Harvesting Our Potential Mentees: Where Are They Now?

Cait Palmer by Leigh Adcock

Aspiring farmers of both genders need on-farm work experience to help them become successful beginning farmers. For women, they tell us that working with experienced female farmers is crucial, as they navigate the male-dominated field of farming.

WFAN has provided on-farm work experiences for aspiring women farmers for more than a decade, through our Harvesting Our Potential program – most recently with support from the USDA’s Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program.

Between 2012 and 2015, a $400,000 grant from USDA helped WFAN provide on-farm training to 27 women in Iowa and 5 in Nebraska. We trained 20 experienced women farmers in managing on-farm mentees. We also matched 20 beginning farmers and experienced farmers as off-farm mentoring pairs, and provided business training to 60 aspiring and beginning women farmers.

Grant evaluations show that about 70% of the aspiring farmers plan to continue their farming careers. Many of the remaining women plan to use their on-farm experiences in food systems work. Those who had planned to farm but learned it wasn’t for them? That’s also a success story. It’s much better to find out through a summer job than after you invest in and launch an enterprise that isn’t right for you.

Many mentees are still in close touch with their mentors, and continue their farming educations as part of the network they’ve built through WFAN. Harvesting Our Potential project manager Lynn Heuss checked in with past mentees this winter; here are some highlights of their “Where are they now?” responses.

Kate Dorsey (2015) Mentor: Denise O’Brien, Rolling Acres Farm, Atlantic, IA

The Harvesting our Potential Program has completely transformed how I see myself and my future! The relationships that I had formed during my 2 months working in Iowa have become very central to my life and my career goals. They solidified my future goals of having my own farm. There is no doubt in my mind that without the Harvesting our Potential program I would not be where I am at today: well connected to local farmers and their resources, understanding who I am and what skills I bring to a farm and a working environment, and how very very much I want farming to be a part of the rest of my life.

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Elena Ingram (2014-15) Mentor: Alice McGary, Mustard Seed Community Farm, Ames, IA

I am a sophomore at ISU majoring in Horticulture. I work at the ISU Horticulture Research Station, and am currently looking for an internship on a vegetable farm for summer 2016.

Cassie Elliott (2014) Mentor: Julie Donaghy, Broadhorn Farm, Truro, IA

After my internship with your program, I have continued working on my Bachelor's Degree in Animal Science. I will graduate in May and will be moving to Australia with my friend to pursue jobs in the agriculture field.

Ash-WetlandPFIAsh Bruxvoort (2014) Mentor: Denise O’Brien, Rolling Acres Farm, Atlantic, IA

I'm doing marketing for the Iowa Food Cooperative, serving on the Iowa Farmers Union board in the Beginning Farmer seat, and starting a farming enterprise part-time.

Louise Vasher (2014) Mentor: Susan Jutz, Local Harvest CSA, Solon, IA

Since farming I have started graduate school at Ohio State, pursuing a master's degree in Higher Education and Student Affairs. Although this is not ag related, farming is still at the forefront of my mind, and I have an urban garden (and chickens!) at my new home in Columbus, Ohio. And I'm hoping to bridge my agricultural passions with my educational interests- perhaps as an academic advisor for the agriculture school here- who knows!

Thank you again for the opportunity with WFAN, I still remain in contact with Carmen and Laura and miss Iowa dearly!

Skylar Falter (2014) Mentor: Ruth Chantry, Common Good Farm, Raymond, NE

I currently work at an organic certification agency called OneCert Inc that certifies farms and food businesses as USDA organic.  This year, I also launched an urban farming business in Lincoln, NE.  With my farming partner, I am leasing urban land from a hospital in Lincoln to grow vegetables for the hospital cafeteria and the community.

Samantha Christiansen (2012) Mentor: Charuth Loth, ShadowBrook Farm/Dutch Girl Creamery, Lincoln, NE

Hi. I appreciated the chance to intern on a dairy farm, it was a valuable experience. My daughter enjoyed the experience as well. I am now working as a Engine Room Operator at a refrigeration facility. Again I cannot thank you and WFAN for the valuable experiences I gained during my internship.

Laura Kington (2015) Mentor: Susan Jutz, Local Harvest CSA, Solon, IA

Since my mentorship program, I have been working as a program assistant for the Ohio farm to school program through Ohio State Extension. I also work as a field organizer with Real Food Challenge.

Caithlin Palmer (2015) Mentor: Shanen Ebersole, Ebersole Cattle Company, Kellerton, IA

I'm still farming with my husband. We're expanding our beef and sheep herds this year.

