New case studies highlight successful partnerships between farmers and land trusts

Finding affordable land continues to be one of the biggest barriers facing beginning farmers and ranchers. Land trusts, which have long preserved farmland from development, are in a unique position to help new farmers access land. As NYFC found in our 2013 report, Farmland Conservation 2.0, land trusts across the country are seeing the need to increase their efforts to keep farmland affordable and accessible to the next generation of farmers.

CA_Farmlink_Case-StudyOver the past year, NYFC has been working with land trust partners across the country to scale up innovative conservation models that permanently protect America’s working farmland and keep the land in the hands of farmers. NYFC is pleased to have partnered with California FarmLink on their recent publication, Conservation and Affordability of Working Lands: Nine Case Studies of Land Trusts Working with Next-Generation Farmers.

The case studies highlight the innovative tools and strategies land trusts are using to partner with young farmers and secure the working land base. Most of the case studies are from California, with two examples from Massachusetts and Washington State. Some of the featured land trusts own land that they lease back to farmers, in some cases incorporating the innovative “ground lease” model through which the organization owns the land and the farmer has a lifetime lease along with ownership of the infrastructure. Other case studies demonstrate the use of easement tools such as affirmative language (which requires the land to be in agricultural production) and the option to purchase at agricultural value (which helps ensure the land stays in the hands of a farmer when it is sold.)

NYFC is excited to host our second annual Land Access Innovations Training in Sacramento, California this fall to educate land trusts on these tools. For more information, contact our land access campaign manager, Holly Rippon-Butler. Check out the Equity Trust website for sample easements and leases.

Bootstrap at Furrow Horse Farm – Meet Caitlin

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Welcome to our 2015 Bootstrap Blog series! We’ve been introducing you to our four Bootstrap Bloggers, who are all in their first or second year of running a farm. Throughout the season, each Bootstrap Blogger will write about the highs and lows, glory moments and curveballs that come with farming.

 

My name is Caitlin Arnold, and I am a young farmer in Washington State. This year I’m celebrating my tenth year of farming and my first year of running my own farm business! I have been working on small, organic vegetable farms in Washington, Oregon, and California since 2005, and this season my partner, Brandon Wickes, and I are launching Furrow Horse Farm, our draft-horse powered, organic vegetable and cut-flower operation.

My Grandpa grew cherries and apples in eastern Washington, and as a kid I spent many weekends with him at the farm, riding the tractor around the orchard as he did chores and making mud pies in the irrigation ditches. But I grew up in Seattle and was a total city kid, aside from my obsession with horses (as most young girls experience at one point or another).

Caitlin_market_cropI began riding on the weekends for a few years, and then resumed riding as an adult once I started farming and living in rural areas. I never considered farming with draft horses, as it seemed to add another layer of complication to an already difficult job. However once Brandon and I met and started farming together, his interest in farming with horses began to rub off on me. I agreed to apprentice for a season on a draft-horse powered farm before making the decision to farm with horses on our own.

Just a few weeks into the apprenticeship, I was hooked. Working in the field with the horses is such a unique experience, unlike any other, and now I can’t imagine farming without them. They become friends, co-workers, and partners. (more…)

Bootstrap at Emadi Acres Farm – Meet Derek

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Welcome to our 2015 Bootstrap Blog series! We’ve been introducing you to our four Bootstrap Bloggers, who are all in their first or second year of running a farm. Throughout the season, each Bootstrap Blogger will write about the highs and lows, glory moments and curveballs that come with farming.

 

The seed of my farm started in the summer of 2011 while I was watching a documentary that featured a farmer lying on the ground, hanging out with his pigs. I had an epiphany then that changed my life. Before that moment, I had never realized farming could be a viable career option. It spoke to everything that was true in my soul: being in and working with nature to nurture and sustain life responsibly.

At the time, I was working as an elementary special education teacher with my fiancée, but we began looking for a homestead to nourish my agricultural aspirations. We knew we didn’t want to live in a typical, cookie-cutter neighborhood, but finding land was challenging. Let me tell you, two teachers in Texas do not make very much money. (more…)

Bootstrap at Old Homeplace Farm: Meet Maggie

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Welcome to our 2015 Bootstrap Blog series! Over the next few weeks, we will be introducing you to our four Bootstrap Bloggers, who are all in their first or second year of running a farm. Throughout the season, each Bootstrap Blogger will write about the highs and lows, glory moments and curveballs that come with farming.

