Published Feb 25, 2016

2016 Next Generation Retreat

By Steve Carlson

This past weekend a dedicated group of beginning farmers gathered at Practical Farmers’ 8th annual next generation retreat to focus on strengthening their young farms and building relationships at the Des Moines Y Camp in Boone, Iowa.

Beginning and aspiring farmer attendees represented farms of varying shapes, sizes and enterprises, as well as a wide range of ages and on-farm experience. The diversity of the group—common for many Practical Farmers’ events— contributed additional depth to our discussions and allowed attendees to learn from each other.

The weekend was split into two main topics: understanding farm financials and effective marketing. Day one dove right into farm financials with Andy Hunziker, who stepped up with barely an hour’s notice to fill in for a sick speaker. Andy works as a farm loan manager with the local Boone County Farm Service Agency, and gave a nice overview on key financial documents such as a balance sheet, income statement, and cash flow projections. Andy has worked with PFI’s beginning farmers before but his willingness to lead the group on such short notice was very much appreciated. Thank you Andy!!

Our afternoon of farm financials segued into an evening of networking, good food and fun.  A PFI potluck always brings people together, and this was no different—what a feast!  Staying in the Y Camp’s cabins added an extra feeling of camaraderie, as if we were back at summer camp. We kept this feeling going with some goofy group activities like farm charades and Pictionary – and luckily no one was forced to do anything too humiliating (just try and act-out ‘beekeeping’ without letting a few “bzzz” noises out, and be glad you didn’t draw the card ‘pulling a calf’). So after our group activities the ladies and gents went to our separate cabins like good campers and we all called it a night… or so the counselors thought.

Day two started out with a good breakfast followed by a couple of PFI farmers joining us to talk about the marketing strategies for their farms. Jordan Clasen of Grade A Gardens in Johnston and Ethan Book of Crooked Gap Farm near Knoxville are both considered “beginning farmers” by many technical standards, but both do an exceptional job with their marketing. Each are at the point in their careers where they’re evaluating what’s been working and what hasn’t, and are really honing in on their marketing niche. Using examples from their respective farms, Jordan and Ethan gave great presentations on their marketing plans, including products, customers, competition, pricing and promotion.

Feedback was just what we’d hoped: “I love getting to hear about what is or isn’t working for other beginning farmers.”

During these Saturday presentations we were joined by Brian Gossling from the Iowa Farm Service Agency, who sat down with attendees to discuss their farm financials one-on-one. Everyone’s past, present and future situations are different, so speaking with someone one-on-one about their unique circumstances can be valuable.

And of course, we had one more tasty meal together before wrapping the weekend up and saying goodbye. Aside from the attendees’ wonderful potluck contributions, we need to thank the following PFI member farms for their contributions:

  • Blue Gate Farm for the eggs
  • Lee’s Greens for the salad greens and kale
  • Wild Rose Pastures for their chicken
  • Madsen Stock Farm for the pork
  • Scattergood Friends Farm for the carrots and watermelon radishes
  • Berry Patch Farm for apples
  • Early Morning Harvest for the flour (and local bakery Stop and Smell the Flours for baking the muffins)
  • Grade A Gardens for potatoes
  • Genuine Faux Farm for garlic

Thank you to all our speakers and a big thanks to all the beginning farmers who attended this year! We hope to see you next year, stay tuned to the Next Generation Retreat webpage for details later in 2016.