New report: Innovation & stewardship in the arid West

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Here’s a story you probably haven’t heard in the news: Family farmers are leading water conservation efforts in the West. Here are two examples.

  • By building up the level of organic matter in the soil of their California farm, Paul and Elizabeth Kaiser (pictured above with their crew) have drastically cut their irrigation use while increasing their production seven fold compared to similar California farms.
  • In Wyoming, ranchers Pat and Sharon O’Toole have always managed their land with conservation in mind. Along the way, they’ve built strong partnerships with Trout Unlimited, Audubon Wyoming, and The Nature Conservancy—organizations some ranchers once viewed as adversaries.

NYFC_WesternCaseStudiesFINAL_Lower_Page_01Our new report, Innovations in Agricultural Stewardship: Stories of Conservation & Drought Resilience in the Arid West, offers five case studies profiling producers across the Colorado River Basin (an area that spans seven Western states) and beyond who—with curiosity, creativity, and seasons of trial and error—are adapting and even thriving in the drought. This report was created in partnership with the Family Farm Alliance to highlight farmers who are building drought resilience, saving water, & growing good food for all of us.

Read our new report here. 

The West is mobilizing in search of answers to a growing water gap between water supply and demand. Earlier this week the Bureau of Reclamation, the federal agency that manages much of the water infrastructure in the West, released a report that NYFC also collaborated on titled Moving Forward Phase I Report that identifies ways to reduce water stress in the Colorado River Basin.

Now with our latest publication, Innovations in Agricultural Stewardship, we hope to add to the list of solutions. In order to develop smart policy, it is critical to understand the creative ways farmers and ranchers—young and seasoned alike—manage their land. We call on our policymakers to engage farmers as allies in finding innovative solutions that support the health of our land, water, and Western communities.

The West, water and you: Take our new survey

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This year drought has gripped the West to a new extreme. But both young and seasoned farmers are forging new and innovative solutions, growing more food with less water while enhancing biodiversity, soil health, and their local communities.

Yet despite this, too often young farmers are not engaged in shaping water policy. This means their values and their voices go unheard by policymakers.

NYFC is changing that. As part of our ongoing work on water in the West, we are developing a grassroots advocacy platform on western water. We just launched an online survey to hear what matters most to you on western water issues.

Are you a farmer or rancher? Complete our survey, and as a thank you, we will give you a year of free membership in NYFC. Existing members will have their membership renewed.

 

TAKE THE SURVEY:  https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/TPP8H9Q 

 

We have been hosting community gatherings on water across the West, but since we can’t make it everywhere we’d like, we’re hoping to get a broad response via the survey. We want to know: Is conservation important to you? How has drought impacted your operation? Can policy and funding be enhanced to support you in your success?

We know your time is packed with actual farming this time of year, so thank you for taking five minutes to lend your voice to this effort. For taking the survey, you will receive a FREE year-long membership with NYFC.

Membership is optional, but membership is also awesome. You decide.

Want to meet with your representative on an issue you care about? Email our western organizer, Kate Greenberg, and we’ll help you have your voice heard.

To learn more about issues farmers are facing in the arid West, watch our short film “RESILIENT.”

Apply now to be a 2015 Bootstrap Blogger!

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Each year, NYFC’s Bootstrap Blog follows farmers starting new farm businesses, like Nate Brownlee of Nightfall Farm in Indiana and Connie Surber in Montana. The Bootstrap series is one of our most popular features, and we think it’s a critical platform for highlighting and recruiting the next generation of farmers and ranchers. If you think your farm is Bootstrap-worthy, bust out your laptop and your selfie stick and send us a few words and photos about yourself and your operation. Here are the details:

  • Headshot-BlankWe’re looking for three farmers or ranchers to write monthly blog posts beginning in June 2015 and ending in December 2015. The selected bloggers will receive a stipend.
  • Topics will be assigned by NYFC staff and might include subjects like, “Why I Farm,” “Community and Collaboration,” and “My Student Loans.” NYFC staffers will collaborate with you on edits.
  • To apply, submit a short (300-500 word) profile that sums up your life as a farmer. Be sure to tell us what type of farm you have, where you are located, the scale of your operation, what motivates you to farm, and what your hopes are for the future. We’d also love to know how student debt impacts your ability to farm, but having student loans is not a requirement for selection. Attach a couple photos, if you can, or include a link to your farm’s website.
  • EDIT: In our original post we forgot to mention that to qualify as a “new farm business,” you should be in your first or second year of operating your own farm business. If you in your third-plus year, OR if you are still in the planning stage or working on someone else’s farm, we’ll cheer you on, but we won’t select you as a Bootstrap blogger this year.
  • Submit applications and questions to NYFC communications director Chelsey Simpson (chelsey at youngfarmers dot org) via email no later than May 18, 2015.

