USDA Affirms Committment to New & Beginning Farmers

Last week, Agriculture Deputy Secretary Krysta Harden announced a USDA commitment to prioritize $5.6 billion over the next two years within already operative USDA programs and services to service new and beginning farmers and ranchers. To compliment these efforts the USDA launched the New Farmer website, a new tailored web tool for connecting farm entrepreneurs with programs and resources to assist with the start-up process. These resources span support and resources connected to not only new farmers, but also women, youth, and veterans in agriculture.

The National Young Farmer Coalition excitedly (and rightfully so) elaborates on the following features of the New Farmer online toolkit (from their website):

  1. “Four Steps to Start Farming
    USDA first conceived of the New Farmers website as a place to pull together information about all the programs and resources they offer for new farmers. Originally, they met this goal by offering a laundry list of everything USDA offers. On the new website, information is organized and much easier to find. They identify four steps to start farming, then they group information and resources in relation to each step.
  2. The Discovery Tool
    There’s a new tool on the website to help users find resources specific to their farm. With the Discovery Tool, you can select the type of farm you want to run, how you intend to market your goods, and other specifics. The tool then matches this description against programs that might be relevant to you. USDA offers a lot of different programs to assist farmers, and we’re excited that this tool will help new farmers wade through them all.
  3. A Focus on Farms in Transition
    Land access is a critical challenge for young farmers. We are excited to see a section of the website that focuses specifically on resources for transitioning farms. Some of these resources, like the Conservation Reserve Program’s Transition Incentives Program (CRP TIP), reward landowners who transition their farms directly to beginning farmers.
  4. Women in Ag
    Comprising nearly a third of all farmers, women are critical to agriculture. Unfortunately, their role and leadership has not always been recognized. USDA is trying to change this with the new Women in Agriculture Mentoring Network. You can find more resources and join the network on the New Farmers website.
    Did you know that USDA has a partnership with NASA? It’s true! USDA is helping NASA grow food in space, and NASA is conducting research relevant to back-on-Earth agricultural production. The new website dedicates a page to this partnership, and—paired with other pages dedicated to innovation in agriculture—it is clear that USDA is making the case that ag is a relevant and fascinating career choice. I’m sold.”

Though ever preoccupied with underlying assumptions and implications, I too am excited for this federal commitment for its obvious provisions, but also, and especially, its associated effects. This commitment and the New Farmer toolkit bring attention to a side of farming that is often pushed aside for romanticized and idealized depictions – think small sustainable farms incubating simple yet fulfilling lifestyles that are beautifully portrayed through Instagram and other social media. And the converse – large commercial farming operations denigrating the environment and causing social schisms by capitalizing on bucolic imagery through skewed marketing. Between the poles of agrarianism and industrialization exists the plain, honest, and practical fact that a farm is a business. And it’s the best kind of business. Not in terms of profit, acclaim, honor, or standing, but in terms of the scope of its reach.

“A farm includes the passion of the farmer’s heart, the interest of the farm’s customers, the biological activity in the soil, the pleasantness of the air about the farm — it’s everything touching, emanating from, and supplying that piece of landscape.”

Joel Salatin

Geo (left) giving the run down on his farm business at Hurricane Flats, South Royalton VT

I visited Hurricane Flats Organic Farm a few weeks ago for my food and ag law class. Owner and farmer Geo Hongiford explained his savvy navigation of EPA conservation easement provisions for soil erosion management; balancing wholesale and direct-to-consumer supply; juggling seasonal workers; providing incentives for a productive season; and a host of other considerations any successful business must take into account. “A farm is a business, just like any other. I have to make sure I’m doing what’s smart not only for the physical farm, but also for the books. We’ve managed to do pretty well with what we have.”

If a person can pursue a passion for Creation through stewardship and hard work to feed themselves and their community, while also breaking even at the end of the quarter – what a blessing! This federal commitment to support and train farm entrepreneurs who want to be successful while also creating businesses that are socially, environmentally, and fiscally lucrative is compelling and gives me much hope for the future of community-scale and local food systems.


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