Interview with Katia Steckly -Growing Together Mentorship

Could you use some extra support in your business?

We recently spent some time chatting with Katia Steckly from Double F Ranch in Antelope, Oregon. She’s a farmer, rancher and one of the mentors for HDFFA’s Growing Together Mentorship Program. She’s also one of the biggest champions of community and relationship building in the Central Oregon producer community.

Hoping to dive deeper into this program, launched in 2022, we asked her to share more about her experience as a mentor this past year.  Read on to learn more and read our conversation!

If you are interested in applying to be a mentee for the 2022-23 season, head to the Growing Together webpage for more information.

Katia Steckly

So, how would you describe the Growing Together Mentorship Program (GTMP) to other farmers?

In a nutshell, the mentorship program is one-on-one peer support to help farmers and ranchers build sustainable, profitable businesses because, well, strong agricultural businesses are the foundation of a strong local food system. 

Basically, how it works is that mentees are matched with one of three experienced mentors in the program and the support we provide is catered to your individual needs because all farms are different, right? Maybe that’s just a one-off session where you spend the afternoon learning hands-on or picking the brain of a more-experienced farmer. Sometimes it is an ongoing relationship with check-ins over the whole growing season. It’s a very flexible way of getting you the targeted support you need.

Who can benefit?

Honestly, farming can be lonely. All producers could use extra support in their businesses but Growing Together focuses on providing assistance to:

     -HDFFA Partners

     -Folks with land that are producing for market in 2023

     -And individuals that have less than 10 years of agricultural experience.

The vast majority of HDFFA partners qualify for this program -it’s one of the perks of being a Partner. Non-partners interested in GTMP are encouraged to reach out to discuss options!

Why did you get involved?

People tend to be called to farming and ranching because they love growing crops or raising animals but we rarely show up to agriculture with a business degree, accounting background or marketing degree in tow. There are so many different hats we have to wear as producers. It can be overwhelming.

We’re already bogged down in the day-to-day aspects of farming. If we lack the skills or confidence to work on the business side of farming then we just put it on the back burner. It makes it hard to grow the business. To get to profitability.

I didn’t make big strides in my farm until my own mentor called me out and told me the only thing stopping my business from growing was me. That stung. But it was true. I was out of balance – buried in the production side of the business, what I call “working IN the business”. I ignored “working ON the business” as much as possible. 

Once I started treating the business side of the farm as equally important, things turned around. It also helped my work-life balance situation which was a hot mess at the time.

What exactly do you do as a mentor?

All sorts of stuff! It’s kind of a take-what-you-need type of thing where the support is catered to you. In my head there are three areas where I focus:

  • Technical to-dos where we work “on” your business – goal setting and vision, marketing strategies, website reviews. That kind of stuff.
  • Then there is skill development – time management, personal accountability, work-life balance, dealing with overwhelm. Practical skills that will make you a better SEO of your business and frankly, your life.
  • Finally, mindset work- challenging the thought patterns and beliefs we hold to see if they are actually serving you and your business.

Now that’s just what a coaching relationship looks like with me. All farms are different and there are two other mentors in the program and they each have unique life experiences, skills and perspectives so mentoring with them could be totally different.

That’s another role HDFFA fills -any prospective mentees sign up on the HDFFA website then you work with mentors to find the best fit in terms of skills and experience.

What’s your favorite part about being a mentor?

I just love watching how fast businesses can take off when given the right tools to grow. It’s so rewarding. I’m literally the biggest fan cheering from the sidelines. 

Growing Together mentee Claudia @high_desert_hogs (left) with mentor Katia @doublefranchmeatcsa 

“Katia has been checking in with me, holding me accountable to goals I’ve set for myself, and overall encouraging me in my work. She has been invaluable in helping me reshape my mindset and push myself to accomplish the “daunting” goals I have in my brainspace.“ -Claudia, 2022 GTMP mentee

What have YOU learned as a mentor and what skills are important for a mentor to be successful?  

I know being a mentor has made me a more compassionate person that’s willing to get vulnerable, even if it feels icky. Farming, and life in general, is hard and farmers are relatively under-supported. Of course, we have farm friends and we love to talk shop about the weather and things like that but those conversations don’t really go deeper. There just isn’t that space where you can be open about the legitimately hard aspects of ag. It’s rare to have somebody outside your business or family that unconditionally accepts you for who you are, where you are, today. We need more of that.

I think a good Mentor has excellent listening skills and is capable of holding space for others. They understand that the hardest parts of farming have nothing to do with the tractor breaking or the irrigation freezing, that farming is truly a mental game.

What do you want mentees to walk away with after a meeting or a conversation with you?

I’ve been mentoring other farmers for almost 10 years now and some folks come up to me and say they just want me to tell them what to do. But that’s not my job. You already know the answer. It’s my job as a mentor and guide to help you tease out the clutter and thoughts in your brain that leave you stuck in indecision or worry or feeling overwhelmed. I want people to walk away from our conversation with clarity and feeling empowered to make decisions that move them forward in life.

So what would you say to a fellow producer contemplating signing up?

Farmers and ranchers are a fiercely independent bunch, but you don’t have to do it alone. Sometimes an outside perspective can really help take your business to the next level. 

And also, winter is a great time of year to work “on” the business and HDFFA’s mentors are here to help you plan for an amazing 2023 season.

If you are interested in signing up or learning more about the program, head to hdffa.org/mentorship, or contact HDFFA’s Agricultural Support Manager, Andrea Smith, at andrea@hdffa.org. Most of our mentors will be attending HDFFA’s annual Farmer/Rancher Networking Night on December 2nd (RSVP here!), or register for our Growing Together: Mentor Q&A hour on December 15th at 10AM. Be sure to look out for other upcoming meet and greet opportunities with these mentors!

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