Capital: the high cost of getting started – BOOTSTRAP AT WILLOW SPRINGS FARM

path-uncleared farm_cropBy Hannah Becker, Willow Springs Farm

A neighboring farmer likes to joke, “You know how you make a million dollars as a farmer? Start out with two million!” While my comedic neighbor’s joke isn’t accurate, farming does take a LOT of money just to get the ball rolling. Start-up costs for a small-scale agriculture operation can quickly get into six or seven figures. Land, equipment, operating capitol, property improvement, livestock, seeds—it all adds up.

Here’s a run down on the financing options and big ticket purchases I’ve invested in at Willow Springs:

Farm Assets
Getting land was a “biggie.” It’s kind of hard to feel much like a farmer until you actually have some land to your name. Due to my student loans, I wasn’t able to qualify for traditional land financing; thankfully, I found a property owner willing to “owner finance” an undeveloped piece of land. While my property may not look like much to most people, it’s a come a LONG way since we purchased it a year ago. We cleared more than 200 bodock trees (by hand), built a barn, installed a driveway, fenced and cross-fenced, and put in a catch pen.

Hannah's barn_crop

There’s a lot of equipment we’re in need of at Willow Springs. A couple of weeks ago, I was giving a little farm tour to a local homeschool group. While I was showing them my catch-pen-in-progress (hand cut cedar posts and two-foot post holes) one of the mom’s asked, “Where’s your post hole digger?” I rolled up my sleeve, pointed to my scrawny upper arm, and said, “Right here!” She gasped; it was pretty funny. I think it’s easy for folks to forget just how much equipment modern farming requires, and that beginning farmers rarely have access to such “help.” Sometimes you just have to work with what you have. (more…)


sunflower selfie_cropped

By Maggie Bowling, Old Homeplace Farm

Will and I often throw out ideas for our farm while working; things that we can do right then, things that we can do next year, and big ideas for future years. In these beginning years of farming it seems that every year brings a few really big things to fruition. As the days grow darker and our weekly farm deliveries slow to twice a month for the winter, we work through our list of ideas and decide what will be the next big things, and we re-adjust our long-term vision. Our next big things are:

Farmer partnerships and heirloom cornmeal
We believe that farmers, even with different practices and farm types, can work together to increase financial sustainability and strengthen our farm communities. One of Will’s friends, Spencer, raises row crops about an hour and a half away. He expressed interest in diversifying his operation, and that conversation has given rise to a partnership. With his farm equipment and corn growing experience, Spencer has grown a field of heirloom flour corn. Will and I will take the corn, grind it, and sell the cornmeal. It is a profit-sharing model that we are interested to see develop. We also grew a little bit of our own flour corn in a different variety that we plan to experiment with.

Kentucky Agricultural Leadership Program (KALP)
I’m honored to be participating in this prestigious two year program. Will participated in the previous KALP class and says that he learned more during the program than during his four years of undergraduate education. I know this program will help me understand aspects of agriculture and rural communities better and will push me to be a better leader and better farmer.

Perennial crops 
We will be planting a small orchard and an asparagus patch. We’ve found that the wide range of products we offer (veggies, meat, eggs, and flowers) really play off one another and encourage customers to treat our farm as a grocery stop. We hope that providing even more variety in the future will increase this behavior among customers. (more…)

National Convergence: 29 chapter leaders


Top: All of the chapter leaders and NYFC staff. Middle: NYFC executive director Lindsey Lusher Shute addresses the chapter leaders. Bottom: Tess Brown-Lavoie of the Young Farmer Network of Southeastern New England addresses the group. Tess is also an NYFC board member.

Top: All of the chapter leaders and NYFC staff. Middle: NYFC executive director Lindsey Lusher Shute addresses the chapter leaders. Bottom: Tess Brown-Lavoie of the Young Farmer Network of Southeastern New England addresses the group. Tess is also an NYFC board member.

Last week was a momentous one for the National Young Farmers Coalition: we hosted our first National Chapter Leader Convergence, an event that brought the leaders of 25 chapters from 25 states together for three days of education, sharing, and momentum-building. NYFC was founded in 2010 to give young farmers a united voice as advocates for their own interests and to facilitate community building on the local and national level. Chapters serve both of these purposes.

