On the County Line

Eva Moss farms in North Carolina on the line between a solidly red county and a solidly blue county. Photo credit: Lea Ciceraro

By Eva Moss

Last January, I began leasing 16 acres of historical farmland along Highway 64, just outside the town of Staley in Randolph County—“the heart of North Carolina”—a few seconds west of the Chatham County line. When I walk out to get the mail at the top of my driveway, I look left and can just see the tip of the sign that reads “Chatham County,” as I send up a prayer that the cars rushing along the highway won’t nip me.

When I think of my place here, I think of that county line. I spend my days crossing it, moving between both sides. Whenever I need to run to the supply store I turn left into Chatham County and head to Country Farm and Home in Pittsboro, the closest local supplier with a focus on sustainable agriculture. When I rise on Sunday mornings for church, I turn right to stay in Randolph County and head into Asheboro. For supplemental groceries, I turn left toward Chatham Marketplace, the only co-op grocer across both counties. When I head to my farmers markets, I go left into Pittsboro, and for Thursday’s CSA drop-offs I turn right toward Four Saints Brewery back in downtown Asheboro. For supper with dear friends, I can turn either left or right and follow the looping back roads to reach their surrounding farms. After all the buzzing back and forth, I settle down at day’s end at home, nestled close to that invisible boundary. Invisible, but very much there.

Having spent a year now on the county line, I’d like to think I see both sides, literally as well as figuratively. Since 1988 the county line has been a divider along party lines: Chatham has consistently voted Democrat and Randolph, Republican. In terms of per capita income, Chatham ranks 5th highest and Randolph 45th out of 100 counties in the state. Pittsboro, the county seat of Chatham, has a population of just over 4,000, and Asheboro, the county seat of Randolph, has a population over six times that. Both counties are home to robust agricultural communities but also to significant food desert areas, with Randolph reporting higher rates of food insecurity than Chatham.

Regarding agricultural support, Chatham’s Cooperative Extension houses extensive programming for all scales and types of agricultural production, notably an innovative Growing Small Farms program supported by a local food policy council; but the small market outlets lead most farmers to travel outside the county to sell their products. Randolph is home to a robust agribusiness sector supported by Farm Service Agency and Cooperative Extension offices, as well as impressively active civic engagement around economic development and health and wellness initiatives; but it is without a food policy council or small-farm programming.

My own involvement and observations on both sides of the county line culminate at the table. There is a cedar barn on the property where I host suppers with CSA members, friends, and neighbors—oftentimes all one and the same. Using my market tables, I set up for food and stories to be shared by folks from both sides of the county line. At those suppers I smile and my heart swells as friendships form over shared passions like fermenting and pickling, shared concerns like the new overpass addition to Highway 64, common memories of harvesting and curing tobacco, and new plans for continued learning, growing, and communing together. At the most recent supper, one friend said towards the end, “let’s do get this group together again.” I’m smiling now thinking about her words, knowing they will come true.

My vocation to farm and work here is inspired by the notion that food bridges all lines—geographical boundaries, perceived socio-political barriers, and cultural norms—connecting all souls at the table. My place and experience here along the county line has affirmed this belief, and it is what’s keeping me growing along, along this county line.

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Eva Moss is a first-generation farmer growing produce, cut flowers, and herbs at Heartstrong Farm in Staley, NC. She currently serves as First Alternate on Randolph County’s FSA County Committee and is a member of the Chatham Community Food Council.

 

Tell the Senate to Address Farmer Student Loan Debt

We have a huge opportunity to advance our student loan campaign.

 

The Senate is rewriting the Higher Education Act, which includes federal student loan policy and the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program. They’re soliciting input from key stakeholders—we need to speak up for young farmers!

The Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions (HELP) Committee has set up a special email address to receive public comments about what their new Higher Education Act should include. Please take a few minutes to tell them that it should include student loan forgiveness for farmers, and send your comments to highereducation2018@help.senate.gov. Please Cc or Bcc action@youngfarmers.org so we can track our impact.

The deadline for comments is Friday, February 23rd. We have some suggested email language below, but any message that calls attention to the burden of student loan debt for farmers will go a long way with Senators on the Committee.

Here’s what to say: 

[Note: these emails are always most effective when they’re personalized.]

Dear Chairman Alexander and Ranking Member Murray,

Thank you for the opportunity to provide input into the Committee’s work to reauthorize the Higher Education Act.

[Insert personal info. For example: are you a farmer, former farmer, or aspiring farmer? Where? What’s the name of your farm and what do you grow? Do you have student loan debt? How has that impacted your career?]

According to a 2017 national survey of young farmers in the U.S. conducted by the National Young Farmers Coalition, student loan debt is the #2 challenge young farmers face—second only to land access.

Bringing young people back to the farm or ranch is a national priority. The average age of the American farmer is increasing, and farmers over the age of 65 outnumber farmers under the age of 35 by a margin of six to one. Young people are ready to farm, but student loan debt is keeping them from starting.

