Event Recap: 2018 Beginning Farmers Reteat
The first beginning farmer retreat was held at Pilgrim Heights in Montour, Iowa, on December 11 – 12, 2009. For the 11th year of the now annual overnight retreat, it returned to where it all began. On November 30 – December 1, 2018. Twenty-four beginning and aspiring farmers gathered together to dedicate time to planning their farm businesses and network with others doing the same.
A little after noon, the aspiring and beginning farmers started to trickle into the lodge. After settling in and warming up with some coffee and tea, the introduction began. After getting to know one another it was time to start working on business plans. Working through a couple exercises helped them think through each section to build their business plan. The foundation of their plans begins with their vision and values. Prior to the retreat everyone was asked to identify their values and reasoning for starting a farm, which was then turned into their farm vision and mission. After a few shared their mission, the group dug into goal setting. With a mix of aspiring and beginning farmers their goals reflected these stages of business development; some had goals to research more about prospective enterprises while others had goals to increase sales of products they already offer.
Friday afternoon concluded with four ‘advanced’ beginning farmers (those who have been farming 6-10 years) sharing their experiences on the Farm Vision Panel. Cheryl Hopkins of Frog Hollow Farm in Walker, Marcus and Emma Johnson of Buffalo Ridge Orchard in Central City, and Donna Warhover of Morning Glory Farm in Mt Vernon all participated. Together these four farmers shared how their farm has evolved from their original vision to be the farm they are operating today. Their stories and experience helped to “ground-truth” the visions that the retreat attendees had created. After the panel some aspiring farmers realized more about what would fit their farm vision based on these experiences. Carly McAndrews shared in her evaluation, “My favorite part was the panel – such great speakers!”
After filling up on breakfast and some more coffee, retreat attendees started to dig into the operations side of their businesses. They started by identifying key resources to determine what gaps they have in areas such as production, workforce, financing, etc. After this exercise they worked on listing their key partners—those who have or will help them make their farm vision a reality. Starting a farming business can be challenging doing it alone even more so. At the end of this exercise they understood how to better identify where they needed more support and where they have what they need. Some of the areas where they can seek this support include events such as field days, socials and PFI’s annual conference.
Now that the retreat attendees had thought through many aspects of their farm, they completed a business idea map for two products they wanted to carry. This activity helped them narrow down what customers to target, what resources they needed, and what marketing they would have to execute.
For the next two hours we went around the room and shared one of those product ideas. Retreat attendees as well as experienced farmers, Eric and Ann Franzenburg of Pheasant Run Farm in Van Horne, shared feedback of the ideas presented and helped steer these farmers toward resources to help them achieve their goals. Eric and Ann run a diverse farming operation with livestock, row crops and horticultural crops. Their experience and ideas where greatly helpful to the group.
Everyone in attendance left with the start of a business plan and the tools to keep building on their ideas. Having the start of a plan is important, and doesn’t end there. With these tools they can use the plan they’ve created to make business decisions that balance their vision with reality. They were all encouraged to make a plan, execute that plan, review what happened and then revise that plan to start a new season with fresh ideas and perspectives. Farmers left feeling more confident about their plan as they began to understand its importance more. Stacie Mix, of Gray Duck Farms in Pine City, Minnesota said, “I feel much more confident in our farm business planning and for the future of our farm.”
Throughout the entire weekend new connections were made. Beyond meeting other aspiring and beginning farmers these attendees met experienced farmers who could potentially help them solve tough problems. Ben Rothman of Reinbeck said, “It not only generates excitement and enthusiasm about a farm or farm project, it develops a plan and you meet so many people who are in the same boat you are in.” Every year new and familiar faces join the beginning farmer retreat, we look forward to hearing the success of those who have attended and seeing who will be the new faces at the next retreat.