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.
My 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.
As a young farmer currently striving to invest in a startup farm, plus paying back student loan debt, its’ my hope that National Young Farmers Coalition succeeds in adding “farming” to the list of public service careers that qualify for student loan forgiveness. The financial constraints of my loan repayment pull money away from “would be” farm investments, thus slowing the growth and scale of my operation.
I believe farming is one of the most noble (and needed) of all professions, and am honored to be afforded the opportunity to live out my dreams of producing food for our world. With the average age of a U.S. farmers topping 58 years old, and only 6% of U.S. farmers under the age of 35, the emergence of new agricultural entities, such as Willow Springs Farm, are necessary to ensure our future food supply.
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.
- 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.”
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.
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.
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.
“Our farmers not only generate vital economic activity in every state, they produce our food and fiber and protect the rural landscape as true public servants,” Gibson said. “This common-sense legislation makes it far easier for our college graduates to return to the family farm or begin production on land of their own, safeguarding a way of life that sustains our nation.”
Farming is an expensive business to enter, in part because of skyrocketing land prices, and beginning farmers often face small profits or even losses in their first years of business. In 2011, the National Young Farmers Coalition (NYFC) conducted a survey of 1,000 young farmers and found that 78% of respondents struggled with a lack of capital. A 2014 NYFC survey of 700 young farmers with student loan debt found that the average burden of student loans was $35,000 and that 53% of respondents are currently farming but have a hard time making their student loan payments, while another 30% are interested in farming but haven’t pursued it as a career because their salary as a farmer wouldn’t be enough to cover their student loan payments.
“To reinvigorate our agricultural workforce, we must invest in a new generation of farmers,” Representative Courtney said. “Skyrocketing higher education costs and a growing student loan debt burden are thwarting young farmers from purchasing farming operations. This needed legislation would assist new farmers during the costly, initial phases of starting up farms and would increase the stock of new farmers to meet our nation’s growing agriculture needs.”
According to NYFC executive director and cofounder, Lindsey Lusher Shute, who is herself a young farmer, House Bill 2590 has broad support from nearly 100 farming organizations, including National Farmers Union, FFA, and Farm Aid.
“We are extremely proud of the coalition that has come together in support of this bill, and grateful for champions like Representative Gibson and Representative Courtney,” Lusher Shute said. “If we want to support rural economies and feed our nation, not just for the next five years but for the next five generations and beyond, we must make recruiting young farmers a top priority.”
House Bill 2590 will be considered as part of the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, which is the legislation that houses the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program.
In the meantime, farmers like Epstein will continue to pursue off-farm jobs while paying down their student loan debt, hoping for a day when they can start a farm of their own.
“I teach beginning farmers at the University of Maryland’s Institute of Applied Agriculture, preparing students to go out and achieve the dream that I can’t,” she said. “I hope that their student debt doesn’t put them in the same position I’m in.”
Send your Representative an email today,
and tell him/her to support House Bill 2590.
I know what you are thinking – you don’t have time for this button. But why take that chance when there’s so much at stake? Even one email can make a big difference.
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.
Our 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.
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.
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.”
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:
- We’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!
Independent meat producers and farmers everywhere need your help right now to defeat some terrible language that was included in the Senate’s Continuing Resolution.
As Wes reported earlier today, the Senate’s bill to fund government programs through the rest of 2013 (known as a Continuing Resolution) includes two provisions that support large meat industries and biotech giants, while disregarding the voices of family farmers, independent growers, and sustainable agriculture.
The first provision overrides the protections that ranchers have under the GIPSA rules (which help balance power between small ranches and farms and the giant purchasing companies that dictate prices,) and the second undercuts judicial review for biotechnology by allowing the USDA to permit continued planting of a genetically engineered crop even after a court has ruled that further studies need to be done on it. (How scary is that?!)
Luckily, we can do something to stop this. Senator Jon Tester of Montana is introducing two amendments – one for each of the awful provisions – that removes them from the Continuing Resolution, and he needs all of us to help him move the Senate in support.
Ask your Senator to support the Tester amendments to overturn these bad riders today!