A bipartisan bill in the House, the Young Farmer Success Act (H.R. 1060) would address this urgent issue by adding farmers to the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program. We strongly urge the Committee to include this language when it reauthorizes the Higher Education Act. Providing loan forgiveness for farmers after ten years of income-based payments would help new farmers reinvest in growing their businesses and incentivize more young people to enter careers in agriculture at the exact time our country and our rural communities need them.

Sincerely,
Your Name

Thank you for taking action! 

 

Finding and Funding Your Farm

By Michael Durante, Land Access Program Associate

A thin line separates opportunity from crisis in America’s agricultural economy. Farmers over the age of 65 now outnumber farmers under 35 by a margin of six to one, and U.S. farmland is overwhelmingly concentrated in the hands of older farmers. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), nearly two-thirds of farmland is currently managed by someone over 55. Yet young Americans continue entering agriculture despite the odds. For only the second time in the last century, the 2012 Census of Agriculture registered an increase over the previous census in the number of farmers under 35 years old.

The demographics suggest that finding farmland should be easier now than ever, and indeed the National Agricultural Statistics Service estimates that over the next five years, nearly 100 million acres of U.S. farmland are expected to change ownership. But beginning farmers consistently find that accessing land—particularly finding and affording land on a farm income—is the number one challenge they face. NYFC’s 2017 National Young Farmer Survey found that 75 percent of young farmers did not grow up on a farm. First generation farmers have particular difficulty building the collateral necessary to qualify for financing while renting land, earning low pay as farm workers, or paying back student loans.

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Sustainable farming depends on sustaining farmers

By Mai Nguyen

I am writing in the aftermath of the Tubbs and Mendocino Lake Complex fires that devastated my farm community. To remain optimistic, I think of what I’m grateful for. In this context, I’m honored that the National Young Farmers Coalition invited me to share my farming experiences and reflections, and I appreciate King Arthur Flour’s support of this project. I thank you, the reader, for taking interest in the lives of young grain farmers. Andrew, Halee, and John have inspired me with their different approaches and techniques, and I wish them great success. We should all be able to enjoy responsibly-grown food while living in a cared-for environment.

But collective success requires collective action. It took community cooperation to nourish and shelter those displaced by the fire, and continued collaboration will be required for rebuilding homes and farms. We as a society must work together to address farming’s broader challenges.

The primary challenge is compensation.

Sustainable farming depends first on our ability to sustain farmers. Our country has never equitably compensated farm labor, and has too often worked actively against it. We haven’t invested in the human and environmental health conditions for safe farming and eating. Is it a wonder, then, why young people don’t remain in or take up farm work? (more…)

Why I’m not giving up, despite a harvest from hell

In the midst of what Andrew came to think of as “#hellharvest17.”

By Andrew Barsness

With this being my final blog post for this series, I thought that I might reflect on my season and share some of my thoughts about the future of both my farm and agriculture in general.

This year’s harvest season has been very difficult for most grain farmers here in Minnesota, myself included. It’s been a constant battle against the weather. My harvest has been dragging on for over a month longer than any of my previous seasons, and now it’s a race to get the crop off of the field before a major snowfall.

As I look back on this season I can pick out a number of ups and downs, which is generally how farming and life itself tends to go. The weather just didn’t want to cooperate this year. Excess rain delayed spring planting. Then when I finally finished planting, we slipped into a drought and went well over a month without any rain. Germination after planting was quite poor due to low soil moisture, and a quarter of the crop never germinated at all. Naturally, once it did rain it didn’t stop raining for weeks, creating weed control issues that persisted all season. I was also forced to replant 60 acres of wheat due to weed pressure. (more…)

NYFC’s 3rd Annual National Leadership Convergence

In early November, more than 80 young farmers, staff, and speakers from 26 states gathered at Old Town Farm in Albuquerque, New Mexico, for NYFC’s 3rd annual National Leadership Convergence. Farmers from Georgia to Oregon, Minnesota to Arizona came together to sharpen their organizing and advocacy skills, strengthen their networks, and strategize together how to win a farm bill that supports all young farmers.  

Now is a critical moment for young farmers across the country to galvanize their voice as Congress negotiates the next farm bill. The farm bill affects nearly every aspect of food and agriculture in the U.S., from farm financing and beginning farmer education to farmland conservation and nutrition assistance. Convergence leaders returned to their home chapters—now 40 nationwide and growing—with tools for change and a national movement behind them.

Lindsey Lundsford of Tuskeegee, AL, and Eduardo Rivera of Minneapolis, MN.

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My one piece of advice to aspiring farmers

Planting buckwheat and clover with my dad.

