Drastic changes to the climate and years of dry conditions; it’s quite hard to run a farm in Central Oregon.
With more farmers on the way out of their profession, a local organization is trying to help connect the next generation of agriculturalists with mentors.
It’s a new program from the High Desert Food and Farm Alliance called the Growing Together Mentorship Program.
“Some people are just geared to provide for other people,” said Scott Maricle, the Head Farmer Vegetable Production for Well Rooted Farms.
In a profession like agriculture, where skills are typically passed from generation to generation, new farmers without family connections may be at a loss.
“But they don’t have that knowledge that prior generations did and so it’s really important to gain those connections that aren’t there anymore,” said Annie Nichols, the Agricultural Support Manager for High Desert Food and Farm Alliance.
Through the program, aspiring farmers can match with an expert.
“We’ve seen empty shelves in the stores and it kind of makes you realize that even though there usually is food available that there are things that can happen in the world that can make that more difficult,” said David Kellner-Rode, the owner of Boundless Farmstead.
Mentees must have less than 10 years of experience with an operational farm for the current season.
“Our program is for the folks who have purchased their land or a leasing land, on land, and beginning to start their production,” Nichols said.
Mentors receive $40 an hour for their help through a USDA grant.
Mentees will not be compensated for their travel and mentee numbers can be capped if budgeted hours run out.
“The farmer population is basically retiring and there’s fewer and fewer farmers and the knowledge based on how to farm is shrinking,” Maricle said.
“Everyone is going to have something different,” Nichols said. “Some folks may need more help in production, some may need more stuff on the business end; like marketing and sales.”
Though the rules around the mentorship are up to the mentor and mentee, 10 hours must be utilized during the 2022 year.
“I’ve had mentors in the past for myself and sometimes an hour over lunch you can gain enough insight to last you for a week or two,” Maricle said.
It’s all in an attempt to bring more farmers into the Central Oregon fold.
“We need to uphold that it’s a worthwhile profession,” Maricle said.
You can apply for the mentorship program by reaching out to the HDFFA’s Agricultural Support Manager at firstname.lastname@example.org.