Frustrated with traditional loans not suited for your diverse, small-scale operation? The USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) released a rule today modifying its Farm Operating Loans (OL) program to include micro-loans. These micro-loans are smaller, require less paperwork, and allow for a longer payment period to better address the needs of small and beginning farmers. The National Young Farmers’ Coalition applauds the FSA for developing a loan program that accommodates the unique credit needs of young and beginning farmers.
FSA’s current Operating Loans program has typically offered larger loans up to $300,000 to cover large farm expenses. The maximum loan limit for the new micro-loan program will be $35,000 and is intended for smaller purchases such as seeds, livestock, small equipment, as well as insurance and other operating costs including family living expenses and building repairs– investments desperately needed to launch a small farm business. Many lending programs only give out sums of $100,000 or more, which can be an overwhelming amount to a new farmer.
The micro-loan program has several features that differ from the Operating Loans program making it more appropriate for small-scale and beginning farmers. It calls for a shorter application process in comparison with the OL program and conventional farm loans. “Paperwork would go down from about 30 pages to seven” the Associated Press reports. And the loan doesn’t have to be repaid for up to seven years. Beginning farmers have struggled in the past to meet farm experience and managerial requirements– the new micro-loan program accepts apprenticeship and mentorship programs, non-farm business experience, and farm labor experience as acceptable alternatives!
Agriculture Department Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the program publicly today and said the new loans are an effort by the USDA to expand credit to minority, socially-disadvantaged, and young and beginning farmers and ranchers. The interest rate will be around 4.9 percent, Vilsack says.
The final rule establishing the microloan program will be published in the Jan. 17 issue of the Federal Register. Stay tuned for a more complete analysis of the rule. We believe applications will be accepted as soon as January 18th! Anyone interested in applying should contact his or her local Farm Service Agency office.
Win a Fair Farm Bill & Farm Prizes!
Here at the National Young Farmers’ Coalition, we’re fighting to protect programs in the Farm Bill that support beginning farmers and ranchers. We’re creating a breeding ground for innovative on-farm problem solving with Farm Hack. And we’re building a national network of local young farmer chapters that share resources and collectively organize.
We need your help to do this work– whether you’re a beginning farmer or rancher, seasoned grower, farm advocate, or conscious consumer. Luckily for you, every supporter who donates to NYFC in the month of December will be entered to win one of over 50 farm prizes!
Here’s what you can win:
*2 Earthway Seeders ($100 value)
| 1001-B plants at precise depth, a precise spacing, and covers and packs all in one operation.
*6 Earthway Spritzer Garden Duster/Sprayer ($35 value)
The angled tip of the Spritzer Garden Duster/Sprayer allows the operator to easily apply materials without kneeling or crawling on the ground. The Spritzer will apply dusts or liquids – it’s the only product that will do both!
|10 subscriptions to Wilder Quarterly ($59.99 value)||
Wilder Quarterly is a publication for people enthralled by the natural world. Wilder is ‘life through the lens of the growing world’— indoors and out, culture, travel, food and design.
|*1 Kencove 12V Solar Energizer .5Joule ($269.95 value)||
The Kencove KF500S 12-Volt Solar Energizer delivers the most power in its class. Two 12v batteries (included) operate this unit for weeks without sun. Low impedance with .5 joule output.
|1 Matt Singer Canvas Zipper Top Tote ($205 value)||
This sturdy canvas tote is lightweight and durable enough for everyday use. The 22-ounce cotton canvas has been treated with a polyurethane coating to deflect water and resist stains.
*2 4-gallon Field King Max Backpack Sprayers from Forestry Suppliers ($89.95 value)
This rugged four-gallon capacity sprayer delivers up to 150 psi to easily spray high into trees and also delivers a continuous 25 psi spray to effectively distribute amendments.
|1 pair of LaCrosse Hixon Boots ($120 value)||
All natural, hand-crafted rubber over 4mm insulating neoprene upper. Uncompromising fit and waterproof protection. Pull on with adjustable lace-up fit and fleece lined comfort.
|*1 roll of fencing supplies from Premier 1 ($108 value)||
IntelliRope PE 6.0 1320′ roll. Excellent for both permanent and portable fence situations because PE (polyethylene) filaments resist wear and abrasion. Comes with 2 P Springs and 2 Ropelinks.
