MOSA provides our clients with much more than just certification.

Joe Pedretti

MOSA Client Services Director

Transitioning to Organic Partnership Program: Farmer to Farmer Mentorship

Transitioning to Organic Partnership Program: Farmer to Farmer Mentorship

Allison Walent, Program Director

In November 2022, Executive Director, Cori Skolaski, signed a cooperative agreement with the National Organic Program. With this agreement MOSA received $13.6 million to serve as the Midwest Regional Center for the Transitioning to Organic Partnership Program (TOPP).

Through TOPP the Midwest Regional Center and its partner organizations will provide wrap-around support to farmers transitioning to organic production. This support will include: connecting farmers who are transitioning to organic with local, experienced organic mentors; providing training and education; providing education and technical assistance on agronomy, organic certification, extension, conservation planning, organic regulations, certification cost share, business development, and marketing; building networks that serve to strengthen the organic community; developing and expanding access to technical assistance and training; and supporting workforce training and development.

The National Organic Program considers farmer mentorship to be the cornerstone of TOPP. Mentoring is a reciprocal relationship that through support, belonging and trust engenders community building. It is generally defined as a developmental relationship between a mentor and a protégé (mentee) who have different levels of expertise and skill. A successful relationship between a mentor and a protégé facilitates an opportunity to build and enhance skills while also providing psychological safety and encouragement through friendship that is formed throughout a mentorship. When a foundation of trust exists, participants feel safe voicing ideas, seeking feedback, and taking risks (Murrell, 2021; Woo, 2017). A one-to-one mentorship program under the TOPP program will strengthen the organic community by building relationships between producers, encouraging creative solutions, and providing a psychological safety net.

We have been collaborating with our partner organizations and each of the Regional Leads for the other TOPP Regions (Northwest, California and the Southwest, Plains, Southeast, and Northeast) to develop mentor and mentee expectations; the most important expectations of the mentor/mentee relationship are:

The mentor will receive an annual stipend, and will:

  1. be provided training.

  2. Be expected to commit 45 hours per annual program cycle (12 months on a rolling calendar cycle)

  3. Will participate in a minimum of two, on-farm visits per year (one at mentor farm and one at mentee farm)

  4. Will have at least 3 touch points during the growing season with mentee.

  5. Assist mentees in creating/reviewing an Organic System Plan and completing a farm assessment.

The mentee will:

  1. Be expected to commit to 45 hours per yearly program cycle (12 months on a rolling calendar cycle)

  2. Will participate in a minimum of 2 on-farm visits per year (one at mentee farm and one at mentor farm).

  3. Will have at least 3 touch points during the growing season with a mentor.

  4. Commit to a 2–5-year relationship with a mentor.

  5. Will create an Organic System Plan and/or complete a farm assessment.

Are you thinking, “Oh wow, I have been waiting for just the right opportunity to connect with farmers interested in pursuing organic methods, this could be the perfect opportunity” or “gee, that sounds great, I would love to learn from an experienced organic farmer,” but think you might not have the appropriate qualifications or experience? Here are some of the qualifications we seek in mentors and mentees.

Mentor Core Qualifications, a mentor will:

  1. Have substantial farming experience (specific to region)

  2. Be currently certified in good standing or have at least 3 years of experience with organic certification (retired producers welcome)

  3. Possess a strong understanding of the organic rule; challenges and benefits of farming organically; and the process of transitioning to certified organic production.

  4. Possess a willingness to share openly and candidly with mentee.

  5. Possess a willingness to engage in problem solving, and a desire to give back to the farming community.

Mentee Core Qualifications, a mentee will:

  1. Plan to (or are in the process of) transition an existing operation to organic, add new organic acreage, add new scopes of organic certification, and/or start a new, certified organic operation.

  2. Commit to pursuing organic certification.

  3. Have a curiosity about organic farming.

Have we piqued your interest? We will continue to work over the summer to design training and materials to support the mentor/ee relationship and look forward to launching our first mentor pairs in the Fall of 2023! Please reach out to Allison Walent to learn more (use the QR Code or, 608-447-0082).

Murrell, A. J., Blake-Beard, S., and Porter, D. M., Jr. (2021). The importance of peer mentoring, identity

work and holding environments: A study of African American leadership development. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 18(4920), 1-19.

Woo, H. R. (2017). Exploratory study examining the joint impacts of mentoring and managerial coaching

on organizational commitment. Sustainability, 9(181), 1-15.