The Network Link program (formally the Mentor Link program) is a forum for people interested in answering questions and being a resource for beginning farmers and ranchers. Established mentors are able to list their areas of expertise and the types of mentorship or services they’re willing to take on, and to value their own time by setting terms of compensation for certain types of consultation. This program is separate from CFAC’s Certified Farm Startup Mentor Program. For more info on that program please visit: https://www.farmlinkmontana.org/farmer-mentor-program/
Remember, you don’t have to be an expert on a topic to have helpful information to share. We find that beginning farmers and ranchers can learn particularly well just from hearing about the mistakes you’ve made and how you’ve fixed them! If you have experience that you think would be useful to a beginning farmer, either as something to consider doing or as something to avoid, we encourage you to include it.
You will be able to specifically outline the types of information you’re willing to share and the types of arrangements you’re interested in entering into. These formats include:
- Event hosting: This is an open form of mentorship that means that you may be open to having groups of beginning farmers for events or learning opportunities on your farm.
- Email or phone consultations: This is a fairly low commitment form of mentorship and means that you are open to mentees contacting you with specific questions from time to time.
- Farm visit exchange: With this arrangement, you could have the mentee visit your farm for a tour to learn more about what you do and how you do it or to focus on a specific issue the mentee is having challenges with. Alternately, this may also include you visiting the mentee’s 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 mentee 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 you allowing the mentee to start a business on your land. For example, you may have an extra field or pasture that you would be willing to let a mentee use as they build up a business with your assistance. It would be up to you and the mentee to determine the level of participation expected from you, as the mentor.
- Service Providers and Membership Organizations can also use Network Link to find and connect with more beginning farmers and ranchers in their community.
Note that regardless of which option(s) you choose, you are never required to work with mentees who contact you. If it’s a bad time of year, you don’t have time, or you just aren’t interested, feel free to let the caller know that they should reach out to someone else. We want this program to work with your needs just as much as the beginning farmers’ needs!
To fee or not to fee?
We also give mentors the option to determine whether you charge a fee for your time spent mentoring. We highly value the time that farmers, ranchers, ag professionals, and business specialists choose to share with this program and we know that mentees can gain invaluable knowledge from the time they spend with experienced people in the ag community. Although you may be happy to help for free, we encourage you to consider requesting compensation for your time, especially with more involved forms of mentorship. For a mentee, knowing that there is a reciprocal arrangement in place can help eliminate the social stress of taking up the time of a busy person. In fact, in other areas of the country, it has been found that beginning farmers tend to use mentorship more when the mentor is getting paid for their time!
Possible Fee Structures
You may want to receive compensation for your time and expertise and feel unsure of a reasonable rate. Often, a range of options is appropriate as each mentorship will be a little different. Looking at other mentor listings can be a helpful way to see what others have chosen. We recommend thinking in terms of how you value your time, rather than what your time might be worth to someone else. Mentees will decide how much they are willing to exchange, and undervaluing your time can leave you feeling frustrated with your mentoring experience. An initial free consultation, to understand the scope of the support sought, can be very helpful in determining the exact arrangement for each mentee.
Why Join the Program
We work with many farmers, ranchers, ag professionals, service providers, membership organizations, and other business experts who are excited to share their knowledge with the next generation of producers. 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 and want to reach more beginning farmers and ranchers in your community
These and many other reasons bring mentors to our program, but most importantly, they have an ethic of supporting the next generation and being good stewards of the land. If that sounds like you, we hope you’ll join us!
How to Apply
To create a listing in the Network Link database:
- Review the information on this page to build your understanding of the program and to ensure your listing includes all of the important info. You may also want to read through the Info for Network Seekers page to learn about their side of the program.
- Create a Farm Link account and if you are an experienced farmer fill out the Farmer Mentor application. If you are a service provider or membership organization and would like to add a listing to the site, please contact Mary. Please complete the application as thoroughly and thoughtfully as you can. The application will allow you to save your work and come back to finish it at a later time, so feel free to take your time before submitting your application.
- It may take us 3-5 business days to review your application to ensure that all of the questions have been answered. Once we have approved your application, we will send you an email notifying you that your listing is live and giving you the link to it so that you can share it with potential mentees, friends, and family.
- As noted above, from this point on the process is primarily up to the mentees. If you have a strong interest in mentoring and find that you haven’t been contacted by many people, contact Mary at CFAC for help evaluating your listing to see if there’s additional information you can add to make it more enticing to mentees.
- Whenever you have a mentee reach out to you, please contact Mary at the Community Food & Agriculture Coalition (CFAC) to let us know so we can monitor how well the site is working and potentially share your story! We will also reach out to you regularly to find out whether you are being contacted for mentorship so that we can evaluate the program and make it function as well as possible.
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.