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…)

Spread the Word: New Report on Young Farmers

 

This is big news, and we need your help sharing it far and wide!

In early 2017, NYFC conducted the second-ever National Young Farmer Survey, collecting data from thousands of young farmers across the U.S. Now we’ve released the report on our findings and present a policy roadmap to help young farmers succeed!

Please read the report, “Building a Future with Farmers II: Results and Recommendations from the National Young Farmer Survey.” Then help us spread the word and keep up the momentum heading into the farm bill!

 

Click to read the report.

 

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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Ready, set, harvest: fixing equipment & finding markets

By Andrew Barsness

The fate of my crop—and my profit—often comes down to the state of my equipment. As harvest approaches, farmers are busy prepping all of their harvest equipment while they still have an opportunity to do so. During harvest we’re often working hard from before sunup to after sundown, leaving little time to work on broken machinery. Due to the time-sensitive nature of harvest, downtime resulting from equipment breakdowns can be disastrous.

Every grain crop has a moisture content range in which it can be successfully harvested. Grain that’s too moist makes the harvesting process difficult or impossible; grain that’s too dry is also problematic, and reduces both yield and quality. It’s critical to get the crop off of the field and transported to a buyer or a storage facility when it’s in that Goldilocks moisture range. It also needs to be harvested before any inclement weather arrives. Every time a grain crop that’s ready to harvest gets rained on, the grain quality goes down. Multiple wetting and drying cycles can have a devastating impact on quality. (more…)

Farming is all about timing, but climate change is changing the rules

By Mai Nguyen

There was a worrying absence of metronomic clicks. I took out my voltmeter and detected only a faint current in the sheep fencing. In search of the impediment, I checked the solar panel output, connections, and electric twine that made up the portable fence. The problem lay in an entanglement of wire and brambles.

I wondered if I should corral the sheep into their pen while I fixed the problem or leave them grazing. It was already late in the day, and I needed the sheep to finish mowing the field before seeding time—before the big rain that was forecasted to arrive three weeks earlier than usual. I decided to leave the sheep to their urgent task as I worked on mine, delicately untangling the barbed twine.

I must have tugged too hard. An adjacent post fell, then another, and the one after that teased the wire’s tautness with a wavering tilt. The domino of poles provided a sufficient opening to new pasture: the neighbor’s vineyard.

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