By John Wepking, Meadowlark Organics and Bickford Organics 

I’ve never had a job so rooted in place as farming, and I’ve certainly never known a career that combined proactivity with futility so beautifully. For the most part, the calendar sets us, we don’t set our calendar. We always aim to cut first crop hay on the 15th of May, but as we get closer and closer to that date, we invariably surrender our best laid plans and spend the rest of the summer doing our best to keep up with the swirling clouds and make the best decisions we can along the way. Each year has its spectacular challenges, humbling setbacks, and plenty of room for improvement.

Now that the leaves are falling and a killing frost looms, we have our eye on the next season: winter. Perhaps in a few years, winter will become more of the reflective and expectant season it is intended to be, but for the next few years, I’m sure it will be as busy as any other season. This winter we have a daunting to-do list: fencing and treeline management; weaning calves; building our grain cleaning and processing facility; developing expertise in grain cleaning and dehulling and establishing a business around it; beginning to market our flour and grain to bakeries, restaurants, distillers and brewers in the region; and creating a grain and flour CSA to reach our own rural community (shameless plug: send an email to meadowlarkorganics@gmail.com, and we’ll be sure to keep you in the loop about how to get our flour). Oh, and we’re expecting our second child in February. (more…)

News from the West


The end of summer brought both bounty and hardship to Western farmers and ranchers. From hurricanes to fire, flood to drought, many have struggled with serious impacts to both their operations and their communities.

But as farmers do, you are rebuilding, pitching in, and standing together. Times like these remind us how important it is to strengthen our communities and build a common voice for resilient agriculture.

NYFC’s Western team has been working with members across the West to do just this. Here’s some of what we’ve been up to recently.

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Announcing NYFC’s Land Affordability Calculator

 


findingfarmland.youngfarmers.org

 

Fall is when farm work, done under the glow of the sun, gives way to farm planning under the glow of a computer screen. If your farm planning includes a search for—or even just a dream of—land of your own, NYFC has a tool for you.

This fall, NYFC launched Finding Farmland, a website designed to help farmers and ranchers across the country make informed financial decisions during the process of accessing land. The site was created in partnership with Fathom Information Design, a renowned firm that partners with clients to understand, express, and navigate complex data through visualizations, interactive tools, and software.

The main feature of the website is a Land Affordability Calculator, which you can use to compare financing costs for two different farm properties, or to compare different financing scenarios for a single property. The site also contains an interactive case study of one farmer’s land access story, which highlights important resources and partners that may play a role in your land search.

 

Comparing financing scenarios with NYFC’S Land Access Calculator

 

The calculator is designed to be useful during any stage of your land access journey—whether you have a specific property in mind or are just beginning to consider options. If you are just starting to think about accessing land and are unfamiliar with real estate finance, you can use the calculator to explore several concepts that are important to understand when working with lenders. If you have a property or two in mind, the calculator will help you determine the monthly financing costs for each parcel under different scenarios, as well as the total cost of financing each property. We hope that you will return again and again to Finding Farmland as you plan your business and access land.

Finding Farmland is in beta mode. NYFC encourages your feedback on this version so that we can develop it into a valuable tool for beginning farmers and ranchers. If you have questions, feedback, or suggestions, please email Mike Durante, NYFC’s land access program associate, at findingfarmland@youngfarmers.org. We will incorporate your feedback into our next version of the website. In addition to the Finding Farmland site, NYFC will offer a series of in-person trainings around the country and additional online resources over the coming year.


Finding Farmland is supported by a grant from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture through its Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program [award #2016-70017-25498].

Marketing my grain is a mouthful

By Mai Nguyen

My grain is a mouthful. It is  identity-preserved, non-Plant Variety Protection (PVP), incrementally upscaled heritage seed grown using rain-fed, on-site fertility, carbon sequestering, integrated pest management, nonsynthetic sprays, low fossil fuel, no-till practices and brought to market as stone milled whole grain flour. That’s a mouthful that the commodity market can’t swallow. But that’s okay because what I do isn’t only palatable to the public, it’s craved.

In my first year, I took my grain to my local farmers’ markets. My booth stood out from the pepper baskets, vegetable pyramids, and flower bouquets. People aren’t used to seeing grain at the farmers’ market. I wondered how many people would stop at my booth, and before I finished that thought I saw a tuft of curls shoulder past the casual market strollers. “I’ve been waiting for you my whole life!” she exclaimed as she reached for jars of whole grain. “The market manager posted on Facebook that you’re selling whole grains—whole grains with names and flavor. This is what I’ve wanted my whole life!” This woman, Carol, seemed increasingly excited as she perused my display of farm photos,  the hand-drawn histories of each grain, and the color-coded reusable jars.

Later, another woman came by and expressed gratitude for my endeavors. Her husband had diabetes and needed to eat whole grains, which she had difficulty finding for bread making. Driven by a search for flavor or healthy food, a group of regulars came each week to exchange jars and stories. I learned about how the Red Fife rose, they learned about the next steps in field prep, and we gained a relationship of accountability and care.

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