In 2012, Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture, Inc., (CISA) delivered training to 59 value-added, small or transitioning producers from three counties in western Massachusetts. The program focused on financial management tools to support business decision-making, and implementation of the tools to evaluate new market opportunities and major investment decisions. The producers participated in workshops, working groups, and one-on-one sessions to reduce the risk of major farm decisions. Topics included financial record-keeping, enterprise analysis, and investment assessment using partial budgeting. One highlight of this program was 5 of the 7 workshops offered in the series featured farmer presenters in addition to professional educators, and the written materials include financial decision-making stories from 7 farms. These farmers provided concrete examples of how financial decision-making occurred on their farms, helping participants grasp the concepts and identify ideas for implementation on their own farms. The information and tools were adapted and made available online to reach additional farmers.
Upon completion, farmers learned how to assess risks and opportunities of major business decisions, gained tools to evaluate specific opportunities, and implemented new record-keeping or decision-making strategies. Results of a pre-workshop test revealed 38 participants did not have a “working system for making financial decisions”. Of the 37 producers who completed the post-test, 35 developed a working system for making financial decisions and 29 indicated they would adopt some of the concepts they learned.
Participant Success Stories
Participants praised the project’s effort to provide real-time skills, with one farmer noting, “The focus on the practical application of business and marketing principles to farming operations set this workshop series apart.” Other participants indicated that the opportunities to meet one-on-one were “incredibly helpful” and “one of the most beneficial aspects of the series”. Another farmer shared, “Equally as valuable as the material taught by the instructors was the opportunity to talk with my classmates, some of whom were struggling through the start-up phase…and others who had been in business for years.”