Like most young farmers I’m in it for the long haul. I’m committed to growing safe healthy food for my community, as a career. To do that, I need a just quality of life. I don’t want to be just scraping by in my twilight years. I’d like the option of retiring like every other worker, and I know this takes planning.
As a farmer who created her own business I found early on the types of resources available for other small businesses don’t address issues unique to small independent farmers. In the last couple of years lots of organizations have started to deal with the important issues of training new farmers and providing the tools to access capital. But who is providing real resources for keeping new farmers in business once they have established their farms? The importance of this need can be seen in the recently released 2012 Ag Census numbers discuss in a Civil Eats article:
“The demographic information from the census numbers tells an equally complex story… the number of farmers between the ages of 25 and 34 did go up … ‘We have small rise in the number of young farmers, but you have a decrease in the 35 to 44 range. That means many of those farmers didn’t graduate up to the next age bracket,’ says Traci Bruckner of the Center for Rural Affairs. ‘That’s a healthy vibrant age where they could be doing a lot of that work, and we’re losing them because they aren’t making it out there.’”
This year I received an Ecological Farming Association farmer fellowship. As a fellow I was granted admittance to the annual Eco Farm conference and was invited to participate in a meeting to help organize a farmers association. The idea of a farmers association is very exciting for me. As a first generation farmer there are not many organizations I can go to for support. This might surprise non-farmers who have heard of the farm bureau, land grant universities, cooperative extension and the like. While these organizations do many positive things, over the decades they have focused more on conventional commodity farms. When I have reached out to these resources in the past, they didn’t have appropriate information for a small, direct sale, certified organic vegetable farmer like me.
The proposed EFA farmers association will focus on activities and programs that support farmers like me. Farmers who build their businesses around the triple bottom line principle of concern for people, planet, and profit. This association is dedicated to serve mission-driven farmers from field to market, from the steering committee to program development.
During February’s meeting we discussed a range of projects the association could pursue. Many interesting ideas were brought to the table. All were concerned with providing the resources necessary for sustainable farmers to develop businesses for long-term success.
Some of the ideas included:
Eco Farm information clearinghouse website: containing resources, eco farm conference recordings, webinars, and more.
Moving roadshow event: where in-person consulting, networking, and classes can take place.
State & national work on policy and regulatory transformation.
Access to legal support.
These projects illustrate the obstacles that farmers like me encounter everyday as we work to develop and maintain financially sustainable businesses within the boundaries of state and national farm policy and law.
The future will be bright for farmers when we organize together.