I wanted to be a cowgirl – Bootstrap at Willow Springs Farm

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By Hannah Becker, Willow Springs Farm

One of my earliest memories is sitting on an old Paint gelding outside of Memphis, Tennessee. I couldn’t have been more than three or four, but from that moment on I was obsessed with becoming a “cowgirl”. Despite growing up on quarter-acre lots in suburbia, where the only cows I saw were on old Bonanza reruns, my passion to own my own cattle operation never wavered. Completely ignorant of all things agriculture, I knew educating myself would be the first step towards owning my own cattle farm.

At 19, I enthusiastically enrolled as an animal and dairy science student at Mississippi State University. Week one, I was informed by a seasoned Delta farmer and distinguished alum that “people don’t ‘become’ farmers—you have to be born into it.” Discouraged (I was one of the only students not hailing from a multi-generational farm), I was determined to pursue my education and find a way to make my farming dream come true.

master_cattle_Hannah__cropAs an undergraduate student I began to recognize the immense market potential many “traditional” farmers were overlooking. The agriculture industry seemed oblivious to the inevitable evolution of consumer demands, driven largely by millennials and their purchasing power. Organic and natural products, community supported agriculture (CSA) and reformed animal husbandry techniques, etc. weren’t even on “those old Delta farmers’” radars until the GMO debate began making headlines. The industry was teaming with opportunity. (more…)

Land trusts: apply now to attend national land access training

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The National Young Farmers Coalition and Equity Trust are convening our second-annual Land Access Innovation Training, aimed at helping land trusts utilize tools to protect farmland affordability. The training will take place on Sunday, October 11, 2015 in Sacramento, California from 8:30 a.m. – 4 p.m.

This one-day, in-person training is aimed at staff from land trusts with a high degree of commitment to protecting working farms and sufficient capacity to move forward in the implementation of farm protection projects that incorporate affordability innovations. You can read more about last year’s training here and see a list of this year’s presenters here

Land trust participants will receive coaching on funding strategies; monitoring and enforcement; legal considerations; and easement enhancements and ground leases that preserve affordability and active farming. This year’s presenters include Equity Trust, The Vermont Land Trust, South of the Sound Community Farmland Trust, and others!

The training is free for attendees thanks to the generous support of the Cedar Tree Foundation, UNFI, and the Lydia B. Stokes Foundation. There are a limited number of slots, so those interested in attending must fill out an application. Applications are due Friday, August 21st, 2015.

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NYFC will also host a workshop for farmers October 7 in Sacramento, California titled “Partnering with a Land Trust to Access Affordable Farmland.” This workshop will help teach farmers some of the innovative ways they can partner with a land trust to access land. The event will be presented by NYFC in collaboration with Equity Trust, CA FarmLink, and Farmers Guild. Details coming soon.

2016 Agriculture Appropriations: An Update

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By Eric Hansen, NYFC Policy Analyst 

Earlier this month, Congress reached a major milestone in its annual appropriations process, which funds the federal government. Both the relevant committees in the House and the Senate passed funding bills for the Department of Agriculture. These bills set spending levels for conservation programs and farm loans and include “policy riders” that alter Farm Bill programs.

The Appropriations Process
Each year, Congress must pass spending bills that fund the federal government. The government works on a fiscal calendar that begins on Oct 1st. This means Congress needs to pass new legislation before Sept 30th or face a government shutdown.

Congress divides government operations in 12 substantive areas—such as agriculture; interior and the environment; and defense—and writes one bill for each area. In both the House and the Senate, the agriculture bill is written by a small group of legislators who sit on the Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee. These are often different legislators than those who wrote the Farm Bill.

Once the subcommittee writes the bill, it is considered by the full Appropriations Committee. So far this year, both the full Committees in the House and the Senate have approved their respective bills. Next, the bills should be up for a vote before the full House and Senate. Once amended and approved, the bills will be “conferenced” between the two chambers, and once a joint bill is approved it will go to the President for his signature.