So there it is—your path to fame and moderate fortune. We look forward to reading your submissions!

Zoning and Other Boring But Important Stuff

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Guest post by Ann Larkin Hansen

When we bought our farm in the early ’90s, we were too ignorant about rural living to worry whether a large cattle feedlot, a stock car racetrack, or other incompatible neighbors might move in next door. We’re lucky: Our neighbors are still wetlands and lake cabins, and things will probably stay that way.

A lot of farmers aren’t so lucky. In my years of working as a farm reporter and serving on our township’s planning commission, I’ve seen a lot of problems connected with land-use issues, from atrazine contamination of wells due to heavy pesticide use, to odor issues caused by large swine and poultry operations, to noise and light issues from frac sand mining and trucking. And there are a lot more operations looking for places to build in the country: “adult” entertainment, prisons, landfills, industrial plants, and housing developments filled with folks who object when you spread manure or have to run machinery late in the evening to complete a harvest.

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Ann Hansen

Fortunately, land-use regulations allow a county or township to protect itself, for the most part, from land uses that injure or offend the current residents. Unfortunately, many townships and counties haven’t put good regulations in place and are caught by surprise when this makes them a target for CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations) or other new neighbors who might not be a good fit for the neighborhood.

So, if you’re looking at land to buy, I highly recommend that you:

  • Check out what land-use regulations are in place at both the county and township level, and also ask about what sort of changes might happen in the future. A lot of county and town websites now have their ordinances online; if not, call or stop by their office and ask to see them.
  • Ask if there’s a Comprehensive Planning document for the area; this will tell you what’s expected to happen in the next twenty years or so in terms of road building and upgrades, power line corridors, residential development, and industrial development.
  • Also look for other clues about your potential neighbors. Ask how many high-capacity wells have been drilled in recent years—these are used for large-scale agriculture. An increase in requests for driveway and building permits indicates a rise in residential development.

The land-use ordinances will also tell you what you will and won’t be allowed to do on the property you’re thinking of buying. If you’re planning on-farm sales or an agri-tourism enterprise, make sure that these activities are allowed. (I knew a couple who gradually built an on-farm greenhouse and nursery operation into a thriving business only to be told that they had exceeded what was allowed in their township. They had to shut down.)

It’s important to understand that there are three types of land-use regulation that are employed to regulate what and how landowners can use their land.

(1) Licensing and Nuisance Ordinances
The first type are called Licensing and Nuisance ordinances, and these are still quite often the only type found in rural townships. Licensing and nuisance ordinances do NOT regulate what can be done on land; they can only set rules, within reason, for how an activity is done, such as hours of operation.

And, as with all ordinances, the rules don’t apply if the establishment—say a gambling casino—was built before the ordinance was passed.

 

(2) Land Division Ordinances
The second type of land-use regulation are Land Division ordinances. These regulate how land can be divided for future development and may govern such items as whether a parcel must have road access, a good building site, and appropriate soils and space for a septic system. In our township, for example, we’ve written ordinances that require a minimum lot size of 2.5 acres and road access that meets state standards regarding distance from intersections and other driveways.

As with licensing and nuisance ordinances, land division ordinances do NOT regulate what can be done on a piece of property, they only establish minimum requirements for development.

 

(3) Zoning
Only the third type of ordinance, Zoning, regulates what can be done on property. It’s kind of a double-edged sword: Zoning ordinances, for the most part, protect you from injurious or obnoxious neighbors; they also limit what you are allowed to do on your own land. For this reason, “zoning” has become a dirty word in many rural areas since the thought of not being able to do whatever you want in your own private kingdom seems to trump the thought of someday having a casino next door. Too often, it seems, rural townships refuse to even consider zoning until something awful to live next door to comes to the area, and then it’s too late. In the last ten years, mining for frac sand has exploded in our area, causing a big scramble by area townships to get any regulation they can in place. Many of these efforts haven’t been successful.

Zoning works by establishing districts for different land uses, so incompatible uses, like a huge dairy operation, aren’t built next to residential subdivisions. In rural areas, zoning may include districts for farming, residential, recreational, industrial, and commercial use.

It’s important to look over the definitions of the districts since these vary considerably. Some zoning ordinances are quite detailed and regulate right down to what is allowed for things like fence height, while others are pretty minimalist.

