It’s the week of action leading up to the 2017 People’s Climate March. Farmers are on the front lines of our changing climate, and this week they’re raising their voices. Here is one farmer’s story.
By Dan Graeve, True Roots Farm.
During the Democratic National Convention in 2008, I set up shop in front of the main convention center and displayed a piece of artwork about climate change. I stood in front of it juggling and rattling off statements about the need for action. Despite getting a pat on the back from Ted Koppel, I can’t be sure how impactful it was.
Like a lot of people, I spent a lot of time as a young adult speaking out against an environmentally destructive economy. Also like a lot of people, when I found a job working on an organic farm, everything changed. (more…)
By John Wepking, Meadowlark Organics and Bickford Organics
As anyone who has had a garden can attest, buying seed is one of the most exciting activities of the farming year. Seed-buying is always full of hope and promise—nothing has had the opportunity to go wrong… yet. But this winter was so busy, seed buying really got away from us. (more…)
By John Wepking, Meadowlark Organics and Bickford Organics
In late January, a surprise calf was born on our farm. Out of context, this may seem like a happy accident, even a bonus. However, it was still mid-winter in Wisconsin, and we were unprepared. Calving is a regular event in a beef herd, and we had been looking forward to our first calving, but we weren’t expecting any births until late April, when the weather would be warmer and the cows would all be on good green grass. (more…)
To celebrate the Vietnamese New Year, my family—aunts, uncles, cousins, second cousins, cousins once removed—gathers to exchange well-wishes for the year to come. I enjoy this tradition. We voice encouragement and best wishes to each person, imagining the happiest future for those we love.
The tradition is especially poignant for my family, as each year we also gather the week before New Year’s Day to commemorate the passing of my grandfather. In Buddhist Vietnamese culture, we hold a memorial for ancestors on the anniversary of their death. These memorials are occasions for us to honor the family members who have passed away. We set up an altar with their photos and favorite foods to feed their spirits—long tables filled with rice bowls, bamboo shoot soup, mushroom salad, tangerines, apples, and desserts. (more…)
Before the spring of 2011, the idea of becoming a farmer was completely foreign to me. Now I know that there is nothing that I would rather do for a living. I grew up in Central Minnesota, almost two hours north of my late grandparents’ 280-acre grain farm. During visits to the farm when I was young, I would occasionally help my grandfather with simple tasks that would otherwise take him a long time to do alone. This was the extent of my farming experience growing up. (more…)
In 2011, a law called the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) gave the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) the responsibility to regulate how food safety is managed on farms and in facilities that process food. At NYFC, we’re part of an alliance managed by the National Farmers Union called the Local Food Safety Collaborate that aims to give smaller producers who market locally a source for education and training on FSMA. NYFC is planning workshops across the South on the Produce Safety Rule and is writing a guidebook on these food safety regulations. Along the way, we’re talking with farmers to assess what tools, trainings, materials, or guidance will be most helpful for small, young, diversified growers to learn and comply with these new regulations.
We understand that many young farmers, ranchers, and food producers will be “qualified exempt” from this rule, meaning that they won’t have to follow ALL of the parts of the law due to size and marketing strategy. Here’s a flowchart to help farms understand exemptions from the Produce Safety Rule. Here’s a link to understand Preventive Controls rule exemptions for facilities that manufacture, process, store, or pack food. We also want to be sure that even exempt growers understand the rules, what parts of the rules will still be important, and, ultimately, how to make their produce or food as safe as possible.
You might wonder, “I’m not a big farm, why would I take that workshop?” At NYFC, we think these food safety trainings are worthwhile for ALL farmers. Here are some reasons we think you might want to attend:
- Your farm might expand. Perhaps you’re exempt now, but might not be as your business grows and evolves. Knowing these food safety rules will allow you to made infrastructure improvements that will comply with the rule as your business grows.
- Learn how to make your food safer. All farms can be safer and cleaner. Some of these rules are onerous, but some of them seem practical. With a few tweaks, you could implement changes that make your produce safer. These changes could potentially increase the storage life of your crops, as taking steps to decrease bacteria can make it last longer and look better.
- Exempt from the law, but not the marketplace. You might be qualified exempt from the rule as per the FDA. Yet, your buyers might begin to require compliance. When GAPs were introduced, even some farmers markets began to encourage associated farmers to become GAPs certified. We may see wholesale buyers, restaurants, or insurance companies begin to push otherwise exempt farmers toward compliance of the Produce Safety Rule.
