Once the grueling work of summer comes to an end for farmers throughout the state, there are often opportunities for them to network, build skills, and seek out resources for their farms during the colder months. For Beginning Farmers, one of these opportunities is just around the corner. On December 12th from 2-4pm, the New Connecticut Farmers Alliance (NCTFA) will be hosting it’s semi-annual Build Your Network Grow Our Future event.
Going virtual this year, the zoom event will be an opportunity for farmers who have been in agriculture for 10 or less years to come together to share challenges and strategies, be in community, and connect with service providers that can support their work. Though this typically takes place in person, Will O’Meara of the New Connecticut Farmers Alliance, is still looking forward to participation in the event.
“It’s been a tough year for growers overall – from pivoting our markets to cater to the new needs of Covid, to abrupt changes in land tenure and access, to late and early frosts, and drought to top it off, this season has given us plenty of new challenges. I’m looking forward to connecting on a personal level with other farmers, hearing about how different farms tackled these hurdles, and learning from the community.”
Adding a new component to their gathering this year, NCTFA will be introducing a new peer-learning and peer-leadership opportunity called Farmer Circles that will launch in early 2021. “We seek to strengthen peer support systems among farmers. These professional learning communities can form around content areas, geography, demographic, or anything else – with the belief that a fortified culture of farmer-to-farmer mentorship will strengthen our agrarian resilience,” says Dina Brewster, farmer at The Hickories and Executive Director of Northeastern Organic Farming Association of Connecticut (CTNOFA) and one of the team members helping launch the effort.
Modeled to help facilitate community this will be an opportunity to share obstacles and strategies in small, semi-structured, supportive environments during a nine to 12 month period. Each Circle will choose an issue to focus on that is proposed by the farmers themselves; such as getting clear on farm financials, identifying vegetable disease and pest management during the season, farming during a natural disaster or public health emergency, starting an urban farm, finding and maintaining a strong farm crew, and mental health/wellness for farm families.
A largely autonomous effort, Farmer Circles will have five to eight members with a designated leader and will choose their preferred meeting style. Each leader will continue to connect with NCTFA and CTNOFA throughout the year to obtain resources (like hiring an expert/practitioner to present) and any leadership training they might require. Ideally, these Farmer Circles will help build durable social networks that will support farmers well beyond the one year commitment.
The Farmer Circle concept blossomed through a partnership between NCTFA, CTNOFA, and UConn Extension. Jiff Martin, UConn Extension Educator in Sustainable Food Systems, noted “Our collaboration in launching the Farmer Circles recognizes that our three organizations have overlapping yet slightly different capacity to reach and support farmer communities of Connecticut.” Funding for the three year project comes from USDA through the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program, a grant led by Jiff Martin and her team at UConn Extension.
To find out more about Farmer Circles, visit the NCTFA website at https://newctfarmers.com/. To register for the upcoming Build Your Network Grow Our Future event visit bit.ly/BYNGOF. For more information on the beginning farmer grant and other resources available visit https://newfarms.uconn.edu/.