There’s a new movement growing in the fields, gardens and backyards of America. The vision of a lone farmer, isolated by geography and a hardscrabble existence, has given way to a new generation of agrarians organized under the National Young Farmers Coalition (NYFC). Mobilizing young farmers nationwide, the NYFC hopes to aid farmers now – for their future.
NYFC favors peer-to- peer practical training and facilitates information sharing. It was founded in 2010 by director Lindsey Lusher Shute after the 2009 Hudson Valley growing season. Frustration had been building among young farmers and would-be farmers due to lack of affordable land and access to capital. It became apparent to Shute that these farmers needed a new model for success, and the idea of a coalition was born.
“We took the idea of forming a coalition to the Stone Barns Young Farmers Conference and received an enthusiastic response,” said Shute. “In that moment, it was clear that the need to organize farmers and tackle the issues facing beginners was shared by farmers nationwide.”
In NYFC’s 2011 survey of 1,000 young and beginning farmers, it was revealed that 78 percent of farmers ranked lack of capital as their top challenge. While the NYFC was successful at convincing the Farm Service Agency (FSA) to start a micro-lending program, access to capital remains the greatest challenge facing young farmers today. Farming communities have become absolutely critical in the landscape.
The NYFC offers a vision for a new farming economy, one based around independent and sustainable businesses. FarmHack, another brainchild of NYFC, is a place to “develop, document, and build tools for a resilient agriculture.” A laboratory for farm innovation, FarmHack offers a space for learning and collaboration – from farming workshops to on- line forums and an active blogging community.
“There are many variations of a farming community these days, as some of the strongest and most supportive bonds are maintained through emails and phone calls. At its core, it’s farmers who are focused on helping each other make a living by growing food,” said Shute.
Working alongside a community of engineers, programmers and designers, FarmHack aids in the development of open source, affordable technology for sustainable production (including new farm technologies). One popular cost-saving invention is Fido, a greenhouse-monitoring robot now in development. Fido will send a text message to a farmer when the greenhouse is too hot or too cold, potentially saving crops and a farmer’s livelihood.
“Programmers, designers and engineers are an extremely valuable part of the FarmHack team,” said Shute. “They bring new expertise and skills to the table, which are absolutely critical for solving on-farm challenges.”
Further enhancing this effort are statewide farming coalitions popping up across the nation. New Farmers of the Central Coast, the first California coalition of its kind, has successfully established a community of active farmers led by Melissa Hanson. Meeting the first Sunday of every month, the forum has created a model for others to follow, from farm potlucks to workshops to innovative fundraising campaigns. And their 2013 calendar, featuring aspiring “pin-up” farmers, would definitely make Farmer John proud.
“Our group has grown very fast. We’ve gotten lucky with really motivated, intelligent, savvy people,” said Hanson. “We are so cohesive.”
Through cooperation and friendship between all farmers, a new generation has been born—one that will feed our nation while feeding each other. The seed has been planted and a blossoming community has risen.
“We must recognize we can’t just do it ourselves,” said Hanson. “We need each others’ support, socially and emotionally.”
By Rachel Hommel, LoaTree Team writer. This article first appeared in LoaLiving Magazine, volume 2, Winter 2013.