More than 60 young farmer leaders from 26 states gathered in Encinitas, CA in November for our 2nd annual National Leadership Convergence. From rural mid-Missouri to urban New Orleans, our chapters provide a platform for young farmers and ranchers to tackle the challenges they face building careers in agriculture. The Convergence is an annual celebration of the young farmer leaders who go above and beyond in their communities, fighting isolation and barriers to success through grassroots network building and policy change.
For three days this November, our leaders learned critical organizing and advocacy principles, shared best practices from their home chapters, and built relationships with like-minded farmers. Chapter leaders left the Convergence feeling more connected to the national coalition, equipped with new skills, and energized to grow their chapters’ capacity to make change.
“My motivation to organize has never been greater,” said Matt Coffay, co-leader of the Western North Carolina Young Farmers Coalition and farmer at Second Spring Market Garden. “I plan to redouble my efforts with the WNC chapter and start looking at state level policy alongside the Farm Bill as we move forward over the next year.” (more…)
A conversation with Nery Martinez, Santa Cruz Farm & Greenhouses
Nery Martinez, who is originally from Guatemala, has been farming with his uncle, Don Bustos, at Santa Cruz Farm & Greenhouses in Española, New Mexico for more than five years. Nery is one of four young farmers/ranchers from Colorado and New Mexico who are blogging for NYFC about their experiences with water access. You can read Nery’s first post here.
How does irrigation water reach your farm?
Here in New Mexico we have a system of ditches or channels called an acequias. It’s a system—a really, really old system—that allows people to get irrigation water on their land. Don’s family has been farming here for over 400 years, and the acequias were already here when they started. Acequias don’t run in a straight line, they go through towns and communities. It’s like a little river. Our acequia is made of dirt, but there are some places that have a little bit of concrete because the dirt isn’t strong enough to retain the water.
Acequias are unique—you share water?
Yes. We share water. There is a community. It’s pretty cool. That’s how people stay connected, through their acequias. When there is enough water, I don’t hear about people fighting over water. But when there is limited water, a neighbor might tell you if you use too much water or ask you to share more.
Where is your water coming from?
Our water comes form the Santa Cruz River here in Española. It’s probably less than 10 miles away. But the river water starts out as snow in the mountains, and it goes into a reservoir before flowing into the river and then into our acequia. (more…)
By Tyler Hoyt, Green Table Farm
As I sit down to finally write this blog entry, I must confess that it is at least a couple weeks late, but for good reason! Late last month, Kendra and I tied the knot in front of about 200 people who gathered on our farm from all over the country. We fed them food we raised ourselves and entertained them in our new barn, complete with a bar and stage.
A word to aspiring or current farmers (who likely already know this): Do NOT host large events like this during your busy season! Just don’t. Needless to say the last couple of months have been eaten up with wedding preparation and building projects, leaving me very little time to think about big-picture problems with water in the Western U.S, let alone my own garden.
The only water problems that I could think about were those that needed to be addressed in order to keep my farm from falling apart during the multi-week madness of the wedding. And there were plenty of problems. One of my newest family members drove over an irrigation riser on accident, which destroyed it. On top of that, the baby goats were very poorly behaved in their pasture, which led to them to escape and treat an outflow valve like a jungle gym, destroying that as well. In the middle of the wedding milieu, these problems were very low on my list of concerns, but they had to be dealt with in order to keep the farm functioning. (more…)
By Casey Holland, Red Tractor Farm
Heat. Some of the most intense heat you’ve ever felt. 100 degrees and climbing; sweat dripping out of every pore. In mid-July, I looked at the weather report and realized it would be 100+ all week. The heat had already lasted a month The fields didn’t look much better than the heat felt. The plants were clearly stressed despite all the water they were getting. Nothing does well in that kind of heat.
It is moments like these that I remember that I’m farming in the middle of a desert; that many of these blooms are unnatural and this green unsustainable. Last year was the warmest year on record; this year looks like it’s going to be even warmer. And this year we don’t even have El Nino to depend on.
By July, I am facing so many struggles due to the heat that I am just trying to make the best of it and ride it out. This season has been so intense that I am already spending a lot of time thinking through what I plan to do differently next year. What crops are doing best in this severe heat? Which pests have become even worse as this heat is beating down on us? The brutal reality of living in a desert during one of the biggest shifts in our global climate, is one of the biggest barriers facing the farm.
