Search for Excellence in Young, Beginning, or Small Farmers/Ranchers

Anne Devin
Maine AgrAbility Farmer Veteran Outreach Coordinator
University of Maine Cooperative Extension

Devin, A.*1,
1 Maine AgrAbility Farmer Veteran Outreach Coordinator, University of Maine Cooperative Extension, Waldo, ME, 04915

Recent survey results and anecdotal discussions gathered since 2018 indicate veteran farmers are most challenged by skills related to crop and production knowledge, financial skills, time management, aging and declining strength. B2B creates a targeted, peer-mentored environment  that offers our target audience an opportunity to learn farming business skills within a familiar, military unit-like cohort. This camaraderie has proven therapeutic, especially for those struggling with chronic health issues and disabilities.  

A hands-on direct mentoring approach was identified in our producer survey as the most  effective means of sustained learning. The B2B curriculum takes a building block approach, first introducing material for understanding, developing risk management goals and then providing a  realistic hands-on opportunity for participants to apply their knowledge to real-world organic  small fruit and vegetable production.  

Boots-2-Bushels (B2B) is a comprehensive 9-month market gardening education and training program for military veterans, their family members, and farmers with disabilities in Maine. During ten weeks of remote instruction by subject matter experts, students learn production, marketing, and best business practices for small fruit and vegetable farms. Participants further implement this knowledge during an intensive 6-month growing season with weekly fieldwork at a demonstration farm. The B2B program uses the “Five Fs” framework (Farming, Family, Finances, Future, Fitness) to  address production, marketing, financial and human sources of agricultural risk, and creates a  near-peer cohort that fosters unit cohesion in an empathetic, therapeutic environment.

Participants plan and grow using a 25-person, 15 week CSA construct and products grown are available for personal consumption and distribution to the Good Shepherd Food Bank’s Mainers-feeding-Mainers program. Participants who attend at least 85% of all classes and participate in the growing program will earn a Certificate of Completion and Letter of Recommendation. Eighteen veteran farmers participated in 2020, and there are currently 23 participants representing 18 veteran farms in the 2021 program.