CISA to Offer Business Advice for Beginning Farmers

The Recorder, August 17, 2016, by Shelby Ashline

New farmers in need of business assistance are in luck.

The regional agricultural promotion nonprofit, CISA, announced Wednesday that it has received a three-year $595,500 federal grant to provide business assistance to beginning farmers in Massachusetts.

“CISA is so excited to be awarded this USDA grant,” said Philip Korman, executive director, in a press release. “To ensure that local agriculture remains viable and thriving, the next generation of farmers must have the skills and resources to be successful. These grant resources will enable us to improve the sustainability and profitability of beginning farm businesses in Massachusetts.”

CISA, which stands for Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture, is a nationally recognized organization that works to strengthen farms and engage the community to build the local food economy. Working in western Massachusetts and the surrounding region since 1993, CISA offers technical assistance to farmers, works to make local food more accessible to more people, and runs the nation’s oldest agricultural “buy local” campaign.

According to Margaret Christie, special projects director with CISA, the average age of United States farmers is 58, a number that continues to rise.

“The importance of sustaining new farmers is critical,” Christie said. However, Franklin County and the surrounding area is particularly unusual in that it has seen a growth of new farms.

“We’ve actually seen an uptick in new farmers in our region, reflected in national statistics,” Christie said. She cited USDA statistics which found the number of farmers in Franklin County who have been on their present farm for 10 years or less rose steadily from 1997 to 2007, experiencing a dip in 2012.

“We want to maintain that longer term trend and reverse that dip that we saw in 2012,” Christie said. “Our region is unique because we have seen that growth, and that’s something we want to be supporting.”

The grant will allow CISA to reach 600 beginning farmers through an established network of five collaborating agricultural organizations: Berkshire Grown, Central Mass Grown, Northeast Harvest, Southeastern Massachusetts Agricultural Partnership (SEMAP) and Sustainable Nantucket. According to the release, these partner organizations are involved in market development, business assistance, increasing land access and agricultural promotion while working with farmers across the state.

The three-year work plan includes 78 workshops covering entrepreneurship, financial planning, risk management, diversification and marketing strategies. The plan also includes 15 networking events to allow beginning farmers to learn from each other, and one-on-one technical assistance to 300 beginning farmers.

Christie said the workshops and one-on-one assistance are intended for farmers who have been in the business for less than 10 years and are still in the process of figuring out which aspects of their farms turn a profit, and which parts do not.

Maria Topitzer, owner of Lyonsville Farm in Colrain, said workshops for new farmers are a wonderful idea.

“It’s hard pulling together all of the resources you need just to start and run a farm,” Topitzer said. “Any help is definitely appreciated.”

Topitzer, who started Lyonsville Farm eight years ago, attended one of CISA’s farm management workshops five years ago, and received help from CISA to build her business a website and design a logo.

“I love CISA and all that they do,” Topitzer said. “It’s so great that there’s an organization there to help local farmers. It’s priceless.”

Topitzer said she would be interested in workshops that would teach new farmers how to increase profit, produce greater yields, improve efficiency and connect with buyers.

Christie said CISA has a full plate of winter workshops that will be announced in late fall. Often, a nominal fee is charged for admission. The workshops sometimes include dinner as well.

CISA holds workshops throughout Franklin, Hampshire and Hampden counties. Some local workshops are hosted by Greenfield Community College, Franklin Community Co-op and CISA’s office on Sugarloaf Street in South Deerfield.

Farmers interested in attending a workshop or getting involved in one-on-one assistance should visit CISA’s website at or call 413-665-7100.