What’s in and what’s out
While this year’s spending bills are by no means final, the Committee drafts provide a pretty clear picture of where things are headed. Overall, funding is down compared to last year. This was expected in a Republican-controlled Congress; however, it has made it harder to secure funding for new programs and initiatives.

There are a few bright spots in the bills: (more…)

The veggie girl marries the meat man: Bootstrap at Old Homeplace Farm

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By Maggie Bowling, Old Homeplace Farm

Some of my earliest memories involve playing in soybeans in the bed of a grain truck. I thought sliding around in the loose beans was the most fun a kid could have. My parents’ transitioned from raising row crops and running a small confinement hog barn to selling certified organic vegetables, cut flowers, eggs, and pastured broilers during my childhood. My parents instilled in their children that it was possible to make a living and a good life on the farm. They always paid us for our farm work, beginning when we were very small by paying us $0.10 for every little red wagon load of corn we pulled out to the roadside stand and stacked on the table. They strove to make work fun and would reward us with a swim in the creek after cultivating a bed of veggies or playtime in the woods after cleaning a set number of garlic heads. I don’t know how they did it, but their love for the land was transferred to us, and all three of their children are now farming as adults.

Growing up in rural Ohio, I loved my home, I loved my family, and I loved the farm, but I still felt the pull to see what else was in store for me. It never occurred to me that I didn’t have to attend college as the next step after high school graduation, and so the day after my eighteenth birthday I headed off to Earlham College in Indiana. A community service scholarship (Bonner Scholars) put me through college. By graduation I knew that my heart was called back to agriculture, and I accepted an AmeriCorps VISTA position with the Grow Appalachia program, which led to a full time position assisting gardeners in Eastern Kentucky. (more…)

New case studies highlight successful partnerships between farmers and land trusts

Finding affordable land continues to be one of the biggest barriers facing beginning farmers and ranchers. Land trusts, which have long preserved farmland from development, are in a unique position to help new farmers access land. As NYFC found in our 2013 report, Farmland Conservation 2.0, land trusts across the country are seeing the need to increase their efforts to keep farmland affordable and accessible to the next generation of farmers.

CA_Farmlink_Case-StudyOver the past year, NYFC has been working with land trust partners across the country to scale up innovative conservation models that permanently protect America’s working farmland and keep the land in the hands of farmers. NYFC is pleased to have partnered with California FarmLink on their recent publication, Conservation and Affordability of Working Lands: Nine Case Studies of Land Trusts Working with Next-Generation Farmers.

The case studies highlight the innovative tools and strategies land trusts are using to partner with young farmers and secure the working land base. Most of the case studies are from California, with two examples from Massachusetts and Washington State. Some of the featured land trusts own land that they lease back to farmers, in some cases incorporating the innovative “ground lease” model through which the organization owns the land and the farmer has a lifetime lease along with ownership of the infrastructure. Other case studies demonstrate the use of easement tools such as affirmative language (which requires the land to be in agricultural production) and the option to purchase at agricultural value (which helps ensure the land stays in the hands of a farmer when it is sold.)

NYFC is excited to host our second annual Land Access Innovations Training in Sacramento, California this fall to educate land trusts on these tools. For more information, contact our land access campaign manager, Holly Rippon-Butler. Check out the Equity Trust website for sample easements and leases.

How land trusts can partner with young farmers

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NYFC’s land access campaign manager, Holly Rippon-Butler, recently collaborated on an article for Saving Land magazine, which is published by the Land Trust Alliance. The article, Partnering with Next Generation Farmers, highlights the crucial role land trusts have in ensuring farmers have access stop affordable farmland, and it outlines some of the tools land trusts can use to make a positive impact on the future of our food system.