 

I remember processing chickens on my parents’ farm and scowling. At sixteen, I sometimes resented the fact that I had to work on the farm, but these days I have only gratitude for my upbringing. Gratitude for the knowledge and love of farming that my family passed down to me, gratitude that I found a partner with the same passion, and gratitude that I made it into my second year as a farmer!

Maggie_with_Huge_tomato_cropI currently grow two acres of organic (in transition) vegetables in southeastern Kentucky. I sell my produce through an online buying club, at a farmers market, to our local hospital cafeteria, and to area restaurants. The Buying Club is a similar to a CSA, but modified to fit the needs of our area. Interested people join the Buying Club and are then sent weekly emails with a link to the updated online farm store. Customers choose which items they’d like to buy each week and how much of each item. After receiving the orders we pack the produce and deliver to centrally located drop off points.  In addition, I help my husband, Will, and in-laws with their livestock operation, raising pork, grass-fed beef, and lamb. Will and I own a 55-acre farm where I grow two acres of vegetables and we are currently working to finish the fencing and water systems in order to raise livestock there as well. (more…)

Bootstrap at Willow Springs Farm: Meet Hannah

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Welcome to our 2015 Bootstrap Blog series! Over the next few weeks, we will be introducing you to our four Bootstrap Bloggers, who are all in their first or second year of running a farm. Throughout the season, each Bootstrap Blogger will write about the highs and lows, glory moments and curveballs that come with farming.

 

Hi! I’m Hannah Becker, founding farmer of Willow Springs Farm. Located in Franklin County, Kansas, Willow Springs Farm is a first-generation, bootstrapped startup focused on producing high quality grass-fed beef products. Our farm currently has 15 acres under operation, with another 45 leased acres designated for future development. We just wrapped up our first crowdfund campaign, and look forward to purchasing our inaugural herd August first.

Growing up outside of Washington, D.C., I did not have many opportunities to explore agriculture despite my strong passion to “be a cowgirl” since the young age of five. Determined to pursue my dreams of owning a cattle operation, I graduated with a B.S. in Animal and Diary Science, and my Masters of Business Administration (MBA). Additionally, I became one of the first female cattle producers recognized as a “Master Cattle Producer” by Mississippi State Extension, and completed the Masters of Beef Advocacy Certification.

hannahbecker2My objective for Willow Springs Farm is to lead the Kansas City area in high quality beef production by producing enough beef in 2020 to feed 150 community members. As a self-funded farming operation, Willow Springs’ development requires innovative strategy and determination. Completing my undergrad and graduate school education required the resources of student loans. (more…)

How land trusts can partner with young farmers

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NYFC’s land access campaign manager, Holly Rippon-Butler, recently collaborated on an article for Saving Land magazine, which is published by the Land Trust Alliance. The article, Partnering with Next Generation Farmers, highlights the crucial role land trusts have in ensuring farmers have access stop affordable farmland, and it outlines some of the tools land trusts can use to make a positive impact on the future of our food system.

An excerpt:

[Lindsey Lusher] Shute, executive director of the National Young Farmers Coalition (link is external) (NYFC), outlines the dire facts: “In the next two decades, more than two-thirds of the farmland in the United States will change hands. As farmers retire and pass on, their land is likely to transition out of family ownership and management forever. In rural areas, family farms are being purchased by speculators or consolidated into mega-farms. In urban-influenced areas, active farms are being taken out of production as they’re sold for development or rural estates. In both cases, the price of farmland is far greater than what the next generation of farmers can possibly afford.” […]

For years, strategic preservation of farmland by land trusts has laid a foundation for long-term production of locally grown foods, particularly in urbanizing regions where an estimated 80% of Americans now live [The World Factbook, Central Intelligence Agency]. However, the challenges facing farmers today urgently require this work to be scaled up and strengthened to keep farmland owned by farmers and in agricultural production.

To read the full article, including the list of innovative tools that land trusts are making use of to preserve farmland, follow this link.

Photo: Ashley Loer of Sparrowbush Farm

New NYFC report finds student loan debt is exacerbating farmer shortage

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Today NYFC released a new report, Farming Is Public Service: A Case for Adding Farmers to the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, which shows that student loan debt is one of the key barriers preventing more would-be farmers and ranchers from entering agriculture.

Read the full report here. 

FIPS_report_coverThe report contains data from a new survey of more than 700 young farmers as well as data compiled from the USDA Census of Agriculture. Highlights include:

  • Only 6% of all U.S. farmers are under the age of 35. Between 2007 and 2012 America gained only 1,220 principal farm operators under 35. During the same period, the total number of principal farm operators dropped by more than 95,000.
  • Survey respondents carried an average of $35,000 in student loans.
  • 30% of survey respondents said their student loans are delaying or preventing them from farming.
  • 28% of survey respondents say student loan pressure has prevented them from growing their business, and 20% of respondents report being unable to obtain credit because of their student loans.

