It’s a new day for those who have felt poorly served by California’s chief food and agriculture agency.
In a significant shift, an $18 million state-managed program that supports growers of vegetables, fruit and nuts is strengthening its focus on ecologically minded farmers and local, urban and healthy food programs.
New funding guidelines announced by the California Department of Food and Agriculture mark an important break from decades of mostly serving the interests of larger, conventional growers. Read more
“I used to be a faceless producer,” David Rowley said of his last job in conventional agriculture. “We grew two to three tons of tomatoes a week, starting in February. There were six people, no weeds, and no pests.”
At the end of 2000, three things happened that led this farmer from old school ag back to the older school of ag, and into organics and direct marketing. Fuel prices went through the roof, pushing energy costs for the Pennsylvania greenhouses from $15,000 a month to $45,000 a month. A change of management occurred, and most significantly, Rowley got ill and attributed it to pesticides. Read more
The University of Vermont’s Farmer Training Program, introduced in May 2011, is an intensive six-month program that aims to provide graduates with an education and support system that encourages them to create and maintain sustainable farms and food businesses. What distinguishes the program from typical farm apprenticeships, in addition to the application fee for enrollment, is the comprehensive exposure to different types of sustainable food industries in the food system, from a stint on a 500-member CSA farm to working for a smaller, specialty grower.
Civil Eats spoke to Robinson Yost, one of the current students in the program. After studying anti-colonial politics as an undergraduate student, he studied ecological building methods in New Mexico and participated in a reforestation project and low-impact living experiment in Southeast India. As a young farmer, Robinson is a telling example of the sort of unconventional backgrounds that many young farmers are bringing into the American food system. Read more
Starting a farm is not easy, a business in which high startup costs and a lack of available land for purchase or rent are obvious obstacles. As our nation’s farmers grow older–the average American farmer is 57–and we simultaneously undergo a shift towards reclaiming our food system, young and beginning farmers are stepping up. Government programs designed to help farmers have existed for many years, but much of this funding is only within reach of large-scale producers that have been in the business for many years. Several USDA programs are geared towards helping farms based on production, favoring commodity farmers and large-scale farmers, which keep these loans out of the hands of smaller start-ups.
But new opportunities are in development for young farmers. Read more
The California farming community is facing a demographic crisis. The average age of a California farmer is 58, and nearly 20 percent of them are 70 or older. As these farmers approach retirement, California needs to train new ones if we are to continue to feed our country and keep a healthy rural economy in the decades ahead. And with farm internships in California subject to strict labor laws, opportunities to get a hands-on farming education have become even fewer.
To help meet this need, the Center for Land-Based Learning in Winters, CA recently launched the California Farm Academy (CFA) to train beginning farmers in specialty crop production. Read more
In February 2008, Zoë Bradbury left her job at Ecotrust, where she was a regular contributor to Edible Portland, to start farming on Oregon’s southern coast. Right after leaving, she wrote, “I pulled up to my new greenhouse on Floras Creek with a riot of saw-toothed artichoke divisions in the back of the truck, teased them apart into one-gallon transplant pots, and officially began my first season farming for myself, next door to my mom and sister.”
Over the next year, she kept a blog for Edible Portland called Diary of a Young Farmer. Her intention to share her experiences as she began farming has blossomed into a full-fledged collaborative book, which she co-edited, hitting stores this month: Greenhorns: 50 Dispatches from the New Farmers’ Movement.
I caught up with her to talk about the book, learn about her life at Valley Flora Farm in Langlois, and get a glimmer of what the New Farmers’ Movement is and where it’s headed. Read more
When I was in undergrad in the Northeast, around 15 years ago, a degree in “Food Studies” was unheard of. A campus farm or edible garden was something reserved for agriculture schools or off-campus hippie/granola enclaves. However, the past 5 years have shown a proliferation of opportunities to get trained as farmers, gardeners, food policy makers, and food law practitioners.
On a recent site visit to Portland, Oregon, I met with FoodCorps service site supervisor Caitlin Blethen and her service member Jessica Polledri. Caitlin told me about her local program that trains school garden coordinators. This signaled to me a similar kind of sea change. It indicated that there is a desire out there to be trained in this work, and that there is a (slowly) growing market of jobs being created to do this work. I’ll let Jessica—a graduate of the program– take it from here: Read more
I have a weird fascination with inventions, and often wonder what the beginning of something was. What led to someone coming up with stained glass? Or what about an alarm clock? These are simple creations that pale in comparison with even more complex items that we also use without much thought…dishwashers? Copy machines? This computer? Maybe I should have pursued a career in engineering, but more likely my preoccupation with these inventions is due to the fact that I have little understanding of them. It seems that that disconnect between the things we use and depend on and how they function leads to a pretty common level of frustration. The rise in DIY projects and interest that we are seeing these days surely has to do with that frustration leading to a push for self-reliance.
I think it also has to do with a larger disconnect, one that has moved us away from community minded information sharing and collaboration. We have less and less opportunity in this modern world to wave down a neighbor with a question about chicken husbandry or how to fix a broken well pump. Instead, we jump on the Internet and Google the answer, hoping that the source we choose to trust is reputable and fact-based. The National Young Farmers’ Coalition (NYFC) has launched a project for the today’s sustainable farming community that brings the best of both worlds together. FarmHack taps the same age-old premise of learning directly from others in a similar community while creating innovative open source sharing technologies to reach small farmers around the globe. Read more
When Jesse Kuhn started Marin Roots Farm at age 28, he already had dirt under his fingernails. He’d studied ag in college, managed a student farm, and worked as a landscaper. But when it came to succeeding financially in the farming business, he had a long way to go. “I was charging up my credit cards like crazy and bouncing balances back and forth,” he says. “I almost had to declare bankruptcy during the first year.”
Almost 10 years and many lessons later, Marin Roots is a well-established organic specialty produce business. “It’s a lot of people’s dream to live off the land, but the reality of it is, you have to have a plan for how you’re going to pay the bills,” says Kuhn.
His journey is not unlike that of many beginners who are eager to try their hand at farming but don’t yet have all the necessary skills and resources. In a recent report titled Building a Future with Farmers, the National Young Farmers’ Coalition (NYFC) surveyed 1,000 young and beginning farmers across the US and found that access to land, capital, health care, credit, and business training posed huge challenges. Read more
“You’re farming in Alaska?! What can you possibly grow there?” This was a common response when I told people I was moving to Alaska to be an AmeriCorps VISTA at Calypso Farm and Ecology Center in Ester, Alaska. To be honest, I myself wasn’t quite sure what to expect. When I arrived in April, the ground was still covered in ice, the fields covered in snow. Three months later, I’ve discovered the shocking truth. In Alaska, a food revolution is brewing, and it’s led by 12 year olds. Read more