Support for Young Farmers: The Farm Bill’s Shining Star

When the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced its latest round of grants to support beginning farmers and ranchers, in February, Stone Barns Center was on the list of grant recipients. And what a wide world of good company to be in: universities from Hawaii to Nevada, South Dakota to Georgia; community, tribal and conservation organizations helping minorities, immigrants, refugees and military veterans get a foothold farming; groups training urban farmers in New Orleans and socially disadvantaged ranchers in Nebraska.

Stone Barns Center’s Growing Farmers Initiative was one of 39 recipients of a total of $18 million in funding grants awarded through USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP), which was reauthorized under the 2014 Farm Bill. The BFRDP, first established by the 2008 Farm Bill, aims to support those who have farmed or ranched less than 10 years with workshops, educational teams, training and technical assistance.

“This is an important investment for local farmers in the Westchester area, throughout New York, and beyond,” said Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, in a February 3 press release issued jointly with her New York colleague, Senator Charles Schumer. “The funding will help farmers and ranchers gain necessary skills and knowledge to become successful in agriculture. Important investments like this one will help farmers start out strong so they can build successful and lucrative farming operations that grow the local economy. Stone Barns has an impressive record of success and I am glad to see the programs continue to provide important training and support for our next generation of farmers.”

Although the grant to Stone Barns is a renewal of a BFRDP grant we received in 2011, much of our work is expanding and maturing—and it looks very different than it did thee years ago. For one, with new grant funding, our Growing Farmers Initiative has launched three new partnerships that seek to leverage our work, break down barriers for beginning farmers and maximize our impact.

With the Hudson Valley Agribusiness Development Corporation, a funding partner under the grant, we are helping to build farmers’ business skills in the critical years 2 – 5 of farming. Funding allows our past apprentices to take advantage of extensive business and marketing consulting services housed in the corporation's “Incubator Without Walls” program.

In partnership with the American Farmland Trust's Hudson Valley Farmlink Network, we are already lining up farmers to be matched to farmland through this comprehensive listing of available land-tenure opportunities in the region. Together we hope to establish 10,000 acres of newly active farmland by 2017. And we are working with the Local Economies Project of the New World Foundation to help farmers scale up to midsize production so they can participate in multiple marketing channels, from direct-to-consumer to retail and wholesale. The Local Economies Project just hired a director of its Farm Hub program, which will continue to develop over the coming year.

The BFRDP grant provides about one-third of our budget for the Growing Farmers Initiative, which includes on-farm apprentice training, the annual Young Farmers Conference, dozens of technical workshops each year and the Virtual Grange, our online resource hub for beginning farmers.

In all we do through the Growing Farmers Initiative, we work to respond to what young and beginning farmers are telling us they need: better training opportunities, help accessing land, support with business development and networking. 

“For me, this grant means there’s quite a bit of trust in the work we’ve done and will do in the future,” says Zach Wolf, director of the Growing Farmers Initiative. “And with that comes a lot of responsibility to do right by the grant and the farmers we’re serving, but it’s a great feeling.”

Photo by Erik Jacobs at the 2014 Young Farmers Conference