Growing the Next Generation of American Farmers

June 29, 2010

Plenty of hype during the presidential campaigns focused on reinvesting in the farmlands of America and growing a new generation of farmers to feed the country.

Plenty of hype during the presidential campaigns focused on reinvesting in the farmlands of America and growing a new generation of farmers to feed the country. As part of this effort, the newly elected Obama administration called for USDA workers to bring ideas to the table.

Know Your Farmer Know Your Food, an initiative launched late 2009 under the Department of Agriculture, aims to begin a national conversation about developing local and regional food systems while spurring their economies. The initiative focuses on helping small farms grow, expanding access to nutritious food for low-income people, and developing farm to school programs that connect local farms with schools.

Grumbling from large, commercial farm operations are starting to make their way to the World Wide Web as farming blogs are witness to complaints that consumers are being taught that commercial farming is bad, and local, small farms produce a better, healthier product.

The complaints stem from the movement toward local food and consumers’ growing concern for the source of their food. But the program represents a great resource for a range of farming operations, as well as providing an avenue for community groups, schools and grocers to create events promoting local products.

On its Web site, the USDA explains the elements of its Know Your Farmer program as a response to President Obama's challenge to reinvigorate local food systems. As part of this challenge, each of USDA's 26 agencies was asked to come forward with programs that can help support this effort. The outcome was not to create a new slate of programs but an effort to support existing programs throughout the USDA that can assist farmers, help consumers’ access nutritious foods, and support rural community development.

There are Specialty Crop Block Grants which are flexible programs open to projects such as “buy local" campaigns and establishing premium markets for organic produce. An example of a successful project took place two years ago when the state of West Virginia, in partnership with a local organization, received $3,300 to support farm-to-schools work. They developed teaching material for classes, provided gardening plots for hands-on learning at a local farm, and established a weekly farmers market.

A June 17, 2020 Farm Service Agency memo from USDA Deputy Secretary Kathleen A. Merrigan, sheds new light on creative ways to take advantage of programs administered by the Farm Service Agency to support local and regional food systems, as well as the farmers and ranchers who supply them.

One of the most exciting areas of this program promotes an existing $25 million project under The 2008 Farm Bill that provides funding for retiring farmers to help establish the next generation of America’s farmers and ranchers. The Conservation Reserve Program encourages sustainable farming practices and allows retiring farmers to continue to earn income for their families. The expanded Transition Incentives Option provides two additional years of CRP payments to producers who lease or sell farmland that is exiting the CRP program to beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers who utilize sustainable grazing or crop production methods.

Additional FSA Farm Loan Programs can be used to support exciting new trends in rural America, including the spread of value-added, direct sale, organic, and specialty crop operations. When traditional agricultural lenders wouldn’t provide credit for young couple Laura Frerichs and Adam Cullip to begin a CSA operation, FSA helped them to finance their forty acre organic farm. Loon Organics, of Minnesota, is now in its sixth farming season, growing over thirty-five different vegetable crops.