A farmer who is 25 or 35 will often find that she is the youngest farmer in her community by a margin of two decades or more. Farming can be a fundamentally solitary profession, and this age gap (the average American farmer is 58.3 years old) can further isolate young farmers, preventing them from building a community of peers who are facing similar struggles. Chapter organizing offers farmers a way to find each other, build community, work together on difficult farm projects, and advocate for local and national policy change. (more…)

Land Trust 101 for farmers


By Holly Rippon-Butler, NYFC Land Access Program Director 

Last month I took a break from the steadily-dropping temperatures of Upstate New York and headed west. Fellow NYFC staffer Kate Greenberg and I spent two weeks traveling around California, meeting with farmers and funders, presenting at the annual Land Trust Alliance Rally, and hosting two workshops – one for farmers and one for land trusts.

Farmland in the United States is at a critical moment of transition—millions of acres will be changing hands in the next two decades. At the same time, land access is one of the biggest obstacles for young farmers. NYFC believes that land trusts have the potential to be powerful partners in ensuring this farmland remains available for farming and accessible to farmers for generations to come. For the past few years, the National Young Farmers Coalition has been working to bridge the gap between farmers and land trusts – providing education on the tools and strategies that are available to address the challenges of farmland protection and access.

In California, we partnered with CA FarmLink and Equity Trust to present a four-hour workshop for farmers on the process of working with a land trust to access land. A few days later, we brought together over 45 land trust staff members, funders, and other individuals involved in farmland conservation for a full-day workshop in Sacramento. This was the second annual Land Access Innovations Training convened by the National Young Farmers Coalition and Equity Trust to bring together staff from some of the top agricultural land trusts in the country.LandTrustTraining2_CA2015_crop

Since most of you weren’t able to attend the events in California, we wanted to share a little of the information with you here. Here are the top three things farmers need to know about partnering with a land trust:

1. What are land trusts?
Land trusts are non-profit 501(c)(3) organizations, often started by community members to protect specific resources, such as wildlife habitat, farmland, water quality, viewsheds, or habitat corridors that are at risk from development or damage. They range in size and capacity from all-volunteer, local groups to national organizations with offices in multiple states. (more…)

Planning for the short-term– BOOTSTRAP AT FURROW HORSE FARM

Horses Lady and Abby_cropBy Caitlin Arnold, Furrow Horse Farm 

Before I dive into this post, the farm has a big announcement:

We now have our first team of draft horses! Lady and Abby, two Belgian mares from Sandpoint, Idaho, were delivered to us a few weeks ago. So far they are doing great, and we have already used them in the garden to harrow in our cover crop. We are so excited to finally have them here and realize our dream of owning our own team. Now we can truly start making our way to becoming draft horse-powered. I can’t fully describe just how good it feels!

As for our next big plans, we have a lot in the works for the 2016 season. In September, Brandon spent a week helping our landlords take out an old, unproductive orchard at the lower end of the property. This month we will be tilling up an additional acre where the orchard was, then planting a cover crop so it will be ready to put into production next season. We hope to use it as our potato and winter squash field, to free up space in our main garden for more labor-intensive crops.

By adding the additional acre, we will have about 2.5 acres in production next year. Our hope is to double the size of our CSA to 24 members and begin selling at the Olympia Farmers Market, which is much bigger than the Saturday market we were at this year. We also want to expand our restaurant sales. Between these three areas, our goal is to double our gross income next year. (more…)

5 things to love about USDA’s New Farmers website

USDA New Farmer site

By Eric Hansen, NYFC Policy Analyst 

Yesterday, USDA announced that they are doubling down on their commitment to new farmers. The Department is aiming to boost beginning farmer participation in their programs and services by focusing $5.6 billion of existing funding on these farmers over the next two years. It is exciting to see this commitment to beginning farmers as well as the clear, measurable goals that the Department has set for beginning farmer participation. We are hopeful this commitment will support the success of thousands of new farmers across the country.

In addition, USDA launched a brand new version of the New Farmers website. This site brings together information from across USDA, aimed at people exploring a career in farming. Anyone who has spent time searching for information on USDA’s website (and I am certainly in that camp) can tell you that resources are difficult to find. The redesign of the New Farmers website was launched to help new farmers navigate this maze. The new site makes a lot of progress towards meeting this goal.

