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January 2010

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Vermont cultivating new crop: Farmers
This is an article that appeared Sunday in "The Rutland Herald" about new 
farmer efforts by RAFFL and also about Farm-to-Plate.  I wasn't really clear 
from the quote of Will Stevens in the article what he meant exactly by "... 
told the group he would speak to the legislative leadership about developing 
such a program."?  Specifically, what did he mean by "such a program" mean?
    The article also begs the question, should this listserve opened up to 
beginner farmers?  Or a new list?  Or form a Facebook group?  This could all 
be done easily without money.  Maybe something to discuss here and/or at the 
February meeting?

Mike Ghia


http://nl.newsbank.com/nl-search/we/Archives?p_action=print

Rutland Herald & Times Argus
Archives
THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING


--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

      The article you requested is displayed below.


      Vermont cultivating new crop: Farmers
        Author(s):    STEPHANIE M. PETERS

        STAFF WRITER Date: January 17, 2010 Section: NEWS04
      What does it take for someone who's interesting in farming to get 
their business off the ground in Vermont? Over its five-year lifetime, the 
Rutland Area Food and Farm Link has informally considered this question as 
it has helped young farmers establish relationships with their more 
experienced peers, directed retailers searching for local products to area 
growers, and sought out space for an incubator farm.

      Last fall, however, to better quantify the interest in farming and 
associated needs, the organization put out a call to find out how many "new 
farmers" are out there, holding a packed mixer in downtown Rutland in 
November. More than half of those who turned out were faces unfamiliar to 
the group's staff, according to Executive Director Tara Kelly.

      Her organization isn't the only one asking the question, however.

      The Farm to Plate Initiative, an offshoot of the Vermont Sustainable 
Jobs Fund, has made the issue of "growing" new farmers one of the pillars of 
its research. The initiative was established after the passage during the 
last legislative session of Act 54, calling for the development of a 10-year 
plan for strengthening the state's farm and food system.

      The organization began touring each of the state's counties in the 
fall, asking the agricultural community to weigh in on questions ranging 
from what resources new farmers need to what can be done to better promote 
and distribute locally grown foods.

      A full report is due to the Legislature by July, but the group working 
on the project expects the research phase will continue through the spring, 
according to Ellen Kahler, the jobs fund's executive director. The final 
county food summit was scheduled for Friday in Brattleboro.

      Needs emerge

      Although the feedback the Farm to Plate Initiative has received is in 
its raw stages, and much of it is anecdotal or the product of brainstorming 
sessions, some clear needs of new farmers are emerging, according to Kit 
Perkins, Farm to Plate project coordinator.

      Among them: access to land and equipment; capital that can be tapped 
without extensive credit or business plans, both of which take time to 
cultivate and which go hand-in-hand when approaching lenders; viability 
around the price growers can get for their products; and mentorship.

      "Many people are getting into it with absolutely no farming 
background, instead making the choice out of a love for the outdoors, a love 
of growing, feeding people or being their own bosses," said Perkins, who has 
facilitated each of the roundtable sessions for new farmers. "There's a real 
soul connection to food, and to actually grow it is really satisfying for 
farmers."

      According to Perkins, one of the first roadblocks is access to land. 
For instance, many of the available parcels are too large for someone just 
starting out to either manage or afford, which is where incubator farms like 
the Intervale Center in Burlington become valuable resources. Perkins is a 
former executive director there.

      "Leases are OK, they can work really well, but again there's no equity 
being built," she said.

      With incubators, growers who are looking to move on can sell their 
share and take that equity with them, she said.

      Another arrangement growing in popularity is private landowners' 
leasing some of their acreage to aspiring farmers, Perkins said. Several 
agricultural groups in the state have taken to surveying private landowners 
to determine interest in those types of deals, she said.

      Networks and money

      At the new farmer roundtable at the Dec. 8 Addison County Food Summit 
in Middlebury, each of these issues was brought up by the eclectic group of 
educators, farmers, nonprofit employees and young people who are trying to 
crack the industry.

      After nearly an hour of batting about their own experiences and 
desires, the two assets the group thought would be most critical to new 
farmers didn't focus directly on the land problem.

      Galen Helms, a 20-year-old who has experienced four growing seasons as 
an apprentice at Last Resort Farm in Monkton, suggested the development of 
Farmbook.org, a farmer-centric Web site that he envisions will not only 
allow farmers to connect with each other, but assemble in one place a list 
of resources ranging from feed or fertilizer to financing.

      "It's going to happen. It needs to happen," he said to the group.

      The group also liked the idea of microloans or revolving lending for 
farming, noting that in that scenario "success breeds success."

      Will Stevens, a state representative from Shoreham who owns and 
operates Golden Russet Farm with his wife, told the group he would speak to 
the legislative leadership about developing such a program.

      Who they are

      According to Kelly of the Rutland Area Food and Farm Link, farmers in 
Rutland County are expressing similar needs, for which the organization will 
continue to brainstorm ways to provide assistance.

      Kelly said she and India Burnett Farmer, program director for the 
organization, were also encouraged by what they heard at the Rutland County 
Food Summit, which took place Nov. 12 at Green Mountain College.

      The "questions they're asking and the information they're uncovering 
essentially confirms the work we've been doing," Kelly said.

      So what does the landscape of new farmers in Rutland County look like?

      About 35 people returned a survey from the November mixer asking them 
to categorize themselves and describe their needs. Of those, about half 
characterized themselves as new farmers, while the rest saw themselves as 
farm workers who hoped at some point to break out on their own.

      The average length of time they'd been growing was three and a half 
years.

      While a few were focusing on dairy, the majority considered themselves 
diversified farmers producing a mix of vegetables, meat and fruit. Several 
expressed interest in exploring niche markets like grains, honey or fiber.

      Most said they work another job in addition to farming, although a few 
described themselves as full-time farmers, according to Burnett Farmer.

      Burnett Farmer described the mixer as "just the kickoff" of the effort 
the organization will direct to cultivating new farming businesses. Although 
planning is still under way, one small step the group took last month was to 
direct new farmers toward farm business planning classes being offered in 
Rutland this winter by University of Vermont Extension.

      They're also looking forward to the unveiling of the Farm to Plate 
Initiative's recommendations to the Legislature, for which a statewide 
summit is expected in the fall, according to Kahler. She and Perkins 
encourage anyone wishing to comment on what's working and what's not in 
Vermont's farm and food system to contact them at [log in to unmask]

      "There's all this interest and all these people coming to local food, 
and they all get it from different perspectives," Kahler said. "But there 
are also an awful lot of folks who haven't (been exposed to local foods) 
yet."

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