Maja Black (2014) Mentor: Susan Jutz, Local Harvest CSA, Solon, IA

I am still going to school at Carleton College, where I will graduate this June with a B.A. in American Studies. Following graduation, I plan on joining my sister, Carmen, on her farm, and eventually pursuing a career in an environmental or educational related field.

Milli Zonarich (2015) Mentor: Alice McGary, Mustard Seed Community Farm, Ames, IA

Since ending my internship with Alice at Mustard Seed I haven't really done anything related to agriculture, aside from helping my family buy seeds for a backyard garden. (The goal is to get them set up with some perennial crops, and I wouldn't have really considered trying that with them if it weren't for my experiences with MSCF, so that's something!) I wish I were doing something more with plants right now because since coming off the farm I've really missed it.

Kathleen T FieldKathleen Thompson (2015) Mentor: Julie Slocum, Lacewing Acres, Ames, IA

I am still studying at a graduate student at Iowa State University in the Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Organismal Biology studying lichenizing fungi. After spending a season working on a farm, I plan to make sustainable and local agriculture much more of a priority in my life -- whether that be through my time, work, words, or dollar.

Bonnie Barnett (2014) Mentor: Julie Donaghy, Broadhorn Farm, Truro, IA

As of right now I am still a student in school majoring in web development. I have added another beef heifer and a dairy heifer to my itty-bitty herd. We redid our corral fencing this summer to be more cow-appropriate. I am as always still researching and living the life of hobby farming.

Amber Mohr (2014-15) Mentor: Denise O’Brien, Rolling Acres Farm, Atlantic, IA

I am still farming and still doing a collaborative CSA with Denise O'Brien. Our farm has added meat rabbits since my menteeship ended, and we were accepted into the Practical Farmers of Iowa Savings Incentive Program to continue our learning under experienced farmers. We continue to grow.

Kimberly Stuhr (2015) Mentor: Rebecca Bloom, Fertile Crescent Farm, Omaha, NE

Soon I will begin starting seeds in my basement. This will mark my third season attempt. Not much luck the first year, but planted some starts from my mentor Rebecca Bloom. Last year things went much better. Lots of little herb, flower, and veggie plants made it out to the garden.

Liz Blood (2014-15) Mentor: Sonia Kendrick, Feed Iowa First, Cedar Rapids, IA

I continue to farm more land each season and expand my perennials to enable my one-woman operation. Still working side by side with my mentor. My 75-year-old father is now contemplating helping me plant garlic. He doesn't eat garlic but obviously has faith in the research and work I have done. Without a mentorship I wouldn't have thought of being a farmer. But now my dad has a daughter to carry on the family farming. Thank you!

Stephanie Bertagnoli (2015) Mentor: Deb Welsch, West Blue Farm, Milford, NE

We have gotten our rows ready to plant 75 fruit trees for a you-pick orchard. We also butchered our first hogs and figured costs for raising pastured pork for profits and are currently planning how we can fit that in our farm. We have a plan for growing veggies for the next 5 years under the trees while we wait for our first fruit harvest and are modeling it similar to a CSA but with some differences that we think will work a little better for our market here.

We are also taking over our 7.5 acres of cropland and converting it to hay/grass mix so that the soil can rebuild and we can eventually expand the orchard to fill it.

Margaret Milligan (2013) Mentor: Ruth Chantry, Common Good Farm, Raymond, NE

Erin and I are preparing for our 4th year as market gardeners/csa growers, we both have off-farm full time jobs. 2016 will be our first year doing a fall/winter CSA. We've added two hoophouses, a tractor, and several body-saving implements to our business.

Annie GAndrea Glawe (2014) Mentor: Denise O’Brien, Rolling Acres Farm, Atlantic, IA

After working as a mentee through the Harvesting Our Potential program I began working for Bergin Fruit and Nut Company as a bulk food merchandiser. This gave me experience with working in the grocery industry and seeing how a big business like that operates. Currently, I am the Natural Resource Educator for Prairie Rivers of Iowa and am working on developing my new position. I do not think I would have had this opportunity without the connections I made during the Harvesting Our Potential program. As an educator I am able to spread my knowledge to other people and I love it!

Carmen Black (2013) Mentor: Susan Jutz, Local Harvest CSA, Solon, IA

Farming with Susan Jutz – buying her farm. Will continue to work with Susan in the near future, and has applied to be a mentor with the HOP program.

Click here to read more about Harvesting Our Potential. For more information about the 2016 mentorship program, contact Lynn Heuss by email or call 515 201 9405.