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Start your own diversified farm


Directed by Dr. Linda Barnes, the Entrepreneurial and Diversified Agriculture Program of Marshalltown Community College (MCC) has worked since September, 2008, with Iowa State University (ISU) Extension, Sustainable Agriculture students from ISU, Prairie Rivers of Iowa Resource Conservation and Development (RC&D), the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, and the Marshalltown Chamber of Commerce, to develop a local food system for Marshall County.

 COMIDA’s goal is to connect local farmers with buyers. But to make that happen, a different kind of farmer is needed in the area.  The first graduates of a course for beginning farmers called Start Your Own Diversified Farmreceived their certificates in March 8, 2009. And in January 31, 2010 the second generation of the course had their first day of class.


 "Start Your Own Diversified Farm"

 Marshalltown Community College offers a twelve-week bilingual (Spanish/English) session,   for area residents that want to start farming and selling their products in the local area. The students learn how to grow food organically, and they also have the opportunity to lease organically certified land at MCC and access to micro loans through the Iowa Foundation for Local Enterprise and the Farm Credit Agency. Students come from diverse backgrounds, including individuals born in Sudan, Iowa, Mexico, and from the Mesquaki Settlement.  Because the new farmers/students hold other jobs that keep them very busy, the classes also serve as family time, with activities for the children to introduce them to farming as well.


I.-      January 31: Introduction and goals

II.-     February 7:  What are you going to grow?

III.-    February 14: Marketing planning

IV.-     February 21: Production planning and overview

V.-        Feb 28: Marketing Implementation and distribution

VI.-      March 7: What resources to we have to work with?

VII.-  March 14: Record keeping

VIII.-  March 21: Financing

Introduction and goals

  • Welcome and introduction --
    • Become familiar with the course objectives and syllabus, how that relates to the incubator farm, and understand the goals of the MCEA program. Have different color name tags
  • Local food system exercise
    • Why a local food system is important. 
    • COMIDA goals and how they relate to the farm
  • Goals for the course, discuss the final project,
    • Business plan form (final project)
  • Discuss (farm business) goals and why they are important 
    • Learn to distinguish between short and long-term goals
    • Develop a list of goals for their farm (and prioritize them)
  • Conclude with discussion of collaboration among farmers.

What are you going to grow?
  • Report back by farmers on visioning/goal setting
  • Question tree to determine what people would like to grow
    • Experiences from last year—students from last year will share their experiences
  • Planting for home consumption and for market
    • Different market outlets
  • Pricing
    • How much do I need to earn to make it worthwhile
  • Create farm and plot maps
  • Develop production and marketing schedules

Marketing planning
  • Understand the importance of “selling it before you sow it”
  • Identify existing market opportunities for non-commodity crops
    • CSA, farmers’ market, etc.
  • Presentation of market research by Claudia and Diego
    • Experiences from last year—students from last year will share their experiences
  • Research customer needs and wants
    • Research competition and market prices
      • Begin to develop list of what to produce (based on above)
      • Hand out seed catalogues and discuss business plan (start thinking about planning planting

Production planning and overview

  • Students report back on their planting plan and Sarah and Larry will make suggestions.
  • Understand seasonality (what grows when) and season extension strategies
  • Be able to describe the key differences among conventional, sustainable and organic practices (for vegetables and livestock)--Linda
  • Compile a preliminary list of enterprises for their businesses
  • Research production requirements and input needs for each enterprise
  • Identify resource acquisition options (seed catalogs, equipment, information)
  • Write brief crop (and livestock) management plans


Marketing Implementation and distribution

  • Identify one or more markets for products
  • List what is being sold in those markets, for how much, and how it is presented (by farmers)
  •  Determine a price range for their products
  • Identify a possible strategy for getting the product to market
  • Identify what processing is needed (if any) and what packaging
  • Be aware of guidelines/requirements for food safety and handling

What resources to we have to work with? 

  • Identify the members of their farm team, assess individual skills and amount of time available to can devote to farming
  • Become familiar with family living expense categories and record keeping resources
  • Estimate family living expenses sources of income for the coming year
  • Set minimum farm income goals based on all of the above
  • Identify how much in household cash/assets are available to invest in business?
  • Business plan component that relates to resources

Record keeping

  • Why it is important to do the record keeping?
    • Filing taxes
    • Applying for loan
    • Making better decisions
  • Types of records
    • Income and expenses record
    • Cash flow record
  • How to collect records
    • Source documents
    • Entering amounts
  • How to put records to use for you
    • Cash flow production



  • Understand how record keeping relates to financing
  • Become familiar with the financing options available-Paula Valesky
  • Business plan development-
  • Order seeds

Income tax preparation and finalizing business plan

  • Income tax preparer who has worked with Latino businesses
  • Students present final project
    • Business plan