It’s a reality that is difficult to face, but year after year, as the heat becomes more intense and the rain becomes more scarce, I have to come to terms with what this new reality truly means for the farm’s future. All of us, myself included, enjoy a rather luxurious bounty that is not at all in line with what our local environment is suited for. Tomatoes are a tropical fruit, for instance, and definitely not at all adapted to the arid region I find myself struggling to grow them in, season after season. For now, it is worth it. We have the water. A question that haunts me though is – when will it cease to be worth it, and what will I do when it isn’t? What will that mean for those of us who have grown accustomed to the bountiful, year-round availability of every type of food that the global food system has created? How will we survive? (more…)
By Stacia Cannon, Topp Fruit
The juvenile plums were a pale, unappetizing green. Then, almost overnight, the trees were adorned with rich purple, speckled fruit. Naked and new, the plums continue to swell and gain even darker, more brilliant hews. In the orchard and elsewhere it has been a very fruitful year, replete with many successes, but also persistent, grinding challenges.
Balancing an off-farm job with the often unpredictable needs of the orchard is a constant battle. When I’m not ranching I work for a vet, and Harrison works full time for the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union. Harrison has the freedom to work remotely, so most days he drives to his “office” at the orchard, a small makeshift desk and a folding chair on the east side of the barn. With internet access and cell phone reception, Harry has everything he needs, plus a killer view of the orchard overlooking Paonia. Still, our home on the ranch is an hour-and-half away—an already long day is made much more taxing when you add a three hour commute on top of it.
Since the orchard is so far from our home, my ability to help out with maintenance is limited to my days off from working at the vet hospital and the ranch, which makes it really hard for us to get some of the less-essential but still-important jobs completed, such as mowing. When we have a million other things that need to get done at the orchard, mowing doesn’t always make the cut. It isn’t essential and we like the wild and beautiful look of the grasses, but when harvest time comes, the foliage is impossible to navigate with a ten-foot ladder and harvest basket. Living closer to the orchard might enable us to get some of these tasks completed, so we’ve started looking for more land that can be our home place and also help us expand our farming ventures. We’re starting the process with a mixture of caution and rollicking enthusiasm bordering on mania. (more…)
A statement from the board and staff of the National Young Farmers Coalition
We at the National Young Farmers Coalition are stricken by the persistent violence against black people, including the recent killings of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, Delrawn Small and Paul O’Neal, among too many others. Like many of you, we’ve processed shock, anger, fear, grief—and felt called to respond to a deeper questioning: What is our role as a young farmer advocacy organization with predominantly white leadership in showing up for racial justice? What does this time ask of us?
We begin with the simple and necessary affirmation that Black Lives Matter. We know that systemic racism encumbers people of color in almost every aspect of life—from physical violence to the wealth gap to disproportionate incarceration to housing discrimination. We recognize the destructiveness of food apartheid, and that access to healthy, fresh food and inclusion in the “good food movement” are not equal across racial difference. We also acknowledge that systemic racism divides us all with fear and guilt, undercuts our personal relationships, and keeps us all and our movement from reaching full potential. And we affirm that the agricultural community must show up to be a part of solving these challenges.
The contributions to agriculture made by people of color in the United States are immense. At its founding, this country’s wealth was built on the agricultural labor of black slaves. Latinos, Latino immigrants, and other foreign-born farmworkers of color currently undergird the U.S. food system and produce the majority of the food we eat. More than 60% of the world’s food supply comes from crops originally cultivated by Native American farmers. Chicano farmers have led the charge for farm worker rights and continue to be leaders in grassroots farmer organizing. African American farmers modeled today’s intensive and profitable small farms fifty years ago, and pioneered farmer cooperatives and community land trusts. And Hmong American farmers are now at the forefront of popularizing local food in the Midwest. However, these vital contributions to agriculture by people of color go largely unacknowledged within the dominant narrative of farming in this country.
The core mission of the National Young Farmers Coalition is to shift policies and remove structural barriers to make it possible for the next generation of farmers and ranchers to succeed. We focus on core issues such as land and capital, but we have failed to address race–an issue that may easily outrank any other for young farmers of color. When we tell the story of why our work matters, we frequently reference the devastating pace of small farm loss in this country, but rarely do we discuss the systematic dispossession of land from black farmers, and the lasting impacts of that stolen inheritance for their children and grandchildren. We don’t discuss the lack of mobility for the millions of Hispanic farmers who are now laboring for others, nor the original violence against Native Americans, who are now relegated to a fraction of what was once their land. (more…)
USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) announced last Friday that they are transferring additional funding into their direct farm operating loan program. This program loans money to farmers to help them pay for farm operating expenses and equipment when they cannot find a farm loan with another lender. This program includes the incredibly popular microloan program that NYFC helped create.
