Based on its mission to work with Latina/o communities, the Julian Samora Research Institute (JSRI) developed an educational program on farm management for Latina/o farmers last spring. The course targets mostly blueberry producers with small farming operations located in the state’s southwest region. Marcelo Siles and Filiberto Villa are teaching a two-course sequence in Spanish at Lake Michigan College (LMC) in South Haven through its Community & Continuing Education program. The facilities at LMC are equipped with advanced technological equipment and computers for each participant. Developed under the guidance of Dr. Rubén Martinez, the course promotes a holistic understanding of farm management within the context of American agricultural systems. Michigan Food & Farming Systems (MIFFS) and the National Immigrant Farming Initiative (NIFI) joined JSRI in support of the program shortly after it got underway.
Sixteen Latina/o farmers attended the first course, which started on September 8 and concluded on December 1, 2018.  Participants in the program include women who are in charge of or work on their family farms. The second course is underway this spring and requires completion of the first course as a prerequisite. The themes covered in the first semester included an overview of the U.S. agriculture sector; introduction to a business plan; farm planning and marketing development; record keeping; financial planning; farm management; and security and produce storage. Second semester topics include credit and loan management; tax filing; hiring and managing workers; developing networks; the importance of relationships and social capital; and basic leadership skills. At the end of the two semesters, the program participants will present a business plan related to their farms.
At the beginning of the semester, each student received a course packet with material in Spanish related to each subject covered in class. Each of the participants demonstrated high interest in all the topics presented in class and the instructors encouraged participants to ask questions and share their own farming experiences. This resulted in very interesting conversations that helped others obtain valuable ideas to implement at their farms and expand their business networks.
Statewide and nationally known experts have served as guest instructors. Armando Ojeda, CEO of Cadena LLC, (an environmental risk mitigation company) and Co-Chair of the Detroit Chapter of SCORE, a non-profit organization that delivers mentoring services to small business owners, was a guest speaker. Ojeda shared his experience developing small businesses and its application to the farming sector. Hexxon Villa-Padilla, who has experience working with computers in the private sector, provided a session on the software program Excel and its utility for recordkeeping and developing and monitoring budgets. The instructors are planning to invite other experts to visit the class during the current semester.
Related to the themes covered in the courses, participants were interested to learn about different subjects related to their farming needs and to share their own experiences on farming practices. Participants expressed interest in ways to improve their agricultural practices, new farm management skills for a successful operation, new farming technologies for crops, food safety issues, working with computers, hiring and working with farmworkers, agricultural finance, credit programs for new farmers, and a course on learning English.
Some of the comments from the participants about the course were; “I thought the course was going to be only about farms, but we are learning much more than that; it’s about running a business.” Other comments include: “The contents are helping me learn how to work within the system”; “I consider the course very necessary,” and “The course needs to continue in Spanish.” Finally, the farmers participating in the course commented, “the classes were very understandable and they helped us a lot,” and “I liked the course; it focused on businesses in general and I would like to continue.”
Dr. Rubén Martinez awards a Certificate of Completion to everyone who completes the requisites established in the course syllabi at the end of each semester. Given the success of the first course, many other Latina/o farmers in the area have expressed their interest in participating in future courses.  JSRI and its partners are planning to continue offering these courses in the near future.