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Mukiza Gehatano, Narad Bastola, Congera Alex, Bizimana Charles, Angelique Hakuzimana, Ta Kaw Paw, Bucumi Simon – all refugees and enrollees of PFIs Savings Incentive Program, came to the United States to escape war and hardship in their homelands. They brought with them a wide range of experiences and skills, but a common desire to continue food production for themselves and others. These seven Lutheran Service in Iowa refugee farmers, along with their mentors and The Farming Institute, took an important step towards realizing their farm goals. They started putting together a plan.
PFI partnered with Dick Schwab, Susan Jutz and Kate Edwards of The Farming Institute to develop a two day business planning workshop specific for LSI farmers in SIP. Well aware of the multitude of life circumstances and available resources that can support or complicate a farm’s success, TFI developed a workshop to dig into all aspects of these farmer’s lives and determine areas where work was needed to improve likelihood of achieving realistic farm goals. The end result of the workshop was to develop an action plan to start taking the necessary steps to reach desired goals.
The first workshop took place on Saturday, February 21 in Des Moines at Lutheran Services in Iowa’s main office. The group took some time to introduce themselves and share their stories. Then it was down to business. The Farming Institute developed a set of intensive questions to determine the current situations these farmers were facing, and their short term and long term goals in areas of: Family & Home, Work, Transportation, Food & Health, Education, Community, Financial and Farm. Beginning LSI farmers paired with TFI, PFI and LSI staff and began the process of working through the questionnaire. Translators were on hand to help overcome communication barriers. This was a valuable experience for both LSI farmers and staff because it identified unique barriers that may hinder these particular farmers from advancing towards their goals such as English skills, limited transportation options and existing financial and family resources.
Taking a couple weeks to process the information and fine-tune the next step, The Farming Institute, LSI farmers, along with LSI farmer mentors reconvened on March 7 for the second day-long workshop. Susan and Kate began the day with presentations on farming reality in Iowa. They laid out the challenges related to securing 20 acres of land in Iowa and the infrastructure and start-up capital needed to build a profitable vegetable based business. Dick finished off the morning with an explanation of financial documents to become familiar with when starting a farm business. He also discussed the importance of considering current life situations when evaluating the potential for farming success.
After a break for lunch, LSI farmers met with their Savings Incentive Program mentor. The pairs looked at individual life and farm skill levels and actual finances to develop realistic goals for the LSI farmers– for both life and farming. This proved to be a valuable meeting for the beginning farmers. It allowed them to learn from their mentor’s real-life experiences as well as the opportunity to begin to build that important relationship. Mentor-mentee pairs then began probably the most important activity of the workshop. Together, they developed a solid action plan to begin to work towards the life and farm goals these farmers set for themselves.
The workshop was a beneficial learning experience for all involved. The Farming Institute and PFI staff were able to form connections and get to know these farmers on a more personal level. Likewise, Lutheran Services in Iowa farmers were able to expand their network of PFI members to rely upon for advice and direction. They also walked away from the workshop with a specific plan to continue the journey of becoming a successful farmer in Iowa.
Special thanks to The Farming Institute: Susan Jutz, Kate Edwards, Dick Schwab; SIP mentors: Angela Tedesco, Rick Hartmann, Ben Saunders, Jordan Clasen, Jason Jones; Lutheran Services in Iowa staff: Zac Couture, Jess Soulis, Hillary Burbank; Lee’s Greens for the mouth watering greens; and PFI staff: Steve Carlson for filling in for me!