Perhaps because of Farm Aid’s focus on family farmers themselves, we sometimes neglect to give props to the very wide range of people who assist in helping to keep family farmers on the land. “Farmer advocate” is the term we use to describe those people who are willing and able to communicate directly with farmers–sometimes at the farmer’s kitchen table–about fundamental matters around business planning, credit, risk management, disaster, technical assistance, and policy issues. They are often (though not always) farmers themselves, and many have been through the wringer of applying for loans, grants, and disaster relief. Some have even fought back from bankruptcy or foreclosure to keep their own farm in operation.
Those of you who read our recent profile of North Carolina blueberry farmer Luciano Alvarado may have noted his mention of the help he received from the Rural Advancement Foundation International-USA (RAFI-USA), based in Pittsboro, N.C. RAFI-USA is a longtime partner and grantee of Farm Aid, partly because of the excellent on-the-ground work of its farmer advocates,Benny Bunting and Scott Marlow. Because of the help he received from Benny and Scott in seeing through the bureaucratic maze of farm loan applications, Luciano is now willing to help other farmers in his area, and thus is well on the way to becoming a farmer advocate himself.
Another longtime and dedicated farmer advocate is Betty Puckett of the Louisiana Interchurch Conference, another Farm Aid funded group. Betty is a go-to farmer advocate for the region around Louisiana, and has helped hundreds of small farms over the years (and through numerous hurricanes). Arlie Sholes of the Rural Response Hotline of the Interchurch Ministries of Nebraska is another farmer advocate, and over the years Arlie has been taking calls and helping struggling farmers and ranchers in Nebraska and surrounding Plains states.
At Farm Aid, we are always looking for new farmer advocates from around the country. Folks like Stephan Walker of the University of Arkansas/Pine Bluff Cooperative Extension, Leigh Adcock of the Women, Food and Ag Network in Iowa, Wayne Allen of the National Farm Crisis Center in Oklahoma, Lou Anne Kling with the FSA National Indian Credit Outreach program, and Steve Schwartz of California Farm Link have all been critical and dependable referrals for us over the years. But the unfortunate reality is that farmer advocates are generally underpaid (if paid at all) and over-worked, and we have just too few of them to serve the tens of thousands of struggling farmers and ranchers around the country.
No matter their own situation, it seems that farmers are always lending a hand to their neighbors. I think that’s the same spirit that moves these farmer advocates. If you or someone you know is a potential farmer advocate, willing to act as a “second pair of eyes and ears” in helping farmers work with private lending institutions, local FSA offices, grant applications, and so on, we’d love to hear from you! You know how to reach me: 1-800-FARM-AID or firstname.lastname@example.org.