Here are the five things about the website we are most excited about:

  1. Four Steps to Start Farming
    USDA first conceived of the New Farmers website as a place to pull together information about all the programs and resources they offer for new farmers. Originally, they met this goal by offering a laundry list of everything USDA offers. On the new website, information is organized and much easier to find. They identify four steps to start farming, then they group information and resources in relation to each step.
  2. The Discovery Tool
    There’s a new tool on the website to help users find resources specific to their farm. With the Discovery Tool, you can select the type of farm you want to run, how you intend to market your goods, and other specifics. The tool then matches this description against programs that might be relevant to you. USDA offers a lot of different programs to assist farmers, and we’re excited that this tool will help new farmers wade through them all.
  3. A Focus on Farms in Transition
    Land access is a critical challenge for young farmers. We are excited to see a section of the website that focuses specifically on resources for transitioning farms. Some of these resources, like the Conservation Reserve Program’s Transition Incentives Program (CRP TIP), reward landowners who transition their farms directly to beginning farmers.
  4. Women in Ag
    Comprising nearly a third of all farmers, women are critical to agriculture. Unfortunately, their role and leadership has not always been recognized. USDA is trying to change this with the new Women in Agriculture Mentoring Network. You can find more resources and join the network on the New Farmers website.
    Did you know that USDA has a partnership with NASA? It’s true! USDA is helping NASA grow food in space, and NASA is conducting research relevant to back-on-Earth agricultural production. The new website dedicates a page to this partnership, and—paired with other pages dedicated to innovation in agriculture—it is clear that USDA is making the case that ag is a relevant and fascinating career choice. I’m sold.

Death happens (and other facts about being a farmer) – BOOTSTRAP AT EMADI ACRES

2015-09-23 10.36.39_crop

By Derek Emadi, Emadi Acres

We asked each of our Bootstrap Bloggers to tell us the top five things people should know about farming. This is Derek’s list:

1) Love thy organic matter
Simply put, always accumulate organic matter. If you farm, whether it’s mulch, hay, manure, leaves, topsoil, cardboard, etc, take what’s free. People are always getting rid of wonderful organic matter. It’s a great resource that is often overlooked or disposed of. Organic matter is helpful in improving your soil, making compost, managing erosion, and much more.The possibilities are endless. Even if you don’t have an immediate use for it, your farm will be rewarded in the future. Remember that the microbes in the soil are hungry, so feed them food they love!

2) “Organic” ain’t easy
Everyday, through tremendous effort, my farm moves closer to organic status. One of my end goals is to be a diversified organic farmer who only uses rainwater to irrigate. Sounds like a crazy dream, but I’ve seen it in action at a farm down the road. The farm’s owner has never pumped any water from our aquifers in 26 years. He intensively manages the organic matter and soil on his 5-acre farm and uses moisture retaining techniques like heavy mulching. It’s really impressive and something I believe we should all strive for in the agricultural community. His farm is the best example of true sustainable, organic farming I’ve seen. At an “organic” farm I worked at previously, I was taken aback by how much water the farm was constantly running on. Even during the brutally hot summer, they ran water all day. This gave me the desire to be a water conserving farmer, even in our drought stricken area.


Farmer testifies to Congress about student loan debt

Emily Best testamony 10-26-15On Monday, farmer Emily Best was invited to testify at a Congressional hearing about the impact her student loan debt has on her ability to farm. As almost one million student borrowers prepare to receive their first student loan bills in November, United States Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), chair of the Democratic Steering and Outreach Committee and Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) held a forum with college graduates and experts to discuss college affordability and the student debt crisis. They were joined at the forum by Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Chris Murphy (D-CT) and Mazie Hirono (D-HI).

You can watch the full hearing here. Emily’s begins speaking at minute 33.


Here is an excerpt from Emily’s testimony:
I am an apprentice farmer at New Morning Farm, an organic vegetable farm located in south-central Pennsylvania. My student loans are one of the biggest barriers standing between me and starting my own farm. My student loan debt, combined with my low income typical of beginning farmers, prevent me from accessing the lines of credit I would need to start my own farm.

Starting a new farm is an expensive and risky endeavor. A farmer needs secure land tenure, equipment, seeds, and other capital intensive investments. I’d likely need an operating loan to cover these expenses until my crop grows. Only Farm Credit and USDA’s Farm Service Agency will loan to new farmers. But my negative net wealth essentially forecloses the option of Farm Credit, and the FSA will only loan as much as a farmer can afford to pay back each month. Student loan payments are income that cannot be leveraged for the necessary farm loan.

