March Community Member Spotlight: Sara Powell
Updated: Nov 16, 2022
A 7-week farmer business planning course has just completed its first successful cohort, transforming local businesses and lives throughout our region. As co-leader of the course, Sara Powell has deep roots in the farming world. Growing up on a farm in the Catskill Mountains, Powell thrives on hard work and keeping busy. Following the completion of a bachelor's degree at the University of Vermont, she continued to immerse herself in all areas of the food system.
After several years of working in and around farms, she moved to Keene to attend Antioch University. At Antioch, Powell continued her work in local food systems, as the Community Garden Connections (CGC) Westmoreland Site Coordinator. It was during her time at Antioch, that she first learned of the Cheshire County Conservation District (CCCD) through the organization’s connection to CGC. Seeking a continued connection to the conservation and farming world, she soon began to attend CCCD events, volunteered, and joined CCCD’s board as an Associate Supervisor.
Following her graduation from Antioch and several years of working in the Monadnock Region, Powell began her position as Program Director at The Hannah Grimes Center for Entrepreneurship. As Program Director, she enjoys building community, hearing other’s stories, and sharing resources to assist entrepreneurs in their business planning and financial sustainability goals. In addition to offering one on one resources to entrepreneurs, The Hannah Grimes Center hosts business planning courses and workshops.
Based on this model, the 7-week long farmer business planning course thrived. The Specialty Crop Producers Farmer Business Planning Course is hosted in partnership with The National Center for Appropriate Technology Northeast (NCAT), Cheshire County Conservation District (CCCD), and The Hannah Grimes Center for Entrepreneurship. The course was made possible through funding secured by CCCD’s District Manager Amanda Littleton. Funding is provided by the New Hampshire Department of Agriculture and the Markets & Food USDA Specialty Crop Block Grant Program. The course was planned and co-lead by CCCD Board Chair Andy Pressman and Powell. Pressman serves as the Northeast Regional Director and Sustainable Agriculture Specialist of NCAT Northeast.
Powell recalls that during her initial interview at The Hannah Grimes Center, she had pitched the idea of a farmer business course, later to learn that the initial phase of course planning was beginning to be researched by Littleton and Mary Ann Kristiansen, Executive Director of The Hannah Grimes Center. Powell’s timing in beginning her new role at Hannah Grimes and joining the planning process of the course just as it received funding, was kismet.
On co-leading the course with Pressman, Powell shared that it was an incredibly fun, collaborative, and an exciting process to plan a course that could be an asset to the farming community. Powell notes that Pressman curated and expanded the existing business planning platform provided by The Hannah Grimes Center, so that it was more applicable to farmers' business and personal needs.
Powell and Pressman both shared the goal of providing a resource for farmers and their businesses to continue to thrive. The course focused on many different elements of creating a strong and sustainable business plan, this includes identifying the mission, vision, values, and personal drive behind the farmers and their businesses. Powell said,
“It’s incredibly important to have that personal why laid out. Having a business is really hard, and when things get difficult, it's important to have that core. It also helps with messaging and building the customer why. It connects the personal part of your business to what you are offering to the community.”
The course also focuses on financials, enterprise budgets, which is understanding the financial picture of the crops that farmers are growing, cash flow, and efficiency. The course emphasizes the importance of dedicating time for personal breaks and family by encouraging participants to create a vision for their farm businesses.The 7 weeks culminates in the Pitch Event.
The Pitch Event is a key part of all business courses at The Hannah Grimes Center. During the Pitch, participants share their story to the community and their business plans. On the Pitch, Powell shared,
“It’s really a transformative experience. From the first class when they sit down and introduce themselves, and where they get to in their final pitch, it’s amazing. They put so much energy and good work into it. It really is that opportunity to connect your potential customers, investors, and community to who you are, how you plan to sustain your business, to why you do this work, and why it is important.”
Powell notes that the course builds confidence, providing a platform for farmers to share their stories and gain resources to continue their story into the future. The course highlights the importance of the human-to-human connection in business. Powell said, “A lot of our decisions around how we resource ourselves aren’t personal, but when they can be, it’s very special. We value that.”
In addition to gaining these resources, the first cohort of the course gained a valuable farmer network. Course participants included:
Doug Clayton and Aaron Abitz, Fassett Farm Nursery
Rachel Patterson, Headwaters Homestead
Andal Sunaramurthy, Nalla Farm
Jenna and Tyler Rich, Partners’ Gardens LLC
Jack Rixey, Tracie’s Community Farm
David and Amanda Wadleigh, Kimball Fruit Farm
Powell notes they built a deep connection with one another. Powell shared, “They are really good, passionate people, and want to be a part of this community”.
When asked about the importance of a farmer business planning course, Powell stated,
“Farms are a big part of our economies, and we need to value them as businesses. They are so important to the economic ecosystem of the communities in which we live. The course helps them make good decisions. They can plan for the future and understand how to be efficient and make decisions that will be financially sustainable. We also need our farm businesses to be personally sustainable, while being more profitable in what they do. That’s a win-win.”
Moving forward, the course is set to host a second cohort for New Hampshire specialty crop producers and will begin its next application cycle this fall. Powell hopes that the course will continue into the future as well. She shared that in addition to the course, The Hannah Grimes Center provides a wide range of resources for community members to develop business plans. Resources include pro-bono business coaches, lawyers, and marketing professionals. Hannah Grimes also offers a wide range of courses on business planning, grant writing, marketing, and more. Powell is committed to strengthening local businesses by connecting community members to these incredible resources.
Email firstname.lastname@example.org to set up a time to meet with Sara about your business!