An excerpt:

[Lindsey Lusher] Shute, executive director of the National Young Farmers Coalition (link is external) (NYFC), outlines the dire facts: “In the next two decades, more than two-thirds of the farmland in the United States will change hands. As farmers retire and pass on, their land is likely to transition out of family ownership and management forever. In rural areas, family farms are being purchased by speculators or consolidated into mega-farms. In urban-influenced areas, active farms are being taken out of production as they’re sold for development or rural estates. In both cases, the price of farmland is far greater than what the next generation of farmers can possibly afford.” […]

For years, strategic preservation of farmland by land trusts has laid a foundation for long-term production of locally grown foods, particularly in urbanizing regions where an estimated 80% of Americans now live [The World Factbook, Central Intelligence Agency]. However, the challenges facing farmers today urgently require this work to be scaled up and strengthened to keep farmland owned by farmers and in agricultural production.

To read the full article, including the list of innovative tools that land trusts are making use of to preserve farmland, follow this link.

Photo: Ashley Loer of Sparrowbush Farm

New NYFC report finds student loan debt is exacerbating farmer shortage

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Today NYFC released a new report, Farming Is Public Service: A Case for Adding Farmers to the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, which shows that student loan debt is one of the key barriers preventing more would-be farmers and ranchers from entering agriculture.

Read the full report here. 

FIPS_report_coverThe report contains data from a new survey of more than 700 young farmers as well as data compiled from the USDA Census of Agriculture. Highlights include:

  • Only 6% of all U.S. farmers are under the age of 35. Between 2007 and 2012 America gained only 1,220 principal farm operators under 35. During the same period, the total number of principal farm operators dropped by more than 95,000.
  • Survey respondents carried an average of $35,000 in student loans.
  • 30% of survey respondents said their student loans are delaying or preventing them from farming.
  • 28% of survey respondents say student loan pressure has prevented them from growing their business, and 20% of respondents report being unable to obtain credit because of their student loans.

“Farming is a capital-intensive career with slim margins,” said NYFC executive director and cofounder, Lindsey Lusher Shute. “Faced with student loan debt, many young people decide they can’t afford to farm. In other cases, the bank decides for them by denying them the credit they need for land, equipment, and operations.”

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Photo by LL Gingerich

With thousands of American farmers nearing retirement (the average age of farmers is now 58), the U.S. needs at least 100,000 new farmers over the next two decades. This issue reaches beyond the farm and impacts rural economies because farmers are often the primary revenue generators and employers in rural areas.

According to Davon Goodwin, a 25-year-old farmer and veteran from North Carolina (pictured above), encouraging more young people to become career farmers is essential. “Farming is serving your community at the highest level,” said Goodwin. “Making sure families have access to healthy, local food is as important as being a police officer or a teacher.”

On June 1, legislation was introduced in Congress that would add farmers to the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program (PSLF), placing the profession of farming alongside careers such as nursing, teaching, and law enforcement that already qualify for the program. Through PSLF, professionals who make 10 years of income-driven student loan payments while serving in a qualifying public service career have the balance of their loans forgiven.

The bipartisan Young Farmer Success Act (H.R. 2590) was introduced by Rep. Chris Gibson (R-NY) and Rep. Courtney (D-CT). Co-sponsors include Rep. Pingree (D-ME), Rep. Emmer (R-MN) and Rep. Lofgren (D-CA). The legislation has broad support from nearly 100 farming organizations, including National Farmers Union, FFA, and Farm Aid.

Interested in supporting the Young Farmer Success Act? Visit our Farming Is Public Service page to learn more and take action. 

Young Farmer Success Act introduced in Congress

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University of Maryland agriculture instructor Meredith Epstein loves teaching, but it isn’t the career she imagined for herself. Epstein doesn’t lack the skills, training, or talent for her chosen profession—farming—she simply can’t afford to invest in a farm of her own because she has student loan debt. The Young Farmer Success Act of 2015 would remove this barrier to business investment for Epstein and thousands of other young farmers like her.