- Learn in an environment of your peers. Large produce growers are learning this same curriculum, but we hope that the conversation occurring between small, diversified growers will be helpful to beginning farmers. Also, the NYFC workshops are taught by farmers.
- It’s affordable. We’re heavily subsidizing this workshop so that growers like you can ease into compliance and learn how to make their food safer and businesses stronger. The rules of FDA say that you only have to complete this course once a lifetime, so you could save money by taking it now.
- Learn more about the rule. Maybe you’ll be “qualified exempt.” You’ll still need to keep some records to prove the exemption. Additionally, you might be curious about how the rule works and why growers are so worked up. Come and learn the ins-and-outs of the rule so that you can be informed about these regulations that could greatly impact the agricultural community.
- Give your feedback. We need to understand how and where this rule impacts farms most. NYFC can also advocate to changes in the rule or the curriculum if we know what challenges you find. We can only get that feedback from farmers who have attended the training and understand the rule.
Currently, we’re planning our workshops in the South and Southeast with our chapters in Missouri, Middle Georgia, and the West Virginia/Virginia Tri-State area. We’re hoping to plan many more. Our partners in the Local Food Safety Collaborate have other workshops planned around the country. Contact us if you want to host a food safety workshop or have feedback on this project!
By Harrison Topp, Topp Fruit
All winter I’ve been going to conferences, having potlucks, and generally reveling in the amazing farmer community we have here in Colorado. But now it’s time to start farming, which means the fun is over. Okay, that’s not true, but the rolling of the season brings us into a new cycle of long hours and hard work. Just as the buds are beginning to swell, so are the knots in my lower back and shoulders. Hello, spring.
Actually, this is the time of the year when I can’t contain my excitement for the growing season. Winter is a time of reflection and education. As a community organizer, I’ve been living my life one meeting at a time. We’ve been having great discussions about soil health and climate-smart agriculture with a broad spectrum of producers. Big operations and small ones are taking these conversations seriously and adopting practices that conserve water, build soil, and protect our environment. Most of my role models right now come from the world of traditional ag, which I think is a strong indicator of a more progressive attitude throughout agriculture. It makes me proud to be part of this industry and part of the system that sustains the people of this planet. (more…)
By Casey Holland, Red Tractor Farm
Last season was different. A noticeable shift. And based on what I’ve heard from other farmers, they’ve noticed it too. A term that describes what’s happening is on our tongues: climate change. It is impacting our plans for next season as well as our outlook for the future. My plans will be based on which crops I’ve seen do the best last season with an awareness of what will build towards greater overall sustainability for the farm.
All the beans but the Dragon’s Tongue did awful last year, so this year I’ll definitely grow the Dragon’s Tongue again as well as a solid green bean like the Provider and a new variety that hails from my region—perhaps a tepary bean. These beans are accustomed to dry heat and very little water, so with an eye toward the future, it would be wise for me to start learning how to grow them. Of course, even though I have hesitations, I’ll continue to grow tomatoes. But I won’t be growing all of the same types. With the heat and drought we have been experiencing, there are definitely varieties that simply won’t work. Instead we’ll try to find tomato varieties that grow in other desert regions and see how they do here. This is the same principal behind our own seed saving—farmers in other desert regions have bred similar desirable traits into their fruit, and hopefully that will give us a leg up. (more…)
Whole Farm Revenue Protection (WFRP) is a new national crop insurance program for farmers. Since it is so new, lots of people are unclear about how it works.
Traditionally, CSA and market farmers didn’t buy crop insurance because the crops they grew weren’t covered, the paperwork was mountainous, or the coverage amounts were based on wholesale or commodity crop pricing. Crop insurance was also viewed as less crucial to those with diversified farms and direct-market sales because they are exposed to less single-crop risk and they can sell their products for higher prices.
In 2003 the USDA’s Risk Management Agency (RMA) implemented a pilot program for diversified farmers called the Adjusted Gross Revenue Program (AGR and AGR-Lite), but participation was low. In recent years, sustainable ag groups, like the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, saw this gap and collaborated with RMA to develop a better option. In late 2014, the USDA rolled out a new insurance option, Whole Farm Revenue Protection (WFRP), to reach small and diversified growers. CSA, farmers market, and wholesale producers can be covered under this insurance plan. In fact, it was created with those groups in mind. And it isn’t just for crops— it applies to dairy and meat farmers, too!