Congress funds FSA’s farm loan programs for each fiscal year, which begins October 1. Farm loans are then available until this funding runs out or the next fiscal year begins. This year, direct operating funds ran out over the summer, which means FSA has been unable to fund roughly 2,000 approved loan applications. The funding transfer announced last week will wipe out this backlog and hopefully sustain the program through the end of the fiscal year.
NYFC is a strong advocate for FSA loan programs. For many of our members, FSA is the only entity that will give them a farm loan, and those loans are key to supporting and growing any farm business. We have been monitoring the farm loan funding situation carefully, and we strongly urged USDA to make this funding transfer. We have also urged Congress to increase funding for farm loans next year, in order to keep this situation from happening again. Thus far, the House and the Senate have both proposed increasing funding to meet demand.
While Friday’s action addresses the shortfall in the direct farm operating loan program, it does not fix the shortfall in the guaranteed farm operating loan program. Guaranteed loans are made by private banks but backed by USDA. If a farmer defaults on a guaranteed loan, USDA will step in and pay the bank a portion of the amount owed. FSA is facing a backlog in these loans as well.
By Tyler Hoyt, Green Table Farm
No matter where they live, one of the biggest barriers that young farmers face is access to good quality land. In the West, good land for agriculture is usually tied to good water rights, which is a big factor in the price of land. When we started our search for a piece of land that we could call our own, we stuck to one of the emerging organic produce economic models: we needed to be close enough to a well-to-do city in order to fetch a good price on our products, but far enough away that we could afford land.
We looked at properties in the Animas Valley for about a week before realizing that we were kidding ourselves even thinking about affording land that close to Durango (the well-to-do city). In the Animas Valley there are plenty of beautiful acres and one of the last free-flowing rivers, but encroaching development and numerous media accolades from the likes of Outdoor, Forbes, and National Geographic have made that land out of reach for beginning farmers. We refocused our search on the Mancos Valley, which is largely undeveloped thanks to being a 30-minute drive from Durango over two minor mountain passes and one county line. The piece of land that we settled on would never have been within our reach in the Animas Valley.
Even after we found a piece of land that was within our price range, getting a mortgage on 72 acres proved to be very difficult. No conventional bank or credit union would touch that much land, and the USDA programs that loan money to beginning farmers are slow and cumbersome. After going to almost every lender in town, we finally found a bank that actually read our business proposal and had recently decided to go after more “sustainable or green investments.” We were a good fit for this new chapter in their portfolio, and they kept our loan in-house instead of trading it in the open market like most mortgages (think financial meltdown in 2008), which we really liked. We knew what we wanted and we plugged away until we got it, but we had to be incredibly determined and flexible to put all of the pieces together.
I personally believe that getting more willing hands onto rural land to produce local food on a small scale should be an aim for this country. Revitalizing rural communities could help to manage parcels of land better, keep open spaces from being developed, bring back rural economies, and provide more access to good quality food.
There are plenty of willing, young farmers, but unless they have the ability to own the land they work, their desire to make longterm improvements to the land diminishes. We need more land ownership—not just land tenancy—but their are immense barriers to ownership and incredible responsibilities after the dotted line is signed.
I have long been an advocate for contemporary agrarianism and some form of a New Homestead Act, which could use the populist movement in this country to repopulate rural areas and make farming an easier investment for young and beginning farmers. I was discussing this topic with a friend the other day who is currently looking to buy land and running into all of the same problems that we did. When I brought this idea up, he agreed with me, but then immediately asked how people would qualify for such a radical land grant.
The first Homestead Act put a lot of people on land for the first time, but it also led to the displacement of millions of native peoples, widespread land speculation, price manipulation, commercial and industrial development, and events like the Oklahoma Land Rush and the dust bowl.
Should anyone with a pipedream of farming be given almost-free land to do with as they please? I think definitely not, yet there should be an easier and cheaper way to get young people back onto good quality rural acreage. Whether it comes from government agencies, land link programs like these, or through word of mouth, young people are already being encouraged to take on land responsibly, but I can’t help but hope for something a little more progressive and radical to help expedite the process.
Editor’s note: For information on NYFC’s approach to helping young farmers find affordable farmland, visit our land access campaign page.