I’ve considered switching jobs just to pay off my loans, but I believe strongly in the value of my work, and so do my customers. Thousands of other young people are facing the same choice I am. They also must decide whether student loans are an unbearable burden on a career in farming. I’m worried that too many of them will leave farming as a result.


Emily did an amazing job explaining why our nation needs to go to bat for young farmers. Now she needs your help. Tell Congress you stand behind farmers like Emily and ask your Representative to support the Young Farmer Success Act:

Email Now

VIDEO: Clif Bar calls for more young farmers

Three generations of the Sahatjian family.

Three generations of the Sahatjian family.

The Sahatjians have been growing raisins in Madera, California for nearly 90 years and across four generations. But their story of farm succession is increasingly rare. Today we’re announcing a new partnership with Clif Bar & Company, one of the nation’s leading organic food makers, to raise awareness of the U.S. farmer shortage and highlight the importance young farmers play in driving innovation.

To kick off this joint campaign, Clif Bar is releasing a new video in their Farmers Speak series, in which they share the story of a family of organic raisin farmers whose farming tradition is now into its fourth generation. Without a concerted effort to recruit and encourage young people to enter farming, these types of success stories will become less common in the future. Watch the video and share it widely: 

The average age of the American farmer is 58.3 years. Over the next 25 years, more than one-fourth of U.S. farmers are expected to retire, requiring more than 700,000 new farmers to replace them. However, from 2007 to 2012, the number of young farmers increased by only 1,220.

Why so few young farmers? One major obstacle: costly student loans. NYFC surveyed 700 young farmers for our Farming Is Public Service Report and found that young farmers with student loan debt owed an average of $35,000. Nearly a third of those surveyed said their student loans are delaying or preventing them from farming. To raise awareness about the impact student debt has on the shortage of young farmers, Clif Bar is donating $35,000 to NYFC to support our work and highlight the average amount of reported debt.

Clif Bar is also joining NYFC in calling for federal legislation that would relieve the young farmer student debt burden, helping a new generation choose agriculture as a profession. The Young Farmer Success Act of 2015 would forgive the balance of student loans for farmers who make 10 years of income-driven student loan payments.

Take action right now by asking your Representative to support the Young Farmer Success Act. We’ve already drafted the email – just tell us your zip code to get started.



The Best and The Worst: Bootstrap at Furrow Horse Farm

Furrow Horse veggie rows_cropped

By Caitlin Arnold, Furrow Horse Farm 

Being a farmer comes with ups and downs to the extreme. Every day we simply hope to wake up prepared for any and all situations and well rested enough to deal with what comes.

Sometimes, what comes is disaster. The story of one of the worst days on the farm this season comes from Brandon:

A few weeks ago we had an epic windstorm. Caitlin was away for the weekend, and I was all set for our Saturday market. I woke to an email on Saturday morning from our market manager: the market is rain or shine, but we will not set up if wind exceeds 40 mph. The weather report was looking iffy: 25-30 mph and steady rain throughout the day. Do I stay or do I go? Because we had harvested all of our vegetables the day before, completely unaware of the extreme weather forecast, I couldn’t just let our produce go to waste.

With an extra rain jacket in tow, I set out for the market. The weather seemed agreeable, so far. By the time I arrived, the rain had turned from a light drizzle to a consistent downpour. Just moments after our market tent was set up, the wind started to pick up. We had 25 lbs. of weight on each leg and a heavy-duty aluminum market canopy, so I wasn’t overly concerned.

Just as the next vendor arrived and began unfolding his canopy, a strong gust blew through the market, picked his canopy up, folded it in half, and blew it over the top of his truck, rendering it useless and destroyed. The next two vendors would not take the chance: they eschewed the use of their canopies, and sold produce directly out of their trucks. They kindly offered us all of their market weights, meaning I had 75 lbs. of weight on each canopy leg.

By noon, the weather was even worse. One other tent had blown in half, and multiple vendors had packed up and left. Completely soaked through to the bone and worried about the stability of the remaining market canopies, the last three vendors and I decided to call it quits. That was shortly after noon. (more…)