Seattle Tilth Farm Works, a new farm business incubator program for immigrants, refugees, and other underserved communities, was recently awarded $483, 160 by the USDA NIFA Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program. Farm incubators like Seattle Tilth Farm Works play an essential role in establishing new farmers and, importantly, support a diversity of new farmers, making farming more accessible for low-income individuals.
Under the provisions of the 2008 Farm Bill, the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP) operates as an annual competitive grants program. Applicants for BFRDP grants must be collaborative state, tribal, local, or regionally-based networks or partnerships of public and private groups. This includes community-based organizations, non-governmental organizations, cooperative extension, relevant USDA and state agencies, and community colleges. These networks or partnerships in turn use the BFRDP funding to provide the training and assistance to beginning farmers and ranchers. In 2011, the USDA awarded 36 grants totaling $18 million for efforts to help beginning farmers create successful, sustainable farm businesses. About 35 percent of applications submitted received funding this year.
The BFRDP grant awarded to Seattle Tilth Farm Works will help flesh out the new program, which is a collaboration between Seattle Tilth, Burst for Prosperity, and many other public and private partners. The funding should help to create a sustainable program that not only benefits the beginning farmers enrolled in the incubator, but also the greater community by providing fresh produce to corner markets and low-income neighborhoods.
Meanwhile, the future of the BFRDP is in the works in the other Washington (D.C.). Recently the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act of 2011 was introduced in Congress. The act is a marker bill for the 2012 Farm Bill, and includes revisions to existing Farm Bill measures, as well as newly proposed provisions to be included in the upcoming Farm Bill. The act calls for the reauthorization of the highly successful BFRDP as well as an increase of $50 million in mandatory funding over the next five years. The grant money would support more training and vocational programs like Seattle Tilth Farm Works, with particular emphasis on programs for military veterans and agricultural rehabilitation.
While federal money often comes with strings attached and hoops to jump through, federal support for young and beginning farmers through programs like the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program is essential for the proliferation and sustainability of start-up programs like Seattle Tilth Farm Works. Without solid funding, such programs would not be able to get off the ground, and underserved farmers would be less likely to get access to the tools they need to be successful.