|1 Moon Tide and Time Clock by Wilderness of Wish ($74 value)|| What would it be like if your days were set not by the sun but by the moon and tides? Hang one of these clocks on your wall, calibrate it by the full moon, and try marking your days by a new rhythm.
|*1 Set of 3 Hand tools from Earthtools includes SHW single chopper hoe, double chopper hoe, and rotating handle pruners. ($79 value)||The Eye-Hoe (or Chopping hoe) is the oldest hoe design in the world. The eye-hoes produced by SHW of Germany today are more refined: ergonomic designs, light weight and perfectly fitted handles.|
|1 The Horticulture Society of New York membership and bulb planting kit – ($65 value)||
Membership at the Hort includes library borrowing privileges, canvas Hort tote bag, invitations to special events, discounted or free admission to programs, and much more.
|1 Acres USA Tote Bag and Both Gary Zimmer books: The Biological Farmer and Advancing Biological Farming ($45 value)||Acres USA is North America’s oldest, largest magazine covering commercial-scale organic and sustainable farming. Zimmer’s books offer scientific support to those who’d like to use natural processes to their advantage.|
|1 Small Farmers Journal box set of 40 issues||
This journal is designed for the independent family farmer. It offers information on the use of animal-power, organics and sustainable agriculture.
|25 subscriptions to Farmers’ Markets Today ($21 value)||
Each issue of Farmers’ Markets Today is filled with information to help small farmers and farmers markets be more successful and profitable in selling their products.
That’s a ton of farmer swag that you just might win when you join NYFC in support of the next generation of farmers and ranchers. And that’s a win/ win for everyone. So what are you waiting for?
*Everyone who donates online at youngfarmers.org between December 1 and December 31st, 2012 at 11:59 EST will be entered in the raffle.
*One entry is allowed per individual.
*Starred items are available to current farmers only (of all experience levels.)
*Staff NYFC/OSI and members of NYFC’s Advisory Council and OSI’s board are not eligible to win.
*Winners will be selected at random, and given a choice of available prizes. Winners will be notified via e-mail.
*Winner is responsible for any and all taxes associated with prize.
*Raffle Disclaimer: Void where prohibited or restricted by law. No purchase necessary to enter.
*All proceeds will go to support the work of The National Young Farmers Coalition (NYFC). NYFC is fiscally sponsored by the Open Space Institute, Inc., a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization registered in New York State, through its Citizen Action Program.
By Leanna Mulvihill
My name is Leanna Mulvihill and on September 17th, I’m bringing Farm Hack to my school — the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry (SUNY ESF) in Syracuse, NY. ESF is unique in that every course of study has an environmental focus. There are a lot of different flavors of science majors and other majors including: environmental studies, landscape architecture, construction management, bioprocess engineering and environmental resources engineering. As such, it is pretty easy to get students from a variety of programs excited about sustainable farming. This fall I will be a senior in environmental resources engineering and am
currently interning at Tantré Farm in Chelsea, MI.
Farm Hack @SUNY ESF will be a one-day event for farmers and designers of all varieties with the goal of creating relatively low-cost, easy to implement solutions for small scale farmers.
We need farmers with design ideas/farm tech challenges to pitch and people to help solve them . If you’ve got an idea burning a hole in your pocket, please let me know! The ideas will be presented in the morning and teams will be formed based on the interests/expertise of the participants. Each team will have the rest of the day to flesh out their designs with research, sketches and
rough prototypes. This will be from 10am until roughly 5pm and snacks will be provided. Some materials will be available and bring your laptops, we’ve got wireless.
Presentations of these designs will happen that evening from 6-8pm. If you can’t participate in the full day event or would just like to drop by and see what it is all about, please come to the evening presentations!
A similar event was held last spring at MIT. They came up with a triketor and a self-flushing irrigation valves Check it out!
Farmhack@ESF – Saturday September 17th 2011 Nifkin Lounge, 1 Forestry Drive Syracuse, NY
RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org
Post your design ideas on our Facebook event page (Farmhack@ESF) or email them.
Hope to see you there!