Training program jumpstarts entrepreneurship in Missouri

Megan Woodland and Molly Rockamann, ask John Knoll about plant varieties he grows under a shade canopy at Seven Cedars Farm, near Jonesburg, Mo. Woodland, who lives in Columbia, Mo., said she has a passion for medicinal plants and is currently working to strengthen seed lines. Rockamann is the founding director of EarthDance Farms near St. Louis.

COLUMBIA, Mo. – Aspiring farmers from across Missouri will gather Sunday, Dec. 11 to network, celebrate successes from the season and share ideas at the first Entrepreneurship Project alumni event.

A program of the University of Missouri’s College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources (CAFNR), the Entrepreneurship Project guides aspiring farmers and ranchers in their path of developing an idea into a profitable venture in production agriculture.  The third class of participants will complete the program next week.

The event will be from 1-5 p.m. in Stotler Lounge at the Memorial Union on the University of Missouri campus. Eric Cartwright, executive chef for Campus Dining Services at MU, will speak to the group about connecting farmers to schools and institutions. MU’s Campus Dining Services purchases 15 percent of their food from local growers and producers and helped foster a farmer cooperative in central Missouri.

Julie Sexten, owner of Polka Dots Pastries, will share her insights on the development of commercial kitchens. Sexten built two commercial kitchens for her business, including one on-farm in Ashland this year. At the conclusion of the last session, more than 60 participants will be graduates of the Entrepreneurship Project, with ventures ranging from growing fresh cut flowers, to cultivating a local biomass project.

“This is an outstanding group of highly motivated new farmers who will be recognized as leaders in Missouri agriculture over the coming years.” said Randall Westgren, project director and professor of agricultural and applied economics for CAFNR. “They are dedicated to developing ventures that are responsive to the changing consumer segments in food, wine, agritourism and other markets. It has been exceptionally rewarding working with Peter Hofherr as instructors in this program.”

Among the 63 program alumni across the state, these entrepreneurs are building a network to help each other jumpstart their agricultural ventures. The project gives beginning farmers and ranchers in Missouri the key skills to identify a business opportunity, find funding and create a venture plan. Through guidance from entrepreneurship experts and successful entrepreneurs like St. James Winery’s CEO Peter Hofherr, participants gain access to a variety of resources and networks.

“We’re making a drastic change in our life,” said Vicki Lander, a participant in the current class. “We bought a piece of property and we’re working to transition it back into a farm, and this program has provided the guidance and experience we need to be successful.”

Participants tour a variety of ventures in Missouri and the U.S. to meet successful entrepreneurs and learn their business strategies. The tours of farms, creameries, wineries and restaurants show participants new trends in agriculture and food. The tours complement the project’s classroom learning, which helps participants understand the fundamentals of business, entrepreneurship and networking.

“My passion is to help people get beyond what sounds like a compelling and profitable idea to what will be a plan for success,” Westgren said.

For more information about the project, visit The Entrepreneurship Project’s site,, or contact Jill Lucht, program coordinator at or 573-884-3185

This project is funded by grant No. MO-SSCG1163 from the United States Department of Agriculture’s Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

CAFNR is changing the core components of society that impact what we eat, where we live and how we’ll face tomorrow. As the University of Missouri’s College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources, we are at the forefront of research and education, working toward global sustainability.