Sep 19th, 2012 | By Nicole Rogers
The sold-out Farm Aid Music and Food Festival returns to Hersheypark Stadium in Hersey, Pennsylvania on September 22, 2012. Farm Aid is the longest running benefit concert series in America, raising more than $39 million to help family farmers all over the country. Even though the show is sold out, a webcast will also be available on Farm Aid's website for those who can't attend. See this year's line up.
Jun 2nd, 2012 | By Nicole Rogers
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced May 25 that the USDA is seeking comments on a new microloan program to help small and family farm operations progress through their start-up years with the goal of eventually graduating to commercial credit.
“Over the past three years, we have expanded farm and operating loans to Americans from all backgrounds to help raise a new crop of producers across the country,” said Vilsack. “As we expand options in agriculture, we’re seeing a new vibrancy across the countryside as younger people - many of whom are now involved in local and regional production - pursue livelihoods in farming, raising food for local consumption. By leveraging USDA’s lending programs for beginning farmers and ranchers and smaller producers, we’re helping to rebuild and revitalize our rural communities.”
The new program would allow the USDA’s Farm Service Agency to make smaller loans, with a principal balance of up to $35,000, and would streamline the application process to require less paperwork for farmers.
Although the microloan program is not exclusively targeted at young or beginning farmers, the program will be helpful in allowing these groups to access federal credit and obtain loans to help them start their farming operations, according to the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition.
“Capital is the number one need of young and beginning farmers in the United States,” said Lindsey Lusher Shute of the National Young Farmers’ Coalition. “USDA microloans will fuel new farm businesses and a new generation of family farmers.”
Small farmers often rely on credit cards or personal loans, which carry high interest rates and have less flexible payment schedules, to finance their operations. The new streamlined application process would mean more efficient processing time for smaller loans, adding flexibility to some of the eligibility requirements, and reducing the application requirements.
As with any loan, the government will be taking a financial risk with microloans to new farmers and young farmers, but with a dwindling farm population and 40% of farmers over age 55, what better time to invest in the future of farming?
The proposed rule may be viewed here.
Apr 15th, 2012 | By Nicole Rogers
The image of the family farmer holds a special place in the hearts Americans. Fifty years ago a small family farm would probably have been passed down from one generation to the next, or sold to another small family farmer. These days it’s much more likely that the land will pass into the hands of a large scale farm. According to the 2010 Family Farm Report, of the two million remaining farms, large scale farms (annual sales of $250,000 or more) account for 84 percent of the value of US production. Large scale farms have more resources and tend to be more willing to ship their produce further to increase the number of markets available to them. (source)
Aside from our national admiration of small family farmers, there are solid environmental and economic reasons for supporting them. They have a vested interest in the community and the environmental health of their family and neighbors, not to mention the fact that they put their income back into the local economy. But big farm or small farm, the more we can buy from the farmer next door rather than the farmer across the country, the less shipping is done in the process. The more we limit shipping, the less fuel we use, and the less our country is dependent on limited oil resources. In a world of rising fuel and food costs, not to mention food waste, it makes sense to focus our attention and buying power on the farmers in or near our own communities.
Here are some ways you can help your local family farmer.
1) Shop at your local farmer’s market or purchase a CSA share.
Find a local farmer’s market with Sustainable Table’s Eat Well Guide
2) Volunteer at a farmers market.
Most farmers markets have volunteer positions available. Volunteers are integral to helping farmers markets operate smoothly, from answering questions at information booths to unloading farm trucks. The next time you make a trip to the farmers market ask about volunteer opportunities.
3) Eat seasonal foods
This goes hand in hand with shopping at CSAs and farmers markets. There are all sorts of resources for seasonal recipes. Martha Stewart has a whole section on seasonal produce recipes on her website here. Sustainable Table offers recipes and information on eating seasonally. Two great recipe blogs that categorize by season are 101 Cookbooks and Smitten Kitchen. If you want to go one step further, preserve a favorite local food for the winter. Check out The National Center for Home Food Preservation for tips.
4) Get to know your local farmer and thank him or her when you buy food at the farm stand, farmer’s market or CSA.
The more respect farming gets as a profession, the more young people will be drawn to the field. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the EPA, about forty percent of the farmers in this country are over 54 years old, which doesn’t bode well for the future of local farming unless young people start picking up the torch.
5) Ask your grocery store manager to supply foods from local farms.
Many grocery stores are open to suggestions, particularly if a few customers ask for the same thing. Be prepared to provide a list of local farms and dairies the manager could contact. If the manager says he or she isn’t authorized to make those kinds of decisions, ask who does and call or write to that person.
6) Help establish a relationship between local farmers and your school.
Feeling really ambitious? Download Farm Aid’s Farm To School 101 Toolkit. It provides you with the tools you need to start or expand a Farm to School program in your area.