Rogue Farm Corps Recruits Aspiring Farmers for their Hands-on Education and Mentoring Programs

Planting at Rogue Farm CorpsFarming is a tough business, and beginning farmers need hands-on experience and mentoring before they can successfully take on a commercial operation. Finding that experience and mentoring can be a significant challenge, and it’s at the heart of why Rogue Farm Corps (RFC) was created. The Oregon-based nonprofit was founded in 2003 by first generation organic farmers in their twenties and thirties who themselves had been mentored and considered it critical to their success. They noticed that many older farmers were retiring without anyone to take over their businesses, while young, inexperienced farmers didn’t know how to get started in commercial farming. RFC’s Executive Director Stu O’Neill says the organization was born from the desire to give beginning farmers access to mentors and in-field training. (more…)

USDA to Release 2012 Census of Ag Data

Every five years, the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) takes a hard look at the state of US agriculture by conducting a Census of Agriculture. In a very real way, the census is one of the few opportunities farmers have to tell the USDA about their operations—who they are, and what they need. Today, USDA will publish its full report of the 2012 Census of Agriculture. Below is a snippet of the agency’s preliminary report, which compares select results of the 2012 census to those of the previous census, conducted in 2007. Stay tuned for a further analysis of the census.  Without a doubt, the face of US agriculture has experienced some changes in the past five years, and young, beginning farmers should take notice.

CLF Offers New Legal Resource for New England Farmers

CLF_new_logoThe Conservation Law Foundation (CLF), a non-profit environmental advocacy group based in New England, is piloting a new resource project for farmers: the New England Legal Services Food Hub.

The problem that CLF hopes to solve with the Legal Services Food Hub is an important and widespread issue; many farmers and food entrepreneurs are forced to sacrifice economic viability or even their businesses due to the costly fees associated with legal aid. In order to combat these fees, CLF is creating the Legal Services Food Hub, which will support farmers and food entrepreneurs via a network of attorneys willing to provide pro bono legal assistance. (more…)

New Data Shows the Ups and Downs of Farm to School Progress


Reprinted with the permission of the USDA.

More and more farmers are looking to institutional relationships as a new marketing outlet, and we’re excited to see how beginning farmers are taking an active role in that progress. 

Recently, the results of the inaugural United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Farm to School census were released – based on data primarily from 2011-2012 – which give us a good picture of growth of the Farm to School movement.  Let’s take a look at the numbers:


GMO-labeling movement finds first win in Connecticut

Last month, Connecticut became the first state to pass a law requiring the labeling of foods containing genetically modified ingredients.


States Expanding Cottage Food Laws

map of cottage food laws by state

Cottage food laws by state

In April we wrote about Value-Added Producer Grants and how these federal awards can potentially help small farmers. However, with the contents of the 2013 Farm Bill facing uncertainty, state legislatures are providing inexpensive ways for farmers to produce limited quantities of value-added products.


U.S. Senate tackles future of Colorado River

Senator Mark Udall

Senator Mark Udall

On Tuesday, the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources Water and Power Subcommittee held a hearing to review findings from the Colorado River Basin Study, which NYFC has been tracking closely. Speakers representing the Bureau of Reclamation, Basin states, and municipal, agricultural, and healthy flows interests presented important Study follow-up items to the Subcommittee, moderated by CO Senator Mark Udall. (See a recording of the meeting here).

4 million irrigated acres of farmland in the Colorado River Basin are at risk as pressures on western waters rise. At the same time, agriculture is the single largest water user in the west, which means as urban demand continues to grow more interests will be turning to rural water users. But no one wants to return to the days of western water wars. Instead, farmers are proactively engaging across borders to develop win-win solutions to a tenuous water future.

Dr. Reagan Waskom, Director of the Colorado Water Institute at Colorado State University, spoke on behalf of western farmers as the co-chair of the Agricultural Conservation and Transfers work-group, one of three work groups created to carry out next steps from the Basin Study. In Waskom’s written testimony to the Subcommittee, he writes, “Local food and fiber production, protecting open space and wildlife habitat, maintaining agricultural jobs and businesses, and preserving western heritage are among the reasons for ensuring there are adequate land and water resources for agriculture production.”

We want to see the future of western agriculture thrive and we know that we need healthy resources to do that. Farmers are willing to do our part to ensure healthy farms and healthy rivers. (Want to show your support? Sign the Colorado River Farmers Pledge today!) According to Waskom, 77% of farmers surveyed by the Colorado Water Institute and its research partners prefer conservation and efficiency as the first and best options to address future water shortages. While barriers to conservation exist, it is in all of our best interest to work on behalf of farmers as stewards of our precious resources. As Senator Udall remarked, “We need to make every drop count.

