January 27, 2010
By Ariane Lotti, NSAC
|Credit: California Farmlink — Rebecca King is a beginning farmer in northern California. She owns and operates Monkey Flower Ranch|
When USDA Deputy Secretary Merrigan addressed the crowd at the Ecological Farming Association’s 30th Anniversary EcoFarm Conference last week, she was talking to a crowd of seasoned organic pioneers as well as the current and next generations of organic and sustainable farmers.
Aptly named “Where the Future is Planted,” the conference was teeming with young, beginning, and aspiring farmers who flock to this conference and other farmer winter gatherings (PASA’s Farming for the Future Conference, MOSES’ Organic Farming Conference, and Southern SAWG’s annual conference, just to name a few) to share ideas and learn tricks of the trade, get up-to-speed on new technologies and methodologies, and connect with the many faces of the alternative agriculture movement, from social justice and healthy food to organic farming and land stewardship.
Despite the multiple barriers that beginning farmers face — including access to land and credit, they have the ear of USDA. In her address, Merrigan highlighted USDA activities that aim to create a future for farmers in America, including programs to re-establish local and regional food systems. She described a recent visit to a mobile slaughterhouse and the challenges in re-establishing the infrastructure to meet the market demands for local and regional food systems, and the opportunities in those food systems for new farmers to make a living off of the land.
NSAC has a policy platform on beginning farmers and ranchers that specifically addresses the challenges and barriers that these farmers face. Looking ahead to 2010, actions on the docket are the correct implementation of the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program and full funding — $5 million — for the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Individual Accounts Program.