Kohei Ishihara of Movement Ground Farm is a recent graduate of New Entry’s Farm Business Planning Course and a beneficiary of our Farmland Matching Service. A native of Maryland, Kohei first moved to New England for college. Upon graduating, he co-founded a nonprofit called Providence Youth Student Movement (PRYSM), a youth development and community organizing agency, which works to empower and educate Southeast Asian youth.
After 10 years leading PRYSM, Kohei moved to California to focus on his health and well-being, and to spend time with his family. While there he began farming on his family’s land. Not only did this help heal and ground him, but his childhood love of plants, animals and nature was rekindled. He started taking classes and learning everything he could about farming. In 2013, Kohei moved back to Massachusetts and began working with Cooks Valley Farm in Wrentham and Freedom Food Farm in Raynham.
In an interest to connect his passion for social justice and his love of farming, he began exploring models to combine the two. He realized his ability to financially contribute to communities in need would be limited, but through his love of the land, he could help heal and ground people, just as he had experienced. In March 2015, Kohei graduated from New Entry’s Farm Business Planning Course; the final step needed to launch his own farm. He felt so well prepared after the class, that rather than delay his launch until 2016 (his initial plan) he decided to start growing this season. Not only did he walk out of the Course with a sound business plan (after many revisions and 7 iterations with help of Eero Ruuttila, New Entry’s Technical Assistance and Incubator Farm Coordinator), but he also had the motivation and confidence to make it happen.
Near the end of the Course, Kohei faced a change in personal circumstances that required him to quickly find farmland to make his farm vision a reality. He utilized every technique he could think of, including working with real estate agents, networking with farmers, working with Noelle, our Farmland Matching Service Coordinator, and using Google Maps to target agricultural areas. In the end, Noelle was able to pair him with a landowner in Berkeley, MA, and they were successfully able to negotiate a lease that started June 1, 2015. In addition to the farmland in Berkeley, Kohei is also farming 1.5 acres at Freedom Food Farm.
Kohei attributes his successful launch to his partnership with New Entry. Not only did the business planning course give him the motivation, confidence and skills necessary to be successful, but through working with our Farmland Matching Service, he was able to find a farm property that met his criteria. Together, Kohei and Noelle worked to negotiate an appropriate and beneficial lease to make sure it would be a good fit and successful over the long-term. Kohei is also selling to World PEAS, which has quickly given him access to a market that would have taken a considerable amount of time to set up on his own. In addition to selling to World PEAS, he has started a CSA program with drop-off sites in Providence, RI and Quincy, MA. He has also developed formal relationships with two social change community organizations, which want to take part in both receiving produce as well as contributing to the overall mission and vision of the farm to build an inspirational farm and retreat center that can serve as a hub for local food distribution; meetings, events and retreats; and transformational gatherings.
His advice to other beginning farmers looking for land is to think about at least a year-long time line. To be able to start planting in spring, it is important to try to secure land by the late fall. He encourages prospective farmers to enroll in New Entry’s programs because of the valuable learning opportunities and the access to the extensive network of farmers that it affords. He sees networking with other farmers and learning from their experiences as a key piece of the process. “Once you have found a prospective property,” he says, “try not to rush into it. It is important to get to know the owners, and talk to the neighbors to help get some additional history and context of the property.”