When policy puts water back into streams & farms, the benefits are tangible


Farm intern Helen at Thistle Whistle Farms in Hotchkiss, CO. Thistle Whistle uses high-efficiency irrigation technology on their diversified operation

Farming is one of the most tangible professions there is. The product of a farmer’s labor is apparent at the end of every work day, with ripening tomatoes on the vine or gallons of milk in the fridge.

Policy, on the other hand, is often the opposite: a handful of law makers gathering in an air conditioned room turning concepts into law. So for farmers, when does policy become tangible?

As we learned last month with the failure of the Farm Bill in the House, policy has a wide-reaching effect on farmers. Beginning farmer education programs, conservation cost-shares and affordable loans are just some of the tangible outcomes of policy for which NYFC is fighting that remain stuck in limbo while Congress decides what’s next for the Farm Bill.


North Fork of the Gunnison River, CO

But the Farm Bill is not the only piece of legislation with tangible effects on our farms and ranches. States and regions, such as the seven Colorado River basin states, are constantly working with policy that matters to farmers. And with another year of harsh drought in the west—and looming predictions of water shortage—much of that policy is focused on water.

On July 16th the Senate Water and Power Subcommittee will host a hearing on the Colorado River Basin Supply and Demand Study, the primary “call-to-action” for matching water supply with demand in the Basin.

At the state-level, Colorado water policy is opening doors to more flexible water use for farmers and conservationists alike. Last year, when the Yampa River nearly ran dry, an innovative water leasing program allowed the Colorado Water Trust to lease water for in-stream flows, benefiting both fish and farmers downstream of the imperiled reach.


Farmer Paul Kehmeier gives a tour of his irrigation system

Additionally, state Senator Gail Schwartz is developing legislation that will incentivize conservation for farmers.

It is a time of change, and our voice matters. If policy ever feels like an enigma to you, just look out on your nearest river or stream. We have the power to protect these vital resources, and are doing so as a growing unified voice.

NYFC is working with Congress, states, and other organizations to ensure a healthy future for farms and rivers both. We are keeping the pulse on the above policy developments. We are also showing our decision makers that young farmers care about our rivers with two upcoming campaigns: the Colorado River Farmers Pledge and a string of west-wide events for Colorado River Day on July 25th.

Look out for more details to come on these campaigns. And in the meantime, keep enjoying those mid-summer tomatoes!

Young farmers hold forum with Congressman Tipton to discuss access to farming, water


Congressman Tipton speaking with James Ranch founder Dave James and farm intern.

On Friday, over 25 Southwest Colorado farmers and farm advocates took time out of a busy harvest day to meet with Republican Congressman Scott Tipton to share hopes and concerns for the future of farming in the Southwest. The forum, organized by NYFC and hosted by the farmers of James Ranch in Durango, was held the day after the surprise failure of the 5-year Farm Bill in the House, of which the Congressman was a supporter.


Over 25 local farmers gather with Congressman Tipton

Farmers from Bayfield to Mancos engaged with the Congressman, a member of the House Agriculture Committee, for over two hours on topics ranging from steep land prices in the southwest to regulations surrounding alternative housing on farms. The Congressman expressed the need for more farmers on the land and emphasized the connection between business and farming. Earlier this year the Congressman formed a bipartisan Small Business Caucus with democratic Congresswoman Pingree, a champion of local foods and farming bills.


Farmers Mike Nolan and Dustin Stein discuss markets and land access in SW Colorado.

Farmer Mike Nolan, owner of Mountain Roots Produce, shared how local agriculture has gained new momentum in SW Colorado with the formation of the Southwest Grower’s Alliance. Dustin Stein, another young farmer and owner/manager of Stubborn Farm & Burke Beef discussed how unique partnerships between established and beginning farmers can help make land accessible.

Dave James, founder of James Ranch, highlighted the opportunities for local agriculture in destination communities such as Durango, and the need to keep land in production with young producers. Following local snacks courtesy of James Ranch, Jennifer Wheeling–one of the James children who returned to work on the ranch–provided a tour of the gardens. Farmers discussed the need for irrigation efficiency in this arid climate; and while water supply varies season to season, ongoing drought remains present on every farmer’s mind.


Farmer Jennifer Wheeling gives a tour of the gardens at James Ranch

Farmers emphasized the need for champions in Congress who can build legislation flexible enough to meet the diverse needs of the small farmer. The Congressman suggested co-hosting a fall event to expand awareness of local foods and offered to connect beginning farmers with volunteers from the SCORE program–a network of business leaders who offer business planning and mentoring to beginning entrepreneurs. Our hope is that Congressman Tipton will become an advocate for beginning and sustainable growers in future farm policy debates.



