Vermont Land Access Innovations Training

Participants in VLT and NYFC’s two-day Land Access Innovations Training in Burlington, VT.

In April, the National Young Farmers Coalition and the Vermont Land Trust teamed up to host a two-day Land Access Innovations Training in Vermont. The training brought together staff from 26 land trusts, state agencies, foundations, and other organizations across 10 states to discuss tools and strategies for protecting working farmland and helping the next generation of farmers access land. (more…)

Why would my small farm need a produce safety training?

In 2011, a law called the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) gave the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) the responsibility to regulate how food safety is managed on farms and in facilities that process food. At NYFC, we’re part of an alliance managed by the National Farmers Union called the Local Food Safety Collaborate that aims to give smaller producers who market locally a source for education and training on FSMA. NYFC is planning workshops across the South on the Produce Safety Rule and is writing a guidebook on these food safety regulations. Along the way, we’re talking with farmers to assess what tools, trainings, materials, or guidance will be most helpful for small, young, diversified growers to learn and comply with these new regulations.

We understand that many young farmers, ranchers, and food producers will be “qualified exempt” from this rule, meaning that they won’t have to follow ALL of the parts of the law due to size and marketing strategy.  Here’s a flowchart to help farms understand exemptions from the Produce Safety Rule. Here’s a link to understand Preventive Controls rule exemptions for facilities that manufacture, process, store, or pack food. We also want to be sure that even exempt growers understand the rules, what parts of the rules will still be important, and, ultimately, how to make their produce or food as safe as possible.

You might wonder, “I’m not a big farm, why would I take that workshop?” At NYFC, we think these food safety trainings are worthwhile for ALL farmers. Here are some reasons we think you might want to attend:

  • Your farm might expand. Perhaps you’re exempt now, but might not be as your business grows and evolves. Knowing these food safety rules will allow you to made infrastructure improvements that will comply with the rule as your business grows.
  • Learn how to make your food safer. All farms can be safer and cleaner. Some of these rules are onerous, but some of them seem practical. With a few tweaks, you could implement changes that make your produce safer. These changes could potentially increase the storage life of your crops, as taking steps to decrease bacteria can make it last longer and look better.
  • Exempt from the law, but not the marketplace. You might be qualified exempt from the rule as per the FDA. Yet, your buyers might begin to require compliance. When GAPs were introduced, even some farmers markets began to encourage associated farmers to become GAPs certified. We may see wholesale buyers, restaurants, or insurance companies begin to push otherwise exempt farmers toward compliance of the Produce Safety Rule.
  • Learn in an environment of your peers. Large produce growers are learning this same curriculum, but we hope that the conversation occurring between small, diversified growers will be helpful to beginning farmers. Also, the NYFC workshops are taught by farmers.
  • It’s affordable. We’re heavily subsidizing this workshop so that growers like you can ease into compliance and learn how to make their food safer and businesses stronger. The rules of FDA say that you only have to complete this course once a lifetime, so you could save money by taking it now. 
  • Learn more about the rule. Maybe you’ll be “qualified exempt.” You’ll still need to keep some records to prove the exemption. Additionally, you might be curious about how the rule works and why growers are so worked up. Come and learn the ins-and-outs of the rule so that you can be informed about these regulations that could greatly impact the agricultural community.
  • Give your feedback. We need to understand how and where this rule impacts farms most. NYFC can also advocate to changes in the rule or the curriculum if we know what challenges you find. We can only get that feedback from farmers who have attended the training and understand the rule.

Currently, we’re planning our workshops in the South and Southeast with our chapters in Missouri, Middle Georgia, and the West Virginia/Virginia Tri-State area. We’re hoping to plan many more. Our partners in the Local Food Safety Collaborate have other workshops planned around the country. Contact us if you want to host a food safety workshop or have feedback on this project!

Is Whole Farm Revenue Insurance right for your farm?

Whole Farm Revenue Protection (WFRP) is a new national crop insurance program for farmers. Since it is so new, lots of people are unclear about how it works.

Traditionally, CSA and market farmers didn’t buy crop insurance because the crops they grew weren’t covered, the paperwork was mountainous, or the coverage amounts were based on wholesale or commodity crop pricing. Crop insurance was also viewed as less crucial to those with diversified farms and direct-market sales because they are exposed to less single-crop risk and they can sell their products for higher prices.

