By Lindsay Rebhan
Beginning and/or young farmers in the Midwest can not only look to the New Organic Stewards and local nonprofits for activities and resources, but will also gain from being involved in national new and/or young farmers’ groups.
The National Young Farmers’ Coalition (NYFC) is a national network of young farmers, ranchers, and supporters fighting to create opportunity for young people in sustainable agriculture in the United States. Today’s beginning farmers struggle with daunting barriers to entry, including access to land and credit, lack of health insurance coverage, and often tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt. NYFC is uniting young farmers across the country to tackle these barriers through resource sharing, organizing to solve local challenges through chapter groups, and advocating together for farm policy that reflects the farm future we need.
Lindsey Lusher Shute, farmer, founder and leader of The National Young Farmers’ Coalition, gave a TED talk earlier this year called ‘Building a Future with Farmers.’ In 15 minutes it gives a concise insight into how the U.S. has moved away from family farming, and how the next generation of sustainable farmers are critical for a healthy future for our food, farms and communities. Lindsey speaks to the positive health, economic and environmental benefits sustainable diversified organic farmers produce and calls for a million new farmers in the U.S. You can find it here.
You might have met Sophie Ackoff, NYFC’s Membership and Development Coordinator, at this past year’s MOSES Conference. Sophie recommends that new farmers explore the NYFC website filled with resources for young and beginning farmers. “Be sure to check out our “Resources” section for directories on training opportunities, land and job opportunities, information on federal programs and how to contact USDA, your extension, and more,” she explains. NYFC’s blog will keep you informed on all the facets of the young farmer movement and what’s happening in Washington D.C.
Sophie is excited about a new feature, the Farmer Forum: “We’re creating a national conversation among America’s young farmers- and we want you to join! Do you have questions on tools, seeds and breeds, farm life, land, jobs, policy, etc.? Join the conversation at the NYFC Farmer Forum.”
She also encourages new and beginning farmers to sign up for NYFC’s e-mail newsletters to stay informed and take action. Announcements include when experts join the Farmer Forum and when Google Hangouts on important topics are hosted. The first hangout on apprenticeship legality issues is currently up on the website and on Google+.
In 2011, NYFC wrote a report on the current realities of beginning farmers, based on a survey of over 1000 young farmers nationwide. Access to capital, land and health care were the top challenges facing the beginning farmers. In the survey, apprenticeships, local partnerships and CSA models were among the top strategies that helped beginning farmers. Sophie reports that “Access to credit is one of the major obstacles farmers face. Current commercial and federal loans do not meet the needs of beginning, small and diversified farmers. An amendment we’re advocating for in the Farm Bill authorizes a new simplified microloan category within the Farm Service Agency’s direct operating loan program, to make small farm loans up to $35,000 with specific terms for beginning and military veteran farmers. Call your congressman today to support the Casey-Harkins-Johanns SA-986 amendment!”
NYFC believes permanent land access is essential to the long-term health of farm businesses, and is working to ensure affordable land for all young farmers. An example strategy of this is The Farm and Ranchlands Protection Program (FRPP), which provides matching funds to help purchase development rights to keep productive farm and ranchland in agricultural uses. Sophie explains “We’re advocating that the FRPP prioritize funding to conservation easements that ensure affordability in their terms. We’re also working to ensure the Conservation Reserve Program Transition Option to Beginning or Socially Disadvantaged Farmers receives funding so conservation lands can stay in the hands of farmers.”
NYFC has been hard at work to pass a Farm Bill that supports the next generation of American farmers. They co-wrote with the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act (BFROA) whose provisions, if included in the farm bill, would protect beginning farmer training programs, increase access to credit, and ensure conserved land is affordable to farmers. The BFROA was introduced into the House and Senate with bi-partisan support. NYFC’s call for support resulted in 17 co-sponsors of the bill. During the bill mark-up in May the House and Senate Ag committees debated several amendments from the Act, but none have yet passed.
Farm bill debates moved quickly this June. The Senate version of the Farm Bill passed, but the House version (which would have fully funded the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program) failed to pass with a vote of 195-234 on Friday, June 20th. Although the future of the Farm Bill is uncertain (with the possibility of another extension), we will continue to have young farmer meetings with key Representatives to cultivate young farmer champions in the House and Senate. Check out Wes Hannah’s blog post about the Farm Bill on NYFC’s blog (youngfarmers.org/blog) and call your Senator and Representative today to support a farm bill that supports beginning farmers!
As NYFC’s Membership and Development Coordinator, Sophie Ackoff highlights the importance of local community building to support and grow more farmers. NYFC is a coalition of local chapters building community and winning local change in regions across the U.S. Sophie notes, “Our goal is ambitious: to create multiple young farmer chapters in every state of the U.S. so that all young farmers have access to a supportive community of their peers.” Chapter members come together to share meals, opportunities and strategies for overcoming obstacles in markets, supply chains, and land access. From Oregon to Kansas to New York, NYFC has 13 official chapters and a dozen more in development. Check out the “Organize” section of youngfarmers.org to get in touch. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to get a copy of the NYFC organizing handbook that explains chapter organizing in depth.
Sophie concludes “To grow our coalition in the Midwest, we need you! We’re happy to help you host a first meeting or mixer, and give you all the tools you need to create a successful young farmer group in your area!”
Lindsay Rebhan works with Renewing the Countryside in partnership with MOSES on the New Organic Stewards project.
“TED” is a nonprofit educational institution devoted to “Ideas Worth Spreading.” Started in 1984 as a conference bringing together people from three worlds: Technology, Entertainment, Design, TED is most accessible though its website archive of 1,400+ incredibly diverse talks presented through videos shorter than 18 minutes. www.ted.com/talks