By Eric Hansen, NYFC Policy Analyst
Agriculture was conspicuously absent from the conversation at the Republican and Democratic National Conventions. We already noted in The Hill the missed opportunity this presented for the RNC. Unfortunately the Democrats did an equally poor job speaking to farmers.
For Republicans, highlighting agriculture should be a no-brainer. Rural America overwhelmingly votes Republican and rural farmers are some of the most stalwart Republicans. By not addressing the challenges that farmers face, Republicans ignored a critical constituency, and at the same time a critical problem facing all Americans and their food supply.
Democrats also have an interest in good agriculture policy. Democrats are increasingly clustered in urban areas that, in spite of the growing interest in urban agriculture, are not known as farming centers. However, urban areas are full of consumers who are looking for safe, healthy, and affordable food. Good agriculture policy meets the needs of these constituents as well.
The Republican and Democratic platforms do not discuss agriculture policy extensively, but at least they each mention the topic. The Republican Platform primarily takes aim at on-farm regulations, including those governing Clean Water Act jurisdiction, the Endangered Species Act, and contract livestock production. On the Farm Bill, it reprimands Congress for the time it took to pass the 2014 Farm Bill and calls for swift passage of the next Farm Bill. Finally, the platform also takes a swipe at federally subsidized crop insurance, saying:
“No segment of agriculture can expect treatment so favorable that it seriously disadvantages workers in other trades. Federal programs to assist farmers in managing risk must be as cost-effective as they are functional, offering tools that can improve producers’ ability to operate when times are tough while remaining affordable to the taxpayers.”
The Democratic Platform, by contrast, strikes a more opportunity- and investment-focused tone. It calls for “funding to support the next generation of farmers and ranchers” and it specifically references the importance of sustainable agriculture, local markets, and regional food systems. Unfortunately, the platform is missing specifics on how to accomplish these goals.
While party platforms are important, agenda-setting documents, they are no guarantee of future action. Given the lack of attention paid to agriculture at the conventions, it is going to take a lot of work to bring the policy focus onto farming. However, there are steps you can take right now to get started. To learn more, click here.
Election season is in full swing, and Congress is in recess, which means that instead of hanging out in D.C., most Senators and Representatives are in their home states, listening to voters. Agriculture hasn’t gotten much discussion at the national level, which makes it even more critical that candidates hear from farmers.
Young farmers are important constituents, and candidates need to understand that agricultural issues matter. Many candidates and elected officials don’t know very much about farming and even less about growing and marketing methods that many young farmers care about, like organic farming and CSAs. When you take the time to educate policymakers, you are doing them a favor. You’re also helping to inform policy that could impact farmers nationwide.
But before we talk about how to engage, you are registered to vote, right? If you aren’t sure, you can register here.
Now that that is taken care of, it’s time to make your voice heard. There are many ways to engage candidates, whether they are running for president or town council. Try one of these five actions:
- Attend a town hall or candidate forum. While there is no universal format for town halls or forums, anyone who attends can ask questions or make a statement. Candidates use these events to share their beliefs and get feedback on the issues and positions that matter to constituents. Attending one of these events gives you the opportunity to talk about farming and publicly ask the candidate for support.
- Ask a question at a local debate. Debates often provide the opportunity for the audience to ask questions. By attending and asking about agriculture, you can challenge both candidates to take on the issue.
- Get a group of local farmers together to request an on-farm meeting with the candidate. What better way is there to show the importance of farming than to get the candidate out onto a local farm! If you get a couple local farmers together, you can show your impact on the local community and demonstrate your challenges and successes first-hand.
Are you sensing a theme here? Meeting with a candidate, face-to-face, is a great way to share your experience and concerns. But there are other ways to speak up as well:
- Engage the candidates on social media. If you only have a few minutes or cannot make it to an event, you can still reach out to a candidate online. Campaign staffers are carefully watching Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. If you share a position with the candidate online, the staff will take note.
- Bring your friends into the conversation. Candidates will pay attention to the positions they hear the loudest and most often. So bring other constituents with you to amplify your impact, either online or in person.
One last reminder: We all have personal politics and preferred candidates. However, elected officials are charged with representing all their constituents, not just the ones who voted for them. You do not need to agree with your officials’ politics in order to invite them out to the farm, attend an event, or make the case for them to support good agriculture policy. Farmers need champions from both sides of the aisle, and lawmakers need your help understanding the issues!