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Jake & Karen Fairbairn of Lazy Crazy Acres Farm & Creamery, Arkville (NY)

New Farmers

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, forty percent of US farmers are now 55 years old or older – and the average age of this population continues to rise. In fact, for every farmer or rancher under the age of 25, there are five who are 75 or older, according to the 2007 USDA Census of Agriculture: Farmers by Age. As a result, the US is in desperate need of a new generation of farmers to sow the seeds for the future of food. 

Fortunately, the ever-growing interest in food and agricultural issues has served to inspire many young people to pursue careers in sustainable farming.  As the population of young farmers begins to take shape, supportive resources are being made readily available, including online courses, incubator farms, and other support networks. Meanwhile, social media has enabled farmers to connect with one another and share the trials and tribulations of farming. Read on to learn how new farmers are being supported and to find opportunities for connection and further education.

Young Farmer Organizations:

The Greenhorns– A grassroots nonprofit organization that recruits, promotes, and supports the new generation of young farmers. They organize events, and are best known for their documentary film, The Greenhorns, about new farmers across the United States. They have also created the Greenhorns Field Guide for Beginning Farmers, a comprehensive guide to all aspects of farming, from gaining access to farmland to securing USDA grants.

National Young Farmers Coalition– A group of young, sustainable farmers who organize to fight for policy change, learn from one another, and build a stronger community.

National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service (ATTRA) – ATTRA provides technical assistance for farmers, addressing questions about topics such as crop diversification, raising animals, marketing, water quality and farm-based renewable energy.

Rodale Institute– Resources about organic farming’s profitability and building community through farming. Rodale offers an organic transition course and crop conversion calculator.

Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Working Group
– NESAWG brings together the Northeast Food System, encompassing 12 states. The organization produces reports, provides education and training, and advocates for sustainable regional food system development.

Farming Opportunities:

Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF)– A website where farms post internships, often providing housing and food in exchange for work on the farm.

Incubator Farms– Among the greatest challenges faced by new farmers is gaining access to farmland. Incubator farms help new farmers overcome this obstacle by leasing land and equipment to them, and by providing hands-on training. The programs strive to help participants develop the skills and experience to eventually start farms of their own. Examples of incubator farms:
Farm Start, Ontario CA
North Carolina State University
Viva Farms, Washington

Initiatives to Support New Farmers:

Grow NYC New Farmer Development Project– “The New Farmer Development Project (NFDP) identifies, educates, and supports immigrants with agricultural experience to establish their own economically and environmentally sustainable small farm businesses in the NYC region.”

Intervale Center Farms Program – “Founded in 1990, the Farms Program leases land, equipment, greenhouses, irrigation and storage facilities to small independent farms. Each year, these farms produce fresh produce on 135 acres of land and contribute 60 full-time, part-time and seasonal jobs to the Burlington economy.”

Cornell Small Farms Program
– Cornell University offers online courses for new farmers to learn about business plans, marketing, and crop production.

Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act – A bill intended for inclusion in the 2012 Farm Bill that “highlights federal programs that help support economic opportunities for young and beginning farmers and ranchers.  The bill addresses many of the barriers that new agriculture entrepreneurs face such as limited access to land and markets, hyper land price inflation, high input costs, and a lack of sufficient support networks.”

Cooperative Extension System– The USDA’s Cooperative Extension System has offices in each US state, where experts provide farmers with research-based agricultural information and resources. Use this map to find an office near you.

Beginning Farmers
– forum to share ideas and best practices plus resources for new farmers, activists and policy makers.

Start2Farm– The USDA National Agricultural Library resource designed to assist new farmers and hosts of the annual Beginning Farmers and Ranchers Conference.

Agriculture Conferences:

Stone Barns Young Farmers Conference – An annual event bringing together farmers, young and old, policy makers, and nonprofits to share stories, resources, and best practices.

PASA Farming for the Future Conference
– An annual event for Pennsylvania family farmers to share best practices.

NOFA–NY Winter Conference
– Organic farming and gardening conference for New York area farmers.

EcoFarm Conference–  the largest annual sustainable agriculture conference in the West with on average half the attendance being farmers and ranchers.

Midwest Organic and Sustainable Agriculture Education Service (MOSES) Organic Farming Conference-  the largest organic farming conference in the US hosted annually in La Crosse, WI.