Jun 19th, 2012 | By Nicole Rogers
Just 25 miles north of New York City lies an idyllic farm with a world class restaurant. The farm is The Stone Barns Center For Food and Agriculture, the restaurant, Blue Hill at Stone Barns. On this unique farm you might see farmers cooking and chefs farming. Bringing appreciation to the food we eat and how it is grown is central to The Stone Barn Center’s philosophy.
Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture in Pocantico Hills, NY. Photo: Annabel Braithwaite for Belathée Photography
The center’s mission is to create a healthy and sustainable food system that benefits us all. With this goal in mind, the center has recognized the need for a new generation of farmers in the US, where the average age of farmers is 57.
One of the ways Stone Barns Center is working to help young farmers, and in turn stop the loss of farmers, farmland and rural economies, is through their Growing Farmers Initiative.
“Traditionally, farming knowledge was passed down from generation to generation. Today, many young people entering the field did not grow up on farms and are eager to learn directly from seasoned farmers. Stone Barns makes this possible for young farmers during every season of the year, offering paid, full-time apprenticeships to young people who are committed to working the land. Farm apprentices are given real responsibilities and gain practical knowledge on everything it takes to run a farm. Apprentices also benefit from networking opportunities with other farmers, apprentices and interns through weekly visits to other farms in the Hudson Valley.”
An exciting addition to the center’s Growing Farmers Initiative is their Young Farmers Conference. Young farmers (and by young they also mean new farmers of all ages) convene at the Stone Barns Center each December to attend workshops, exchange ideas, eat, and dance.
“Workshops are taught by seasoned farmers, and topics have included securing farmland, financing a farm, and launching a grass-based dairy farm. Recognizing that farming is by nature a solitary profession, our conferences and workshops provide invaluable opportunities for young farmers to share ideas and learn from each other.”
Stone Barns Center is planting the seeds for the future of farming. This year, more than 250 young farmers are expected to attend, and over 50 workshops that address soil science, technical skills, agricultural policy, farm business management, marketing, and more are planned.
The Young Farmers Conference runs from December 12 - 14, 2012.
The Stone Barns Center runs workshops year-round. See what workshops are coming up here.
Learn more about The Stone Barns Center For Food and Agriculture in this lovely video.
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.