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Young Farmers ponder creating a chapter of the NYFC in our region

Young Farmers ponder creating a chapter of the NYFC in our region

Screen Shot 2015-03-11 at 7.41.45 AMThe National Young Farmers Coalition (NYFC) has only been around for a few years, but it has already become an effective national voice for young farmers. It played a role in developing young farmer programs that were included in the 14 Farm Bill and it has written publications on helping young farmers get access to land. NYFC’s vision:  “a country where young people who are willing to work, get trained and take a little risk can support themselves and their families in farming.”

Brittany reviews answers
Brittany Dooling leading the discussion at Flying Plow Farm

Thus far, there are 26 NYFC chapters in 25 states. Brittany Dooling arranged a formational meeting for a new chapter at Flying Plow Farm in Rising Sun Maryland on March 7th. Flying Plow Farm was a perfect venue. It is owned by a young family that purchased the farm in 2013 after success on a smaller leased farm in another county. They grow vegetables and livestock to supply their growing CSA. Last Saturday, the snow was still piled high against the high tunnels, but snow was melting and Spring was in the air.

Roughly thirty attendees crowded into one of the farm’s high tunnels and Brittany began with a review of answers to some of the

Two responses to the question
Two responses to the question.

icebreaker questions posted earlier, such as why did attendees farm and what are the challenges? After identifying and discussing a number  of common reasons why they farm and challenges to success, Brittany asked what the attendees hoped an NYFC chapter could accomplish. As I expected, one of their goals would be advocacy to remove barriers for young farmer success. However, a more common interest in forming a chapter was networking and social interaction. As one of the farmers put it, farming can involve a great deal of solitary work and sometimes they need a social outlet with others who share common interests. Currently, there is not a statewide group that uniquely fulfills all of those needs.

It was a good beginning for a future NYFC chapter. If you are interested, contact Brittany at: shherbs@gmail.com

A small farm revolution?

A small farm revolution?

For the title of this blog, I borrowed a chapter title from John Ikerd’s book Small Farms are Real Farms. In that book, he strongly defends the role that small farms play in their communities and the signs he sees of their renaissance.

IMG_0380
Lindsey Lusher Shute

In the last few years, new voices have risen along with his, for the advancement of small farms. Lindsey Lusher Shute, President of the National Young Farmers Coalition, and previously featured in my blog, is one of those voices. I was fortunate to be present when she spoke at the Future Harvest CASA Conference last month and she also stopped by the Maryland FarmLINK booth to chat.

During her keynote, Lindsay told about her passion for small farms and the challenges that she and her husband faced when starting one. She said that her farming adventure began on a one-acre portion of a dairy farm in the Hudson Valley region. Owners had told their children to do something else besides farming and now the owners were nearing retirement.

However, they welcomed two energetic young people to their farm. Eventually the owners

Owners and crew at Hearty Roots
Owners and crew at Hearty Roots Community Farm (from website)

began to see a future in farming after witnessing their successes and their will to succeed. Later, that farm was preserved by the children. But when the family decided to sell the farm, the Shutes realized that the price of the land was way out of reach and they had to look for other land to lease. Eventually, they were able to purchase a smaller parcel, now Hearty Roots Community Farm,  where they have a large Community Supported Agriculture CSA operation.

By the time that they had purchased the farm, they had come to realize that small farms had few advocates and no one was helping the next generation of farmers. They hosted a group of young farmers to discuss the challenges that beginning farmers face and, around the kitchen table, they decided to form a national group, the National Young Farmers Coalition, to represent their interests. The Coalition’s mission — “We envision a country where young people who are willing to work, get trained and take a little risk can support themselves and their families in farming.” It has grown to 50,000 members.

At the conference, Lindsay also spoke about a NYT article “Don’t Let Your Children Grow Up To be Farmers” that caused me such angst that it prompted a blog response.  Lindsey had the same reaction, and drew similar conclusions. The author’s impression may be correct that many hardworking, small-scale farmers are struggling to make a living, but she would never advise her children not to farm. There is more to life than a good salary, though it sure helps!

Screen Shot 2015-02-05 at 6.07.03 AMNearly all farms in Maryland are categorized as small farms. Small farms are real farms and John Ikerd’s book is inspiring. His vision and message are consistent with that of Wendell Berry and our country’s founding fathers. Small farms are the cornerstone of a strong society. They are good for the environment, good for communities, good for local economies. Ikerd also acknowledges that under the current system, many small farms are not profitable, but he says not to dismiss them. In the end, he says that “sustainable small farms are better alternatives than getting bigger, giving in, or getting out. . . It’s time for a small farm revolution in America.”

We all need to work a little harder for their success.

 

 

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