In 2003 the USDA’s Risk Management Agency (RMA) implemented a pilot program for diversified farmers called the Adjusted Gross Revenue Program (AGR and AGR-Lite), but participation was low. In recent years, sustainable ag groups, like the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, saw this gap and collaborated with RMA to develop a better option. In late 2014, the USDA rolled out a new insurance option, Whole Farm Revenue Protection (WFRP), to reach small and diversified growers. CSA, farmers market, and wholesale producers can be covered under this insurance plan. In fact, it was created with those groups in mind. And it isn’t just for crops— it applies to dairy and meat farmers, too!

Whole Farm Revenue Protection is subsidized to be affordable, and an individual farm’s diversification raises the level of subsidy available. Farmers base their insured revenue on their own previous sales records, so the farmer is able to set the worth of their crop. WFRP is administered by RMA and sold and serviced by private insurance agents. Also, if you’re considering FSA loans, WFRP will meet the FSA insurance requirement.

A team at Cornell has worked to create an online tool that helps farmers compare premiums, levels of coverage, and indemnity payments. In order to buy insurance, you’ll have to speak with a crop insurance agent.

Here at NYFC, we’re trying to help farmers better understand this opportunity and identify if it works for their farm. Are you having a hard time understanding how WFRP works? Are there barriers that keep you from using it? Are small, beginning farmers inherently opposed to crop insurance? Are the premiums or the payouts too confusing? We want to help you understand this option, and figure out if it is a good fit for your farm. Check out this introduction to WFRP and a new online tool developed by Cornell University’s Ag Analytics team to evaluate the program’s usefulness on your farm.

Cornell University Professor Jennifer Ifft invites farmers with questions or feedback about crop insurance to contact her for one-on-one information sessions between now and the March 15th sign-up deadline. Reach her via email at jifft@cornell.edu or phone at (607) 255-4769. She should be available during the following times, or you can call to set up a specific time:

March 6: 2-4pm
March 7: 9am-11am
March 9: 2-4pm
March 11: 9am-11am

If WFRP is a good fit for your farm, there’s still time to sign up for 2017! The final day to sign up for WFRP for the 2017 crop year is March 15th. If it isn’t a good fit, please help us understand what needs to be changed to make it more helpful for beginning farmers. Please contact Cara or write a comment on this post if you have crop insurance feedback.

This article is a part of the activities of the New York Crop Insurance Education and Risk Management Project, which is managed by Cornell University in partnership with the USDA Risk Management Agency to deliver crop insurance education in New York State.

NYFC and State Policymakers Take Action on Student Debt

As young farmers and ranchers across the country celebrated the reintroduction of the Young Farmer Success Act (H.R. 1060) in the U.S. House of Representatives last week, the issue was also taken up in several state capitals. The burden of student loan debt on young farmers is too important an issue to address solely on the federal level. This year, NYFC and farmer leaders in multiple states are working to advance state legislation to provide student debt relief to young people who are feeding their communities.

State Senator Kerry Donovan meets with NYFC’s Southwest Organizer Cassidy Tawse-Garcia and local farmers during NYFC’s CO legislative meet & greet last week.

Across the country, states are taking action to invest in the next generation of farmers and ranchers, rural communities, and our nation’s food security by helping young people better manage their student loan debt. Several states already offer programs that help with student loan repayment to encourage eligible graduates to pursue careers in agriculture, and to do so in their state. The New York State Young Farmers Loan Forgiveness Incentive Program, for example, provides student loan repayments (up to $50,000 over the course of the program) to individuals who obtain an undergraduate degree and commit to operating a farm in New York State, on a full-time basis, for five years. Pennsylvania’s Agriculture Education Loan Forgiveness Program provides a similar service. These programs are designed to attract new farmers and ranchers to the state, thus promoting the sustainable growth and long-term viability of the agriculture industry and rural communities.

Leanna Mulvihill received loan forgiveness through the New York State Young Farmers Loan Forgiveness Incentive Program.

NYFC is a strong advocate for these programs and is in the process of working with several states to develop new student loan repayment programs and ensure that these programs work for young farmers and ranchers.

