Stories from the Field: Training My Generation
October 4th, 2012
Due to Congressional inaction, the 2008 Farm Bill has expired without a new bill or extension to take its place. In the absence of a farm bill, numerous innovative programs that invest in sustainable agriculture systems are shut down and left without funding. This post is part of our 10-week blog series which will feature both program facts and stories from the field of those farmers and communities which are impacted by expired farm bill programs. To read this week’s earlier post on beginning farmers, click here.
(Photo provided by Sophie Ackoff)
Sophie Ackoff currently farms in Cold Springs, NY as an apprentice at Glynwood Farm. She is also a member and organizer for the National Young Farmers’ Coalition and works on engaging young farmers in the federal agricultural policy debate.
Like so many other beginning farmers today, I don’t come from a farming family and I have no land or agricultural skills to inherit from my parents.
I grew up in suburban Southern California, a region historically filled with citrus groves that ultimately succumbed to pressure from developers. Our family vacations always involved driving past the confined beef and dairy operations of the Central Valley, and at a young age I became active in the fight against industrial farming.
Still, I did not witness how broccoli and Brussels sprouts grew until I went to college. At Wesleyan University, I discovered my love of farming at the student-run organic farm, Long Lane. Despite having few academic opportunities in sustainable agriculture, an incredible number of Wesleyan students are starting to farm thanks to alternative training programs such as farm apprenticeships and incubators. Seeing several friends graduate and begin farming, I realized a career in the field was a feasible possibility for young, idealistic kids like me who are eager to transform our broken food system.
In 2008, the federal government finally recognized the need to support beginning farmer training programs and provided $75 million in direct farm bill funding for the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP). In just a few years, this program has helped launch pioneering farmer training programs across the country, such as Holistic Management International’s Beginning Women Farmers program, Land Stewardship Project’s Farm Beginnings, and the Latino Farmers Cooperative of Louisiana’s Farmer Incubator. The programs funded by the BFRDP are creating unique opportunities for young people who might not otherwise have had access to affordable farm training.
I believe the BFRDP is a major reason why my friends and I are optimistic about having a future in farming.
For my first full-season apprenticeship, I chose Glynwood because of the organization’s dedication to helping to train the next generation of farmers. Glynwood is a non-profit organization located in New York’s Hudson Valley, whose mission is to “save farming by strengthening farming communities and regional food systems.” We have a working farm in Cold Spring, NY that has a hundred-member CSA and a pasture-based livestock operation. After receiving a grant for a feasibility study from the BFRDP, the organization has now leased additional land to launch a farmer training program that expands our current apprenticeship program.
In the Northeast, there are many first-year apprenticeship opportunities. Glynwood hopes to grow farmers by nurturing the business and management skills that complement on-farm, hands-on apprenticeships, from budgeting to navigating loans and leases. There is a real need for programs that cultivate those apprentices in subsequent seasons and help young farmers transition to management roles, so they can ultimately operate their own farm enterprise. Glynwood’s BFRDP-funded program will expand the number of apprentices they train each year, and include ample classroom time devoted to strengthening skills needed for the business side of farming. After a season or two, beginning farmers have a solid skill set but lack access to affordable farmland and capital, and could benefit from mentorship and equipment sharing. These are critical next steps.
I moved to the Hudson Valley because I had heard it is a great hub of young farmer activity and because it’s the home of the National Young Farmers’ Coalition (NYFC). This young but rapidly expanding organization is based in Hudson, NY and now includes eight chapters across the country.
I quickly joined this coalition of young and sustainable farmers, and together, we are organizing for our collective success through networking, sharing resources, and advocating for policies that support the next generation of farmers who will farm and ranch our nation’s land for years to come. Our director, Lindsey Lusher Shute, has led the coalition’s tireless efforts in partnership with the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition to ensure that programs for beginning farmers retain their funding in the 2012 Farm Bill.
Saving the BFRDP is a main focus for NYFC because this incredibly successful program has provided essential training to young and beginning farmers all across the country, and is the only federal program that invests specifically in training new farmers. Two of the strongest farmer training programs in the Hudson Valley — Hawthorne Valley and Stone Barns — are supported by BFRDP funds, which speaks to the on ground impact this program is truly having in farming communities all across the country.
As of October 1st, the BFRDP has no renewed farm bill funding and the future of emerging, established, and new beginning farmer training programs is now in jeopardy. I am a young farmer, and an organizer for NYFC because I believe the entire country has a vital stake in the future of America’s young farmers.
If the BFRDP’s future is uncertain, so is ours, and so is our nation’s food security.
All of us have the opportunity to speak out for the BFRDP and other critical programs in the farm bill. Help NYFC stand up for the BFRDP by adding your name to our petition! And sign up for NSAC Action Alerts here for more opportunities to speak out.