Insights from more experienced entrepreneurs — people who have been through it! — can be some of the best help for beginning businesses.

A new project to help area farmers get into larger-scale wholesale markets for fruits and vegetables provides that essential experienced guidance. The project also helps the region satisfy burgeoning market demand for local food.

For example, the 2015 Kansas City Food Hub Feasibility Study estimated $156 million in unmet demand for local food in the region. New agriculture data suggests west central Missouri has potential, with a large number of beginning farmers and produce acreage, to serve it.

The Beginning Farmer Wholesale Project helps advance local food entrepreneurs and regional food markets by pairing younger farm operations with experienced mentors. It offers free direct assistance to farms figuring out how to grow certain crops and get into certain markets.

Beginning farmers enroll in the project and receive 25 hours of mentorship from experienced growers at no cost. Additional classes, on-farm visits, and networking opportunities help build their knowledge, connections and capacity.

One-on-one guidance. “We literally step onto people’s farms and say ‘hey, how can we help you reach your goals?’” said Katie Nixon, Food Systems Specialist at West Central Missouri Community Action Agency, New Growth’s parent organization.

West Central leads the bi-state Beginning Farmer Wholesale Project in partnership with the Kansas City Food Hub, Cultivate KC, Kansas State University, KC Healthy Kids, and the University of Missouri. The three-year effort kicked off in late 2018 and is funded by the USDA Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program.

The project’s focus on new farmers and produce fits new data about farmers and produce production in West Central’s nine-county region just south of Kansas City (Bates, Benton, Cass, Cedar, Henry, Hickory, Morgan, St. Clair, and Vernon counties).

Lots of produce here. Twenty-seven percent of all farmers in the region, or nearly one-third, are beginning farmers with less than 10 years of operational experience, according to recently released U.S. Census of Agriculture statistics. The region is also home to 7,300 acres of fruits and vegetables.

This data suggests this rural area just outside of Kansas City could become an important local food supply region provided new and beginning farmers get the help they need to move in that direction.

Beginning farmers, and those who are diversifying existing farms, often start with produce. It offers new market opportunities in nearby urban areas and does not require quite as much upfront capital investment as row crop or livestock production.

The Beginning Farmer Wholesale Project is part of New Growth and West Central’s broader work to build new opportunity for local food and agriculture producers. Related work includes new online marketing assistance; annual gatherings of farmers, buyers and more at the regional Farm to Fork Summit; and the Double Up Food Bucks matching program at six area farmers’ markets for families who receive food assistance benefits.

Stay tuned to or our Facebook page for ongoing information about the Beginning Farmer Wholesale Project and other local food and agriculture programs. You can also contact Food Systems Specialist Katie Nixon at 660-476-2185.