The Young Farmer Success Act (House Bill 2590) was introduced on June 1, 2015 by Representative Chris Gibson (R-NY) and Representative Joe Courtney (D-CT). The bill seeks to address a major crisis facing American agriculture: Not enough young people are becoming farmers. As the majority of existing farmers near retirement (the average age of the American farmer is 58), we will need at least 100,000 new farmers to take their place. But between 2007 and 2012, the number of young farmers increased by only 1,220.

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The Young Farmer Success Act of 2015 would incentivize farming as a career by adding farmers to the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, an existing program that currently includes professions such as government service, teaching, and nursing. Under the program, public service professionals who make 10 years of income-driven student loan payments would have the balance of their loans forgiven. (more…)

New report: Innovation & stewardship in the arid West

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Here’s a story you probably haven’t heard in the news: Family farmers are leading water conservation efforts in the West. Here are two examples.

  • By building up the level of organic matter in the soil of their California farm, Paul and Elizabeth Kaiser (pictured above with their crew) have drastically cut their irrigation use while increasing their production seven fold compared to similar California farms.
  • In Wyoming, ranchers Pat and Sharon O’Toole have always managed their land with conservation in mind. Along the way, they’ve built strong partnerships with Trout Unlimited, Audubon Wyoming, and The Nature Conservancy—organizations some ranchers once viewed as adversaries.

NYFC_WesternCaseStudiesFINAL_Lower_Page_01Our new report, Innovations in Agricultural Stewardship: Stories of Conservation & Drought Resilience in the Arid West, offers five case studies profiling producers across the Colorado River Basin (an area that spans seven Western states) and beyond who—with curiosity, creativity, and seasons of trial and error—are adapting and even thriving in the drought. This report was created in partnership with the Family Farm Alliance to highlight farmers who are building drought resilience, saving water, & growing good food for all of us.

Read our new report here. 

The West is mobilizing in search of answers to a growing water gap between water supply and demand. Earlier this week the Bureau of Reclamation, the federal agency that manages much of the water infrastructure in the West, released a report that NYFC also collaborated on titled Moving Forward Phase I Report that identifies ways to reduce water stress in the Colorado River Basin.

Now with our latest publication, Innovations in Agricultural Stewardship, we hope to add to the list of solutions. In order to develop smart policy, it is critical to understand the creative ways farmers and ranchers—young and seasoned alike—manage their land. We call on our policymakers to engage farmers as allies in finding innovative solutions that support the health of our land, water, and Western communities.

The West, water and you: Take our new survey

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This year drought has gripped the West to a new extreme. But both young and seasoned farmers are forging new and innovative solutions, growing more food with less water while enhancing biodiversity, soil health, and their local communities.

Yet despite this, too often young farmers are not engaged in shaping water policy. This means their values and their voices go unheard by policymakers.

NYFC is changing that. As part of our ongoing work on water in the West, we are developing a grassroots advocacy platform on western water. We just launched an online survey to hear what matters most to you on western water issues.

Are you a farmer or rancher? Complete our survey, and as a thank you, we will give you a year of free membership in NYFC. Existing members will have their membership renewed.

 

TAKE THE SURVEY:  https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/TPP8H9Q 

 

We have been hosting community gatherings on water across the West, but since we can’t make it everywhere we’d like, we’re hoping to get a broad response via the survey. We want to know: Is conservation important to you? How has drought impacted your operation? Can policy and funding be enhanced to support you in your success?

We know your time is packed with actual farming this time of year, so thank you for taking five minutes to lend your voice to this effort. For taking the survey, you will receive a FREE year-long membership with NYFC.

Membership is optional, but membership is also awesome. You decide.

Want to meet with your representative on an issue you care about? Email our western organizer, Kate Greenberg, and we’ll help you have your voice heard.

To learn more about issues farmers are facing in the arid West, watch our short film “RESILIENT.”