November 17, 2010
By Amy Bacigalupo, Land Stewardship Project, Farm Beginning Program Director
As I addressed the group of 60 participants for the first Project Director’s meeting for USDA’s Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP), I was struck by a strong sense of excitement. It is truly momentous that the 29 projects represented at the meeting are doing good work and having a positive impact for beginning farmers across the country.
The BFRDP project directors meeting took place at the National Agriculture Library on Monday, November 8, 2010. These projects, combined with projects awarded for 2010-2011, will reach beginning farmers in 90% of the states, including Hawaii and Alaska. On the first day of the meeting, staff from USDA and National Institute for Food and Agriculture (NIFA, USDA’s research and extension agency) shared information on the mandate and structure of the BFRDP along with outcome measurement and administration for the purpose of helping projects work with NIFA staff for the success of the program. Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan gave the keynote presentation. The breakout sessions featured presentations based on the work of the Educational Enhancement projects, the Clearinghouse project led by the National Agriculture Library, Food Safety Legislation and Education, Alternative Funding for Beginning Farmers and Using Social Media for Beginning Farmer and Rancher Education.
On the second day, each program gave a 10-minute presentation. For me as a project leader who has been working with beginning farmers for over 10 years, these presentations increased my enthusiasm and energy for the good work that is being done across the country. Through the presentations, I learned that the trend of increasing numbers of people entering farming as a career that I have seen in the Midwest is happening throughout the country. Just like LSP’s beginning farmer training programs in Minnesota where we have people on waiting lists, a majority of the projects had achieved and in some cases exceeded their goals for participation. This new USDA program has clearly hit a strong need and the programs that are on the ground are helping get beginning farmers started. Good work is happening. Given this early success, the BFRDP needs to continue to be a priority for funding and support.
Among project directors, there was also a strong sense of needing to work together. The meeting gave us the opportunity to share best practices so that programs that are just getting off the ground can learn from programs that have proven track records. Although there were a range of organizations leading the projects, including Native American tribes, community colleges, universities and land grant Institutions, it was clear that good work is happening. Speaker after speaker identified the ability to partner effectively with community-based organizations (CBOs) and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that are on the ground as a key for success. From the perspective of the sustainable agriculture movement and for the success of the BFRDP there is a need to continue to prioritize community-based approaches.
As project directors, we need to help NIFA BFRDP staff be able to demonstrate the impact the program is having. The future of the program depends on it. If the BFRDP is effective at demonstrating it has reached its short-term goal of training and developing 6,000 beginning farmers and ranchers, we will be more likely to see the continuation of this much-needed program. The real deadline for demonstrating an impact may come sooner than that as funding for the Farm Bill is debated and decided in the next two years.
The on-going work of many CBOs and NGOs as advocates has resulted in improvements in the application and review process. The next round of applications are due Dec. 22, 2010. The RFA is available on NIFA’s BFRDP website, http://www.nifa.usda.gov/funding/rfas/bfrdp.html. A webinar to help people applying for the BFRDP grant is scheduled for Nov. 22, 2010 at 2 p.m. More information about the webinar and how to sign-up for it is available at http://www.nifa.usda.gov/funding/bfrdp/fy2011_webinar.html.
Dr. Siva Sureshwaran, BFRDP National Program Leader, is also looking for nominations for reviewers for the 2011-2012 applications. This year Suresh is looking for a panel manager from a CBO. The panel for the recent awards was comprised of 40% minorities, 50% women, 50% staff from CBOs, beginning farmers and other farmers. Suresh would like to increase the number of beginning farmers on the panel. The review panels are scheduled to meet in April 2011. Each review panel receives a panel orientation. Each year Suresh seeks to have 75% new panelists. Given the success of community based approaches to beginning farmer training, it is important to have people from CBOs and NGOs on the panel. If you are a part of a CBO, I encourage you to apply. To find out more and apply, go to NIFA BFRDP’s website at http://www.nifa.usda.gov/funding/bfrdp/fy2011_webinar.html