Republicans and Democrats Introduce New Bill To Aid Beginning Farmers













April 25, 2013

Contact: lindsey(at)youngfarmers(dot)org

Republicans and Democrats Introduce New Bill To Aid Beginning Farmers

“Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act of 2013” addresses major barriers to starting a farming career

TIVOLI, NY – Today, Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa and Representative Tim Walz of Minnesota announced the introduction of the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act of 2013 in both the Senate and the House of Representatives. The two identical bills expand opportunities and remove barriers for beginning farmers and those who wish to pursue a career in agriculture.

In addition to the bill’s lead sponsors, the following members have signed on as original co-sponsors: Reps. Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE-1), Chris Gibson (R-NY-19), and House Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Collin Peterson (D-MN-7) in the House, and Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Bob Casey (D-PA), Jon Tester (D-MT), Tom Udall (D-NM), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), and Al Franken (D-MN) in the Senate.

“Short of jumping on a tractor, the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act of 2013 is the best way that members of Congress can help the nation’s young growers,” says Lindsey Lusher Shute, Executive Director at the National Young Farmers Coalition. “The bill tackles the significant barriers to starting a farm in the US, including access to credit, land and training opportunities. NYFC urges Congress to include all of its provisions in the Farm Bill, and to pass a Farm Bill this year.”

The Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act is a comprehensive legislative package that invests in critical federal conservation, credit, research, and rural development programs that support opportunities for new farmers and ranchers. The bill reduces barriers, such as credit and land access issues, that new agriculture entrepreneurs face, and invests in successful new-farmer training programs and grants to help farmers capture more of the retail food dollar through value-added enterprises.

“With the average age of the U.S. farmer at 57, ensuring that the next generation of American farmers is able to provide the world with a safe, abundant supply of food should be a top priority,” said Congressman Walz, Ranking Member of the U.S. House Agriculture Subcommittee on Conservation, Energy, and Forestry. “To accomplish this goal, we must provide our youth with the training and tools they need to seize opportunity and take up farms of their own. By easing access to lines of credit and land, and creating training programs for new producers, the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act works to do just that.”

“As the House considers a five year Farm Bill this year, it is important we include provisions to encourage a new generation of New Yorkers to take up farming.  This is both critical to maintaining the rural nature of our communities and ultimately is a national security issue as we need to have a robust domestic food supply. This bipartisan legislation will expand opportunities for those looking to take up farming and facilitate their entrance into the field.  I applaud the National Young Farmers Coalition for bringing this issue to my attention originally, and look forward to continuing to work with my constituents to ensure we can get these initiatives included in the Farm Bill,” said Congressman Chris Gibson.

Some of the specific proposals in the bill include:

Expanded Credit Options

The bill would create a new microloan program that would make loans of up to $35,000 to young, beginning, and veteran farmers seeking capital to help cover start-up costs, such as purchasing seeds or building a greenhouse. The bill would also give new farmers increased flexibility in meeting loan eligibility requirements for FSA loans to purchase farmland. Finally, the bill would provide funding to jump start an Individual Development Account pilot program aimed at helping beginning farmers with limited financial resources to establish savings accounts that could later be used to cover capital expenditures for a farm or ranch operation, including purchases of land, buildings, equipment, or livestock. 

Access to Farmland

The legislation would help new and aspiring farmers access land to start or expand their farming operations by continuing and improving the successful Down Payment Loan Program, which provides much needed capital to new farmers seeking to purchase property. The bill would also modify the Farm and Ranchland Protection Program to give priority to preserving farmland that is accessible and affordable to new farmers.

New Farmer Training Programs

The bill would renew funding for the successful Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program, which provides grants to organizations and institutions to establish new farmer training programs. This program is the only federal initiative that is exclusively dedicated to training the next generation of farmers and ranchers.

Value-Added Enterprises

This legislation invests in critical economic development programs, including the popular Value-Added Producer Grants program, which provides grants to farmers to scale up their businesses and add value to their products in order to meet surging consumer demand for high quality, farm-based, value-added food products such as farmstead cheese, salsa, and grass-fed beef.

Agricultural Opportunities for Veterans

The bill would also expand resources and create economic opportunities for military veterans interested in pursuing a career in agriculture by establishing a funding priority for new farmer training and agricultural rehabilitation programs specifically geared at returning veterans, and creating a new Veterans Agricultural Liaison within the USDA to help connect returning veterans with beginning farmer resources and assist them with program eligibility requirements for participation in farm bill programs.


National Young Farmers’ Coalition (NYFC) is national network of young and sustainable farmers organizing for our collective success: we’re defining the issues that beginning farmers face, fighting for the policy change that we need, and bringing farmers together in person and online to learn, share and build a stronger community. NYFC is a farmer-led partnership between young farmers and innovative beginning farmer service providers and is fiscally sponsored by the Open Space Institute, a 501(c)3 non-profit organization.