 

There’s one further twist to land-use regulation. In some instances, such as wetland protection, state or federal regulations have been put in place, which override any local ordinances. In this case, counties and towns can’t override state and federal regulations, so it’s a good idea to ask at the county level what type of state and federal land-use regulations might affect the land you wish to acquire.

 

Ann Larkin Hansen is a farmer and author whose books include “The Organic Farming Manual,” “Finding Good Farmland,” “A Landowner’s Guide to Managing Your Woods” (with certified master logger Mike Severson and consulting forester Dennis Waterman), “Making Hay,” and “Electric Fencing,” all from Storey Publishing.

 

 

March Update: Leanna Says Goodbye to Student Debt

This week, we learned that our Operations Manager, Leanna Mulvihill, was selected to receive student loan forgiveness by New York State. Leanna is starting her own livestock operation this year and will now be able to invest her savings in lambs and pigs instead of student loan payments. This is exactly the kind of impact that we’re working to achieve with #FarmingIsPublicService – to help young people manage their student debt while getting a farm operation off the ground. Campaign updates to come!

In this March newsletter, you’ll hear directly from Leanna, meet NYFC’s newest chapter, get an update on Western water and see a listing of events across the nation. (more…)

Bootstrap @ Wild Ridge Farm – The Joy of Community

Wild Ridge Farm - flower community 3Many days this summer began with Anna, Joseph and myself tumbling out of our little red Mazda pickup into the field around 7 am, and beginning the morning’s tasks. Soon after, another red truck – this time a 90’s model Tacoma – would drive through the open gate in the deer fence around our field and our flower farmer friend Courtney would emerge. Her business partner Jamie would also often show up within the hour. They would start filling square plastic containers with water from the well, and soon after they’d be filled with cut flowers of all sizes and colors. (more…)

Enrollment Deadline for USDA’s Conservation Stewardship Program is Extended Two Weeks to March 13th

CSP buffer stripsThe USDA has announced that they are extending the deadline for applying to the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) this year! If could use extra funding for on-farm conservation, CSP is the program for you.  You now have until March 13th (the original deadline was today, February 27th).

What is CSP?

CSP is a working lands program run by USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS). It provides funding for farmers to take on conservation activities while simultaneously farming the land. For farmers that care about the environment, this program is a great way to receive help funding projects that improve soil, air, and water quality; increase water quantity, wildlife habitat, and biodiversity; or decrease soil erosion. (more…)

Thanks to Everyone for an Incredible Winter Supper

winter supper pic - smallLast week the National Young Farmers Coalition hosted our first Young Farmer Winter Supper at Wythe Hotel. We met over a hundred of incredible like-minded people devoted to promoting NYFC’s cause and mission.

Click here for some great images of the event to get a sense of what was shared that evening at the Winter Supper.

We would be remiss if we did not take this opportunity to once again thank all of our generous sponsors –Etsy, Stonyfield Farm and Wythe Hotel — who believed that NYFC could host an event of this kind. We would not have had the resources to embark on the Winter Supper without their initial faith in us.
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Bootstrap Dairy Farmer Video Release!

The Bootstrap Dairy Farmer Videos are finally here!

In 2013, five young women chronicled their experiences of starting dairy farms on our Bootstrap Blog. In the long-awaited final installment of the series, three of the women take us to their farms in short films. Watch now and see how these women overcome icy temps, broken tractors, early mornings and a tough farm sector. Films are produced by Farm Run Media and sponsored by Stonyfield.  You can check out all three at NYFC’s video hub, or click below to watch each one directly.

See Sarah Chase of Chaseholm Farm transition her family’s dairy to a grass-fed herd.

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“The Girl with Grit” – Reposted from the USDA Blog

A few of NYFC's leaders gathered this winter to education and organize!

A few of NYFC’s leaders who gathered this winter to education and organize!

Starting a farm is no easy path, and overcoming financial obstacles is a huge part of the high risk of failure. New farmers often come up against high costs of land and equipment, just a couple of the many barriers to entry. If our generation is to successfully continue the American agricultural legacy, we need to work together to find solutions.

Check out this great piece from Lilia McFarland at the USDA about facing financial challenges in starting a farming career, just published on the USDA blog.

Lilia is the USDA’s New Farmer and Rancher Coordinator, and we’re thrilled to be working closely with her and others at the USDA to figure out ways of better connecting beginning farmers and ranchers everywhere to USDA programs and services. At NYFC we’ve brought new farmers to Washington, DC repeatedly to give testimony and brainstorm ways to further support our members, and we’re glad to know that Lilia and the USDA are continuing to focus on addressing these problems. (more…)