Whole Farm Revenue Protection is subsidized to be affordable, and an individual farm’s diversification raises the level of subsidy available. Farmers base their insured revenue on their own previous sales records, so the farmer is able to set the worth of their crop. WFRP is administered by RMA and sold and serviced by private insurance agents. Also, if you’re considering FSA loans, WFRP will meet the FSA insurance requirement.
A team at Cornell has worked to create an online tool that helps farmers compare premiums, levels of coverage, and indemnity payments. In order to buy insurance, you’ll have to speak with a crop insurance agent.
Here at NYFC, we’re trying to help farmers better understand this opportunity and identify if it works for their farm. Are you having a hard time understanding how WFRP works? Are there barriers that keep you from using it? Are small, beginning farmers inherently opposed to crop insurance? Are the premiums or the payouts too confusing? We want to help you understand this option, and figure out if it is a good fit for your farm. Check out this introduction to WFRP and a new online tool developed by Cornell University’s Ag Analytics team to evaluate the program’s usefulness on your farm.
Cornell University Professor Jennifer Ifft invites farmers with questions or feedback about crop insurance to contact her for one-on-one information sessions between now and the March 15th sign-up deadline. Reach her via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone at (607) 255-4769. She should be available during the following times, or you can call to set up a specific time:
March 6: 2-4pm
March 7: 9am-11am
March 9: 2-4pm
March 11: 9am-11am
If WFRP is a good fit for your farm, there’s still time to sign up for 2017! The final day to sign up for WFRP for the 2017 crop year is March 15th. If it isn’t a good fit, please help us understand what needs to be changed to make it more helpful for beginning farmers. Please contact Cara or write a comment on this post if you have crop insurance feedback.
This article is a part of the activities of the New York Crop Insurance Education and Risk Management Project, which is managed by Cornell University in partnership with the USDA Risk Management Agency to deliver crop insurance education in New York State.
As young farmers and ranchers across the country celebrated the reintroduction of the Young Farmer Success Act (H.R. 1060) in the U.S. House of Representatives last week, the issue was also taken up in several state capitals. The burden of student loan debt on young farmers is too important an issue to address solely on the federal level. This year, NYFC and farmer leaders in multiple states are working to advance state legislation to provide student debt relief to young people who are feeding their communities.
Across the country, states are taking action to invest in the next generation of farmers and ranchers, rural communities, and our nation’s food security by helping young people better manage their student loan debt. Several states already offer programs that help with student loan repayment to encourage eligible graduates to pursue careers in agriculture, and to do so in their state. The New York State Young Farmers Loan Forgiveness Incentive Program, for example, provides student loan repayments (up to $50,000 over the course of the program) to individuals who obtain an undergraduate degree and commit to operating a farm in New York State, on a full-time basis, for five years. Pennsylvania’s Agriculture Education Loan Forgiveness Program provides a similar service. These programs are designed to attract new farmers and ranchers to the state, thus promoting the sustainable growth and long-term viability of the agriculture industry and rural communities.
NYFC is a strong advocate for these programs and is in the process of working with several states to develop new student loan repayment programs and ensure that these programs work for young farmers and ranchers.
In Wisconsin, for example, NYFC is working with a state representative this session to reintroduce a bill that would establish a New Farmer Student Loan Assistance Program. Once established, the program would provide grants up to $30,000/person over a period of 5 years to help cover the cost of repaying student loans and interest. The program would be available to state residents who have graduated from an accredited institution of higher education (not limited to Wisconsin schools) whose primary occupation is operating a small farm, defined as between $35,000 and $500,000 in gross annual sales. Applicants must also have started to operate a small farm no later than 5 years after obtaining a degree and commit to operating a small farm in the state for at least 5 years after applying to the program.
Similar efforts are underway in New Jersey, Montana, and New Mexico.
We can’t do this alone. As we work to build support in Congress for the Young Farmer Success Act, taking similar actions on the state level helps to multiply these efforts and broaden the scope of solutions to this critical challenge. If you are a young or aspiring farmer or rancher who is struggling with student debt, please reach to NYFC to learn more about opportunities to find out how you can engage with policymakers in your state to tackle this problem, and how NYFC can help! become engaged on these issues and access resources to promote similar programs in your state!!
If you’re interested in state-level advocacy on this or any issues facing young farmers, please contact Andrew Bahrenburg, National Policy Director, email@example.com.