top of page

Farmpreneurship Program 2024
: Planting Seeds For The Future Of Farmers


Our vision is to equip and empower climate-smart farmers with entrepreneurial
strategies, know-how and networks to be successful front-line change makers 
in transforming the food system. Small farmers need extraordinary business strategies and networks to succeed in a market that’s stacked against them. Their success is our future. 

Screenshot 2024-03-07 at 1.34_edited.jpg

Farmpreneurs 2024

Five Lessons For Making Change
From 18 Impact-Driven Farmers

"I had the pleasure of starting and ending one of the last weeks of 2018 at Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture, a working farm that views itself as a “laboratory dedicated to sustainable farming practices,” and also home to the world-renowned restaurant, Blue Hill at Stone Barns. I was there to observe portions of their first-ever Entrepreneurship Intensive, which gathered 18 ‘farm-preneurs’ from around the country to learn from each other, the Stone Barns team, and entrepreneurship experts, including William Rosenzweig, a UC Berkeley professor and long-time social enterprise champion. As I hoped, both events I attended were deliciously enhanced by Blue Hill food, including the so-simple, but delicious radishes, which epitomize the natural beauty and nourishment for which Stone Barns farmers, and all of the 18 farm-preneurs in the Intensive, work so hard to grow.

The program was born out of a connection between Jill Isenbarger, CEO of Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture, and Will Rosenzweig, which revealed that they’d never seen farmers appreciated as social entrepreneurs. And yet, from their work to improve our food system, both of them knew farmers who were pursuing exactly those business models, designed to create impact far beyond profit. Isenbarger and Rosenzweig also knew firsthand how hard it is for those ‘farm-preneurs’ to achieve the ‘simple’ goal of economic survival, much less their ultimate target of “MVB: meaning, value, and beauty,” as Rosenzweig put it.  After speaking with dozens of potential ‘farm-preneur’ participants to understand the interest, needs, and constraints of their target audience, they rallied financial and organizational support to put on the pilot they had designed accordingly. And that was the week in December that I’m so grateful to have experienced. I wanted more of us to benefit from the nourishing lessons I gained from the week, and so here are five particularly rich take-aways.

  • Connection has to be fed.

The facilitators were careful to design the program to fit their audience: early to mid-career farmers, who spend a lot of their time in isolation. They assigned meal partners for the first five meals of the week, and provided discussion questions, to ensure that the group would connect, even with the more introverted members. Many of the farm-preneurs also shared their desires and needs to build connections in their work, resulting in informal and formal groups. One example is the Common Grains Alliance, established by farm-preneur Michael Grantz and his colleagues to “build a vibrant, integrated, and sustainable grain economy in Virginia and surrounding areas”.

  • Define and engage your community.

The farm-preneurs, like most social entrepreneurs, talked a lot about the communities in and with which they work. But the week’s introduction to entrepreneurship tools and strategies revealed that many weren’t engaging as fully or productively with the players in those communities as they could. An eco-system mapping exercise that Rosenzweig led helped the farm-preneurs to recognize opportunities to serve and benefit from the people and institutions around them. Stacy Brenner described the ongoing and expanding relationship she has with their landlord, a nonprofit Land Trust, as a powerful win-win collaboration.

  • Align “Who You Are” with “What You Do”.

Like most entrepreneurs, ‘socially’-minded or not, each of the farm-preneurs identified deeply with their work as an extension of themselves. In Rosenzweig’s words, “when you align your personal values, the ‘who you are,’ with ‘what you do,’ you get a powerful alchemical energy flowing.” This energy was palpable during the farm-preneurs’ eloquent presentations at the end of the Intensive. Nikiko Masumoto, for example, is putting her personal twist on the way she steps into leadership as the fourth-generation farmer at Masumoto Family FarmDaniella Rodriguez took over her mother’s farm in Puerto Rico, and is using it to build community-level resilience in her native area following the devastating Hurricane Maria.

  • Think at the system level.

Real change, particularly in an industry as pervasive and complex as food, requires systems-level thinking. Unlike engineers, who can operate – at least for some time, until the veil is pierced – on the illusion that they control the code they write and its effects, farmers know that they’re operating in a system with factors beyond their control. All of the farm-preneurs were aware of the upstream and downstream players, as well as the related risks and opportunities. Jesse Smith, of the White Buffalo Land Trust, for one, is transitioning legacy farms into integrated agricultural systems that showcase regenerative techniques, with an explicit commitment to education and training so their impact reaches beyond the White Buffalo acreage.

  • Recognize the beauty of thinking differently.

The team behind the intensive knew that much of the week’s content would be new to the farm-preneur participants, if only because they’d be contained in a classroom working with paper and pens for much of the week. Their hypothesis was confirmed that this different way of thinking and working would be a gift and powerful influence on the farm-preneurs. Rosenzweig observed a notable transition in the scale and clarity of participants’ ambitions over the course of the week. Similarly, many of the farm-preneurs, whether they deal in exquisite fresh flowers or elegant salad greens grown on urban roofs, referred to the beauty of their work as well. Hannah Flood built WeWork’s CSA farm, and now runs Allora Farm & Flowers, ‘cultivating resilient beauty’. Rachel Kohn-Obut is another visionary contrarian, growing vegetables for a CSA amidst the nearly exclusively wine-growing land of Napa.

Whether you’re growing salad greens, or another type of fuel for a better world, remember the systems-minded respect for natural beauty of these farm-preneurs as you do it. And be sure to pause for a deliciously nourishing, and ideally, locally-grown, lunch!"

- Nell Derick Debevoise

Screenshot 2024-03-07 at 3.18.18 PM.png
Screenshot 2024-03-07 at 3.16.52 PM.png
bottom of page