May 4, 2016
Experience is an invaluable resource when it comes to agriculture. Fortunately for Kentucky farmers, Marion Simon and Louie Rivers of the Kentucky State University (KSU) Cooperative Extension’s “Small Farm Program” have a combined total of nearly 50 years of experience in extending outreach to small and limited resource farm operations. Much of the great work that Simon and Rivers are able to achieve at KSU is due to funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Outreach and Assistance for Socially Disadvantaged and Veteran Farmers and Ranchers Program (more commonly known as the section 2501 program).
“The section 2501 program is the backbone of Kentucky State University’s Small Farm Program,” said Simon. “We have been continuously funded by 2501 since 1989 and it helps us to work with farmers one-on-one, as well as in group settings and at conferences.”
Despite a demonstrated track record of success in supporting innovative outreach, training, and technical assistance programs, the section 2501 program remains severely underfunded. At the same time that the 2014 Farm Bill cut funding for the program, it also expanded the program’s scope and reach to provide services to military veterans, in addition to the services it had already provided to minority and limited resource farmers.
For over 25 years, hundreds of community-based organizations and institutions just like KSU have relied on 2501 as a critical source of grant funding. Without funding from 2501, many of these groups would be unable to do provide the outreach and support services that minority, veteran, and underserved farmers rely on to help them access USDA resources and grow their farm and food businesses.
Connecting Farmers to Resources and Each Other
KSU’s Small Farm Program utilizes 2501 funding to develop networks and contacts with farmers across the state, with a focus on the most underserved farmers and communities. Through their grant funding, KSU is able to connect more Kentucky farmers with USDA resources, approximately 7,500 to 9,000 farmers annually, which they can then leverage to improve their farms, local economies, and rural communities.
“2501 has helped KSU tremendously in extending our farmer outreach program,” said Simon. “We are able to serve nearly 25 Kentucky counties through the program, most of them in Strike Force and Promise Zones (federally designated areas designed to target support to communities of the most need).”
In addition to their work with farmers in Strike Force and Promise Zones, KSU also provides outreach to refugees farming in Louisville, Kentucky’s largest urban center, and has supported projects on gardening and honeybees in partnership with the Wounded Warriors project in Fort Knox.
Every year, KSU hosts their “Small, Limited Resource, and Minority Farmers Conference” in Frankfort, KY. The KSU conference is the largest annual gathering of African-American farmers in the state, and is designed to provide a mix of resource and networking opportunities for local farmers. The conference’s nearly 200 attendees are connected with a myriad of USDA resources and can attend informative workshops on topics such as applying for Farm Service Agency (FSA) farm loans, or learning how to use USDA’s Environmental Quality Incentives Program.
Because of their 2501 funding, KSU is able to keep the registration cost of their annual conference very low, which allows more farmers to participate in the event.
KSU also utilizes their 2501 funds to take groups of farmers annually to the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group Conference (SSAWG). With annual averages of 40 to 100 farmers sponsored, KSU is able to bring the largest number of socially disadvantaged participants to SSAWG each year. In addition to SSAWG, KSU also provides annual sponsorships for farmers to travel to and register at the Federation of Southern Cooperatives meeting in Epes, Alabama, as well as the Kentucky Women in Agriculture Conference.
Individualized Support for Kentucky Farmers
KSU currently has 675 farmer co-operators participating in its Small Farm Program; over half of whom are considered socially disadvantaged. On average the program has helped farmers increase their income by $3,550 during their participation in the program, representing roughly $2.4 million in added revenue across all program participants. Among those farmers who are considered socially disadvantaged, the average increase in income is significantly higher – $4,500 per farmer, or a $1.9 million increase across all socially disadvantaged participants.
“When new cooperators begin the one-on-one program, they generally save $1,500 on inputs through improved production practices,” said Simon. “Later, they improve their production and marketing systems by using tools such as KSU’s plastic laying machines for vegetables, mobile processing unit for poultry, fish, and rabbits, a mobile certified kitchen, or honey extractors.”
Alice Glover, a retired social worker from Kentucky, is a great example of one of the program’s many success stories. Glover utilized support from KSU to grow a successful value-added food business, and she credits KSU with providing her business with the information, value-added training, and grant assistance that allowed her to grow her company, JITA Pork Rinds, to grow. JITA Pork Rinds started as a small, seasonal snack stand, but thanks to the support Glover received from KSU, she was able to grow her business considerably- Glover now serves over 65 local retail clients, as well as a cadre of outlets across the country. With KSU’s help, Glover was able to establish a USDA certified processing facility in her home, and expand the business to utilize a variety of raw produce and products purchased from local, small farms.
By supporting the work of the KSU Small Farm Program, the section 2501 program helps to provide critical resources to Kentucky farmers and rural communities. Both Simon and Rivers credit KSU’s program with maintaining Kentucky’s ranking as the state with the lowest FSA loan delinquency rate in the South, even though almost all loans awarded in the state are considered high risk.
NSAC Fights for Funding to Support America’s Underserved Farmers and Ranchers
For decades, 2501 has provided funding to community-based organizations and universities to help them reach out to and assist minority and socially disadvantaged farmers. Disregarding the program’s considerable benefits, Congress slashed the 2501 program’s funding in half in the most recent farm bill, making it nearly impossible to meet the needs of our nation’s most underserved farmers. This year, NSAC and our allies are urging Congress to restore funding to its previous levels by appropriating $10 million in necessary funding to the 2501 program.
Earlier this year, Simon and Rivers traveled from Kentucky to Washington DC as a part of the NSAC Farmer Fly-In to speak with Senate Agriculture Committee Member Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers (KY-01) about this important issue.
“We believe in all of the sustainable agriculture programs we have at KSU and we wanted the chance to tell our legislators why these programs have been so successful,” said Simon and Rivers. “The staff we talked to today were very receptive to the work we are doing with farmers at KSU. They were interested to hear how 2501 and SARE benefitted farmers and consumers in their district, and why funding is so critical.”
Despite strong support for additional 2501 program funding from over 100 food and farm organizations, including NSAC, in this year’s budget negotiations the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee passed its funding bill with no added funding for the program.
Underinvestment in this program will ultimately shortchange our nation’s most vulnerable and chronically underserved farmers and ranchers, and will slow the progress and success of small-medium farm operations nationwide.
As the Congressional appropriations process unfolds, NSAC will continue to advocate for the $10 million in much-needed discretionary funds for the 2501 program, as requested by the Administration’s fiscal year 2017 budget request.
For more photos of the Small Farm Program at Kentucky State University, please visit our Flickr page.