August 30, 2014 marked the end of the funding period by the USDA Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture and we were recently notified they were not refunding the successful project after three years of providing seed money toward infrastructure, salary support of trainers and scholarships for education programs. We now find ourselves in search of support to continue this great work that helped so many farmers, growers and individuals learn to conduct successful businesses, grow food locally and eat well. Our boards of directors have anticipated for this financial change; however we will still find ourselves in a cash flow crunch by late summer of the 2015 growing season without further assistance.
NOFA-NJ is committed to continuing this program. We are turning to our longtime supporters that understand the importance of food, education and caring for the environment, for generous support of this very unique farmer-based program
Explanation of Program (problem to be addressed):
New Jersey has significant and growing demand for local, sustainable and organically grown food. Production in New Jersey, however, is constrained by a series of interrelated issues, which include land cost, labor availability, an aging farmer population, agricultural policies and programs and an inadequate food distribution system for locally-grown food. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the average age of American farmers is over 59 and continues to increase, while the number of young farmers under the age of 25 has declined by 30 percent. At the same time, new people are coming to agriculture and beginning farm enterprises; however, many of these new farmers do not have access to land and the traditional hands-on agricultural education. In response to this issue, the USDA grants funds to regionally-based groups to train and support beginning farmers through their Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program. NOFA-NJ was a recipient of the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Grant in 2011 and we launched a very successful and comprehensive program that fosters organic farming businesses in the region, which we wish to continue and even expand with a live-stock training center and regional training farms around the state. To date we have land and a successful program running at Duke Farms in Somerset County, New Jersey, and opportunities to expand in Burlington, Hunterdon and Mercer counties with additional funding.
Strategies and Tactics of Beginning Farmer program:
Beginning farmers are targeted at three levels: Explorers, aspiring farmers without practical farming experience; Apprentices, farmers-in-training who have multiple seasons of mentored farming experience; and Journeypersons, beginning farmers who are in the early stages of running their own farming business. Explorers are equipped with the knowledge, through farm planning courses and on-farm workshops, to determine if their aspirations are feasible, and then can be matched with farms to acquire physical experience. Apprentices are supplied with technical and farm management knowledge – they have the practical experience and ability to farm, but require skills to run a small business and the scientific basis for management decisions. Journeypersons receive business planning assistance and land matching services (which may include participation in the Incubator Farm). The Incubator Farm is a learning farm where Journeypersons, who possess field experience and a business plan, can launch their farm business under low risk conditions, which include mentorship, shared equipment and a low-cost, three year lease. This provides new business owners with the opportunity to identify the strengths and weaknesses of their business plan and provides time to accrue capital while searching for a land arrangement – whether purchasing or leasing. Beginning farmers at each level have access to scholarships and educational grants to encourage networking, innovation and growth.
NOFA-NJ Incubator Farm:
The NOFA-NJ Incubator Farm’s purpose is to address the educational and land-access needs of beginning farmers in order to increase the number of successful, organic farming operations and to improve community access to healthy food. Our Farm offers access to land, shared equipment and infrastructure, farm and business mentoring, technical assistance, classroom learning opportunities and access to community markets through farmers markets and CSA opportunities. There is a competitive application process which includes writing a business plan, a minimum of two years of agriculture experience and a demonstrated commitment to organic growing. After successful completion of the program, about three years, participants will be assisted in transitioning to long-term land in New Jersey through our land-linkage program and continue their, now successful, business enterprises.
Beginning Farmer Program Impact since Inception from October 2011 to present:
- 330 scholarships granted to beginning farmers valued at $33,771
- 33 new farmers trained in farm business planning
- 11 mentors matched (in total for journeypersons and incubator farmers)
- 227 landowners/farmers participated in land leasing workshops
- 481 technical inquiries answered and 81 farms visited
- 125 farmer training programs taught
- 180 Winter Conference workshops offered
- 2 growing seasons at our newly established Incubator Farm
- 8 journeypersons supported through education and mentorship
- 131 participants in the Apprenticeship Matching Service (farmers and apprentices)
- 95 new/prospective farmers took “Exploring the Small Farm Dream”
- 26 beginning farmers trained in safe tractor operation and proper maintenance