Does Farm Aid know of any programs that help young people start their own farm?

September 2008

Hey Hilde,

Does Farm Aid know of any programs that help young people start their own farm? I've been involved in agriculture and farming since I was born, except my family’s farm was sold before my time. For the last six years I've been working on a friend’s farm; my real dream however is to start my own family farm.  Any information you can provide about any such programs or grants would be greatly appreciated.

Thank you,

Nick Pastore
Oxford, CT

You’ve brought up one of the most pressing questions in agriculture today: Who will be our next generation of family farmers and just how do we get them (and keep them!) on the land? With the average age of the US farmer at 55 years and on the rise, the future of farming in America truly depends on helping young people like you get the resources they need to get started.

Instead of answering your question outright, I thought I’d go the route of introducing you to our favorite new kid on the block at Farm Aid – the Farmer Resource Network. By doing so, I’m hoping you’ll be able to answer your question yourself!

The Farmer Resource Network (or FRN, as it’s known lovingly in the office) is Farm Aid’s brand-spanking new on-line searchable database built just for you! By “you” we mean current farmers, would-be farmers, should-be farmers, farm friends, farm advocates, farm junkies, farmiacs (not a real word, but should be!) – basically everyone who cares about farming and needs an extra hand to get on the land, stay on the land, protect the land, improve the land, steward the land – you catch my drift? At risk of being too long-winded, let me just say this: The FRN has a little something for everyone.

Since 1985, when Willie Nelson first identified the need for an organization dedicated to keeping family farmers on the land, Farm Aid has been providing help to farmers in crisis and transition through our direct hotline (1-800-FARM-AID), email service (FarmHelp@FarmAid.org), emergency disaster relief efforts, advocate trainings and grant programs.

The FRN was born out of the desire to expand this work. Beyond being a crisis-response organization, Farm Aid strives to be a resource for farmers looking for new ideas – a place where farmers come for tips on how to farm more sustainably and to be a part of the growing cultural movement (and marketing niche) demanding family farm-identified food.

What we’ve essentially done by creating the FRN is open up our internal Network Resource Directory in a user-friendly format to anyone with an internet connection. In turn, the FRN, just like our Directory, is a regularly updated, state-by-state compilation of more than 415 (and growing all the time!) resources linking folks to the specific information, tools and services they need. We are fortunate to have partnered with the National Agriculture Information Service (ATTRA), the Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF) and Rodale Institute in this project, making the FRN even stronger.

So now that you know a bit about the FRN’s history, let’s start searching!

To begin, head to where the FRN resides at www.farmaid.org/ideas. We recommend messing around a bit once you’re there, just to get familiar with all the nifty boxes and menus. Once you’re in the swing of things, you’ll be able to look for groups relevant to your interests and location in no time! As a general tip we recommend that FRN users look for resources as close to home as possible as the best place to start. You’ll also be able to access a handy calendar of nationwide food, farm and agriculture meetings to keep you in the loop of upcoming events and gatherings.

Now, if for some reason the FRN isn’t as easy breezy for you as we’re making it out to be, don’t fret! Instead, send an email or give a quick call. Joel Morton, our Hotline and Resource Network specialist, will be happy to walk you through the tool and answer any questions that come up along the way.

Like any new thing starting out in this world, we anticipate a few missteps. We welcome and encourage any suggestions for how we can make the tool more accessible as well as recommendations for building and strengthening the network. In providing this feedback, you’re really helping us to help farmers and future-farmers like you better.

So, Nick, back to your original question: Yes! We do know of programs out there ready to help someone just like you! From local groups near your hometown of Connecticut (New England Small Farms Institute, Growing New Farmers, University of Connecticut Cooperative Extension) to national organizations (ATTRA, Rodale Institute), there are a number of organizations out there with farmer support services aimed specifically at new entry farmers. You may also want to read up on the Greenhorns, a lively group of new entry and mostly landless farmers, working to raise awareness about the contributions of America’s young farming community.

And to all our readers, please take note: Although the FRN may be our shiniest tool at the moment – and like anything new and precious, we’re certainly all giddy and gaga over it - it is just one of our many proud services that we hope you will look to in time of need, transition or simple curiosity! So, call or email the hotline, search the FRN, and yes, even Ask Farm AId! As always, we’re here, willing to lend a hand.

Until next time,

Hilde

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