“Farming is a capital-intensive career with slim margins,” said NYFC executive director and cofounder, Lindsey Lusher Shute. “Faced with student loan debt, many young people decide they can’t afford to farm. In other cases, the bank decides for them by denying them the credit they need for land, equipment, and operations.”

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Photo by LL Gingerich

With thousands of American farmers nearing retirement (the average age of farmers is now 58), the U.S. needs at least 100,000 new farmers over the next two decades. This issue reaches beyond the farm and impacts rural economies because farmers are often the primary revenue generators and employers in rural areas.

According to Davon Goodwin, a 25-year-old farmer and veteran from North Carolina (pictured above), encouraging more young people to become career farmers is essential. “Farming is serving your community at the highest level,” said Goodwin. “Making sure families have access to healthy, local food is as important as being a police officer or a teacher.”

On June 1, legislation was introduced in Congress that would add farmers to the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program (PSLF), placing the profession of farming alongside careers such as nursing, teaching, and law enforcement that already qualify for the program. Through PSLF, professionals who make 10 years of income-driven student loan payments while serving in a qualifying public service career have the balance of their loans forgiven.

The bipartisan Young Farmer Success Act (H.R. 2590) was introduced by Rep. Chris Gibson (R-NY) and Rep. Courtney (D-CT). Co-sponsors include Rep. Pingree (D-ME), Rep. Emmer (R-MN) and Rep. Lofgren (D-CA). The legislation has broad support from nearly 100 farming organizations, including National Farmers Union, FFA, and Farm Aid.

Interested in supporting the Young Farmer Success Act? Visit our Farming Is Public Service page to learn more and take action. 

Announcing Our 2015 Bootstrap Bloggers

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We are excited to announce the farmers selected for our fourth annual Bootstrap Blog series, which features young farmers and ranchers in their first or second year of running their own farm. Throughout the season, each Bootstrap Blogger will write about the highs and lows, glory moments and curveballs that come with farming.

Farming is a capital-intensive business. Between 2000 and 2010, national farm values doubled, making it more difficult for beginning farmers to afford land, not to mention farm equipment, animals, feed, or seeds. In a 2011 NYFC survey, 78% of respondents said they struggled with a lack of capital.

Farming is also a knowledge-intensive business. Farmers are called on to be soil scientists, engineers, veterinarians, business managers, and marketing gurus—sometimes all in the same day. To keep their businesses afloat, young farmers must respond quickly to changes in climate, new marketing opportunities, and evolving technology.

Yet despite these challenges, and many others, there are still thousands of young people who are interested in making farming their life’s work. We received more than 60 applications for our Bootstrap Blog series this year, and every last one of them contained the inspiring story of a young farmer who decided to follow their passion for growing things and feeding people. We wanted to share all of them, but alas we had to select only four:

The Bootstrap series will be a weekly feature on our blog for the rest of 2015. The writers will share what it’s like to be a new farmer, how they plan their businesses, what their dreams are, and how they tackle one of the world’s dirtiest, most challenging, and most rewarding professions.

Photo: Maggie Bowling planting a cover crop at Old Homeplace Farm.

Young Farmer Success Act introduced in Congress

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University of Maryland agriculture instructor Meredith Epstein loves teaching, but it isn’t the career she imagined for herself. Epstein doesn’t lack the skills, training, or talent for her chosen profession—farming—she simply can’t afford to invest in a farm of her own because she has student loan debt. The Young Farmer Success Act of 2015 would remove this barrier to business investment for Epstein and thousands of other young farmers like her.

The Young Farmer Success Act (House Bill 2590) was introduced on June 1, 2015 by Representative Chris Gibson (R-NY) and Representative Joe Courtney (D-CT). The bill seeks to address a major crisis facing American agriculture: Not enough young people are becoming farmers. As the majority of existing farmers near retirement (the average age of the American farmer is 58), we will need at least 100,000 new farmers to take their place. But between 2007 and 2012, the number of young farmers increased by only 1,220.

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The Young Farmer Success Act of 2015 would incentivize farming as a career by adding farmers to the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, an existing program that currently includes professions such as government service, teaching, and nursing. Under the program, public service professionals who make 10 years of income-driven student loan payments would have the balance of their loans forgiven. (more…)

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.