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.
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.
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, firstname.lastname@example.org.
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”
Today, 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…)
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…)
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 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.
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!
By Tyler Hoyt, Green Table Farm
When I began thinking about this blog post, it made me want to check inat the source of our water. Three miles of highway and another 15 of variable dirt roads, and my brother and I were within striking distance of patches of snow clinging to windloaded north faces. A little ski boots-on-talus action and we were making some legit ski turns. The grins on our faces at the bottom of this thin patch of snow (it was mid-June after all) are the reason I first came to Southwest Colorado and a big part of why we chose to settle here.
One of my biggest stipulations when we were looking to purchase land was that we would not leave the mountains. I spent a disproportionate amount of my time skiing the mountains of the Western U.S., and there was no way I was going to sacrifice that way of life entirely for farming. Little did I know that my time on the slopes would give me a foundation of knowledge about watersheds that would serve me well as a farmer.
The sliver of snow where my brother and I “inspected future water availability” is situated in the La Plata Mountains, which are a microrange that drains water into the Animas, La Plata, Dolores, and Mancos Rivers. This is a tall order for a small set of peaks, but they are mighty, rising over 13,000 feet. Among the tallest (there is active debate about the highest peak in the range) is Mt. Hesperus, which is regarded by local native tribes as the Northern Holy Peak, with Mt. Blanca, Mt. Taylor, and the San Francisco Peaks rounding out the other three cardinal directions.
Every drop of rain, every snowflake or hailstone that falls on Hesperus eventually flows into the West Mancos River. Part of the water that is tied to our property comes from Jackson Lake (a reservoir), which fills off of the West Mancos River. When we realized this connection between Hesperus, our property, and the Mancos Valley in general, we were all the more sold on our place. Living close to the mountains has advantages, like being able to physically see the source of our water and look after it. It also has drawbacks for farming, such as long winters and deep snow. Theoretically, since we are close to the source we should be free of most contaminants that one would find further downstream, such as petroleum products, chemicals, and agricultural runoff, but there are still threats to water quality. This was witnessed last summer during the Gold King Mine spill into the Animas River, which is only thirty miles from Mancos. That kind of threat is a reality anywhere mining takes place, and Colorado was settled because of mining. (more…)
By Holly Rippon-Butler, Land Access Program Director
My last post described the range of challenges farmers are facing when it comes to land access, and I suggested broad solutions, like working with a land trust and fostering community support. In this post, I want to show you how those solutions can look on the ground by telling you the story of the Temple-Wilton Community Farm Project.
Temple-Wilton Community Farm in Wilton, New Hampshire is one of the first Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farms in the United States. CSAs are more than a marketing structure, they reflect a shared vision and risk and a joining together of resources and skills to provide food for a community. Many CSA farms offer shares at a fixed price that community members can purchase at the beginning of the season, affording them access to a share of the farm’s harvest on a regular basis. At Temple-Wilton, this community effort is taken one step further by estimating their expenses, sharing their budget with their members, and asking them to pledge what they can afford.
For 20 years, Temple-Wilton has been operating on these principles of transparency and trust, as well as a strong commitment to the triple bottom line of farmer financial viability, sustainable land use, and strong local food systems that feed communities. It is no surprise that they brought all of these ideas to the table when confronting their land access needs.
The Temple-Wilton Community Farm operates on 200+ acres of land spread across a cluster of parcels in Wilton, NH. Over the past two decades, farmers Lincoln Geiger and Anthony and Glynn Graham took on personal debt to purchase parcels of farmland in the Abbot Hill area of Wilton, NH as the land came up for sale. The land then became part of the Temple-Wilton Community Farm and the farm community raised funds to help pay down debt. Additionally the farmers worked with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service and Town of Wilton to place a conservation easement on the land that protects it for farming. To achieve their goal of bringing the land into common ownership and ensuring that sustainable biodynamic agriculture will continue to take place on the property beyond the life of any one person, the farmers partnered with the Russell Foundation to donate the land to the Yggdrasil Land Foundation. In exchange, they received a 99-year renewable lease on the land.
The farmers have built and operated their agricultural community successfully for many years. Despite all this, the 68-acre Four Corners Farm—where all of the Temple-Wilton Community Farm’s infrastructure is located—remains under a separate lease arrangement that does not provide security or equity to the farm. The landowners retain the ability to terminate the lease with little notice or cause. Given the insecurity of this arrangement and inability for the farm to build equity in this piece of land, the community has now reached a point where ownership is the security they need. (more…)
Young farmers and ranchers in the arid West contend with all of the challenges faced by farmers in other regions—high land prices, access to capital, and often student loan debt—but they also face an additional barrier: water access. In many parts of the country, all farmers have to do to “access” water is turn to the sky, but in the arid West, farmers and ranchers often depend on irrigation water from rivers, ditches and other bodies of water for at least part of the growing season. Accessing water, therefore, means accessing land with water rights, and those water rights are subject to a myriad of different laws and traditions as well as competition from residential communities, other industries, and wildlife.
Does it sound complicated? It is. For the next six months, four young farmers/ranchers in the arid West will be blogging about their experiences with water access and explaining everything from what it feels like to clean a 400-year-old acequia to how they’ve learned to make the most of the water they have through conservation and crop selection. To help you understand the terminology around water access, we’ve also put together a short glossary at the end of this post.
So without further ado, we’re excited to introduce our 2016 bloggers:
- Harrison Topp of Topp Fruit in Paonia, Colorado and Fields Livestock in Montrose, Colorado
- Tyler Hoyt of Green Table Farm in Mancos, Colorado
- Nery Martinez of Santa Cruz Farm & Greenhouses in Espanola, New Mexico
- Casey Holland of Red Tractor Farm in Albuquerque, New Mexico