a fast-paced agenda that led attendees through a twelve step business plan process while also keeping them entertained and engaged.  Each member of the trio brought their unique experience and insight into the workshop: Dick’s decades of business experience was invaluable, Kate’s recent transition into operating a 150-member CSA provided excellent content for real-world examples of dos and don’ts, and Susan’s experience raising four kids and running a CSA without supplemental income was nothing short of inspiring.

The weekend began by having attendees map out their dream farm (literally), and reflect on the values, beliefs, vision, and mission for their farms.   There was a bit of a reality check following this as attendees reflected on their current situation, history, and complicators. The rest of the workshop was devoted to creating realistic business goals, assessing resources and opportunities, and maintaining important financial documents for running a successful farm.

Both Practical Farmers and The Farming Institute called upon our networks in the area to join us for a potluck and barn dance on Friday night, and we were thrilled with the response. Our group more than doubled when nearly fifty local farmers and friends of farmers joined us at the Celebration Farm on Friday night. Good food and fellowship was had by all as we danced the night away.

line dancing

As always, we want to thank the PFI farmers who provided our wonderful food enjoyed throughout the weekend: James Nisly for his microgreens; Derek Roller for his sweet potatoes, squash, garlic and beets; Dick Schwab for the carrots, potatoes and onions; Dave Miller for carrots, turnips and daikon; Vic and Cindy Madsen for deli ham; and all the potluck attendees for their delicious contributions.