About the Program
The Network Link program (formerly the Mentor Link program) is a forum for interested farmer mentors, service providers, or membership organizations to list their areas of expertise and the types of mentorship or services they’re willing to take on. This means that you can find someone who has experience in the exact areas where you need help and you can engage with them on any number of levels.
In the application that farmer mentors, service providers, and membership organizations fill out, they are asked to state their preferred types of mentorship or services arrangements. These include:
- Event hosting: This is a more open form of mentorship that means that the mentor may be open to having groups of beginning farmers for events or learning opportunities on the farm.
- Email or phone consultations: This is a fairly low commitment form of mentorship and means that the mentor or service provider is open to you contacting them with specific questions from time to time.
- Farm visit exchange: The mentor may be open to having you visit his or her farm for a tour to learn more about what they do and how they do it or to focus on a specific issue you’re having challenges with. Alternately, this may also include the mentor visiting your farm to offer feedback on overall operations or a specific issue area.
- Longer-term pairing: This is a more involved form of mentorship where you and the mentor would agree to develop a mentoring relationship with regular (perhaps monthly or quarterly) conversations and opportunities for advice and partnership. Depending on your agreement, either you or the mentee could be responsible for maintaining the regularity of the relationship.
- Hosting a business: This is the most involved form of mentorship, with the mentor allowing you to start a business on their land. For example, the mentor may have an extra field or pasture that they might be willing to let you use as you build up a business with their assistance.
- Network Seekers or Mentees can also use Network Link to search for service providers or membership organizations to get help with things like food safety plans, business planning, and more!
We also give the mentors the option to determine whether they charge a fee for their time spent mentoring. We highly value the time that farmers and ranchers choose to share with this program and we know that mentees can gain invaluable knowledge from the time they spend with experienced producers. Although some farmers will be happy to help you for free, it’s worth considering what the benefit might be to them. You could pay them for consulting hours, take them out to dinner, or volunteer on their farm.
In some relationships, a mentor may be willing to do a phone or email consultation or free, but may need some compensation for a longer-term form of assistance (like connecting on a monthly basis or doing a farm visit exchange). If your mentor is successful, they’re going to be busy and likely, other people will want their time, too. Think about how you can help your mentors avoid burnout by providing value to them. It will also help to build a stronger relationship that will likely have long-term benefits for you.
Tips for Success
There are two primary ways in which people use the Network Link database: to identify people in their region with similar farms for general questions or to identify an organization/someone statewide who might be able to help with a specific question. We encourage you to sign up for our e-newsletter through which we will share news of new mentors as they are added to the site. Look through the list when you are first getting started to check out the playing field and come back to the list again when you are encountering a challenge on your farm or ranch.
If you find a producer who requests to be paid and you are a little nervous about entering into a consulting agreement with someone you don’t know well, consider giving them a call to set up an introductory meeting. Whether you meet in-person or over the phone, this will give you the opportunity to ask about their values, their approach to farming, their level of experience, and their personality. This should give you a sense of whether they would be a good mentorship fit for you. If you need more help finding the right person to reach out to, contact Mary at CFAC for help finding the right match.
Most importantly, make the call! The number one challenge with mentorship programs across the country is that beginning farmers don’t pick up the phone or turn on their computer and make contact with the mentor. These mentors have all joined this program because they:
- Had a meaningful mentorship themselves and want to return the favor
- Feel that bringing new farmers into agriculture is paramount to our state’s ag future
- Enjoy teaching and sharing the knowledge they’ve accumulated through trial and error over the years
- Want to develop their own network and meet other like-minded producers in their region
- Are a service provider or membership organization that wants to help support beginning farmers and ranchers
These and many other reasons bring mentors to our program, but most importantly, they’ve set up a listing because they want to help you! If you see a listing from someone who you think might be able to make your farm more successful, we strongly encourage you to reach out to them. Approach them with a clear question, value their time, and we’re confident that you will benefit from the interaction.
CFAC does not vet or endorse Network Link participants. It is the responsibility of the mentor and mentee to safeguard themselves by clearly defining and clarifying expectations, checking references, and asking questions. CFAC is not a party to any agreements and the terms of any agreements should be considered private agreements between the mentor and mentee only.