In Wisconsin, for example, NYFC is working with a state representative this session to reintroduce a bill that would establish a New Farmer Student Loan Assistance Program. Once established, the program would provide grants up to $30,000/person over a period of 5 years to help cover the cost of repaying student loans and interest. The program would be available to state residents who have graduated from an accredited institution of higher education (not limited to Wisconsin schools) whose primary occupation is operating a small farm, defined as between $35,000 and $500,000 in gross annual sales. Applicants must also have started to operate a small farm no later than 5 years after obtaining a degree and commit to operating a small farm in the state for at least 5 years after applying to the program.

Similar efforts are underway in New Jersey, Montana, and New Mexico.
We can’t do this alone. As we work to build support in Congress for the Young Farmer Success Act, taking similar actions on the state level helps to multiply these efforts and broaden the scope of solutions to this critical challenge.  If you are a young or aspiring farmer or rancher who is struggling with student debt, please reach to NYFC to learn more about opportunities to find out how you can engage with policymakers in your state to tackle this problem, and how NYFC can help! become engaged on these issues and access resources to promote similar programs in your state!!

If you’re interested in state-level advocacy on this or any issues facing young farmers, please contact Andrew Bahrenburg, National Policy Director, andrew@youngfarmers.org.

NYFC Statement on Immigration Enforcement

The National Young Farmers Coalition is led by, and centered on, the needs and priorities of the next generation of farmers in America.

We aim to be inclusive of all of our nation’s farmers and ranchers–that includes both owner-operators and all hired farmworkers, farm managers, migrant workers, guest workers, and apprentices. We are all farmers.

Immigrants are critically important to agriculture in the United States. Current estimates indicate that over three-quarters of farmworkers in the U.S. are foreign born, and nearly half are undocumented. In short, although immigrant farmers and ranchers may not be as visible, they are the majority of the agricultural workforce, and are vital to our agricultural economy and food system. But most importantly, it is essential that we uphold American values and ensure that the rights of immigrant farmers are protected, and that they have the opportunity to pursue good livelihoods for themselves and their families.

For these reasons, Congress and the President must fix our broken immigration system with a comprehensive reform package that protects all workers, provides a legal pathway to citizenship, and creates a guestworker program that ensures an adequate and highly-skilled agricultural workforce. We strongly and unequivocally oppose any immigration policies, actions, and orders that prioritize enforcement, deportation, and intimidation of undocumented families and communities of color. Such an approach is detrimental to the agricultural economy and puts the future of the U.S. food system at risk. More importantly, it violates basic human rights and compromises the core values of America, a nation built on the premise of inclusivity and refuge.

NYFC encourages its members and supporters to prepare for increased ICE enforcement activity by reviewing these documents from the National Immigration Law Center: “How to Be Prepared for an Immigration Raid” / “Como prepararse para una redada de inmigración

Young Farmer Success Act Reintroduced in Congress

A bipartisan group of U.S. Representatives took action to address our urgent national need for more young farmers by reintroducing the Young Farmer Success Act (H.R. 1060).  

The National Young Farmers Coalition first worked with members of Congress in 2015 to tackle one of the greatest barriers to young farmer success: student loan debt. The Young Farmer Success Act was introduced in October 2015 and today, that bill was reintroduced with key bipartisan support.

As an entire generation of farmers nears retirement, and with nearly two-thirds of our nation’s working farmland expected to change hands in the next two decades, our entire agricultural economy and food supply are at stake. Providing a viable path for young entrepreneurs to apply their energy and grit toward feeding their communities must become a national priority. And with a new Congress and a new President, now is the time to act.

“America needs a new generation of farmers, now more than ever,” said U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney (D-CT), one of the bill’s lead sponsors. “The number of new farmers entering the field of agriculture has dropped by 20 percent, while the average farmer age has risen above 58-years-old. We must invest in the next generation of farmers, and do it now.” (more…)

NYFC’s 2nd National Leadership Convergence

photo-4-group-5x7More 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.
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“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…)

When the heat doesn’t stop: adapting to climate change

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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.

Tomatoes at Red Tractor Farm. This photo and the portrait of Casey were taken by Eva Verbeeck.

Tomatoes at Red Tractor Farm. This photo and the portrait of Casey were taken by Eva Verbeeck.

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…)

Finding land (with water) isn’t easy

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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.Hoyt_HopiBeans_cropped

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

A Young Farmers Guide to Election Season

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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.
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Rep. Yolo at Swallowtail Farm in Florida.

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!