Tag Archives: USDA

Guest Contributor: Partnerships Power Conservation Efforts

When USDA launched the Regional Conservation Partnership Program several months ago, we talked about our hope that this new way of doing business would build coalitions of unlikely partners and bring new money and resources for conservation projects to the table.

The overwhelmingly positive response to this new approach has far exceeded our initial expectations. Over the past several months, nearly 5,000 partners have come together to submit nearly 600 pre-proposals to USDA. All told, these coalitions of partners requested more than six times the $394 million in funding available from USDA for the first round of conservation projects, in addition to bringing their own, matching resources to the table.
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Farm and Food News 2/24/12

Secretary Vilsack Calls for New Farmer Support

The 150th Agricultural Outlook forum took place in Virginia this week. In his remarks, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack appealed to the need to support the next generation of farmers: “America will need more farmers, ranchers and growers,” he said. “This farm bill is probably more significant to young people in America considering agriculture for their future.”

Living the Four Seasons Harvest

For decades, Eliot Coleman has defied the elements of winters in Maine to run his profitable and sustainable Four Season Farm. Last year, the farm grossed $120,000 from crops grown on 1.5 acres of land.

Massachusetts Conferences Targets Beginning Female Farmers

From March 22 to 23, a conference for women who want to learn more about whole farm planning will take place at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Breakout session topics include animal health, marketing and making the farm-to-table connection.

Deadline Approaching for Conservation Grant Application

As part of its Conservation Innovation Grant (CIG) program, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service is accepting proposals through March 2 for water quality credit trading projects. Our video on water quality credit trading, developed along with the Maryland Department of Agriculture, helps demonstrate the economic benefits to farmers with this approach.

Sharing Fresh Produce with Food Pantries

In its third year of operation, the Culpeper Volunteer Farm in Virginia is aiming to produce 60,000 pounds of fresh vegetables to be donated to area food pantries. The 97-acre farm is run by approximately 1,000 people. In similar news, farmers of any size operation can match with food pantries throughout the nation through AmpleHarvest.org.

Match.com for Farmland?

Like many farmland linking programs around the country, California FarmLink is a busy matchmaker between aging farmers looking to sell or lease their land and beginning farmers looking to start new farm enterprises. Last fall, we published our own guide to assist with land transitions in Connection: Farmland ConneCTions.

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Farm and Food News 2/17/12

More Than a Dozen New Farms Protected in Pennsylvania

The Pennsylvania Agricultural Land Preservation Board announced an additional 1,470 acres of farmland protected across 14 farms. Since the program started in 1988, state, county and local governments have invested more than $1.1 billion to safeguard 459,007 acres on 4,243 farms.

Conference to Address Community Farms and Food in Hudson Valley

On February 25, farm and food partners in Columbia County, New York, will host the first Farming Our Future conference. The meeting will engage farmers, institutions and consumers in discussion about how to boost local food, farms and communities.

Sharing Stories of Michigan Farmers

Taste the Local Difference of Northwest Michigan has recently launched a new series of photos and stories about local farmers. New stories are added each week.

Small Farm Summit Coming to New York

The New York Small Farm Summit is fast approaching on February 29. The summit seeks to increase the visibility of small farmers, encourage local collaboration among regions and prioritize emerging opportunities to enhance small farms in New York and the Northeast.

Wisconsin Job Seekers Ask “Why Ag?”

A new online service is helping to match Wisconsin residents with appropriate jobs in agriculture. WhyAg.com features a skills-to-job match, as well as links to educational and training opportunities.

Farm-to-Institution Workshops in Virginia

Two workshops—February 28 and March 27—will address the challenges and opportunities involved in offering local, healthy food at Virginia hospitals, schools, nursing homes and corporate cafeterias.

USDA Launches New Beginning Farmer Website

USDA’s National Agricultural Library, in partnership with the American Farm Bureau Federation, recently launched Start2farm.gov, an online portal that provides assistance for beginning farmers and ranchers. The website includes links to training, financing, technical assistance and other support services, as well as successful case studies about new and beginning farmers and ranchers.

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Farm and Food News 2/3/12

From the Battlefield to the Farm Field

Around the country, an increasing number of opportunities are helping military veterans transition to civilian life through farm programs and apprenticeships. In San Diego, a retired Marine has trained about 60 people returning from Iraq and Afghanistan through the Veteran Sustainable Agriculture Training program. And 2012 TEDx Manhattan Challenge winner Howard Hinterthuer is running a similar initiative in Milwaukee to help veterans transition into food production.

Take Action to Protect North Carolina Conservation Funding

Due to an accelerated legislative timetable, Land for Tomorrow is urging North Carolina residents to contact members of the state’s General Assembly now to ask them to protect conservation funding.

Young Farmers to Gather in Michigan

From March 9 to 11, the Michigan Young Farmer Coalition is hosting a retreat for young farmers from across the state to gather and help strengthen the future of Michigan agriculture.

A Super Bowl at the Super Bowl

Centerplate, the NFL’s largest food and beverage vendor, has partnered with Farm Aid co-founder John Mellencamp to promote its new line of “Homegrown”-branded locally sourced concessions. The partnership will kick off this weekend with bowls of beef and pork chili at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.

Eight Former Secretaries of Agriculture to Convene

This week, USDA announced the commemoration of its 150th year by bringing together eight former secretaries of agriculture at the 2012 Agricultural Outlook Forum, February 23 to 24.

Addressing Unemployment through Agriculture

The Michigan Land Institute is seeking to lower the unemployment rate through farming. The organization recently kicked off a program that would help low-income families gain the tools and resources needed to start farming.

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Farm and Food News 1/27/12

Future Faces of Farming

In 2011, the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack called for 100,000 new farmers a year across the nation. In the foodshed surrounding Washington, D.C., a young generation of farmers—a diverse mix including educators, chefs and budding entrepreneurs—is rising to meet this challenge with the goal of strengthening the local farm and food system.

1,200 Acres of New York Farmland Protected

The Agricultural Stewardship Association of upstate New York recently announced the completion of a 1,200 acre conservation project on three farms in Rensselaer and Washington counties. Included in the project is the Hooskip Farm, which straddles the Vermont border and has protected land in both states.

Hospitals Across the Mid-Atlantic Commit to Buying Local

In Maryland, Washington, D.C., and northern Virginia, hospitals have been working to support local farmers, the local economy and healthier diets for their patients through the increased purchase of local foods. More than 40 institutions are regularly purchasing seasonal fruits and vegetables while nine have stepped up to also source meat and poultry locally. Existing campaigns, such as the “Buy Local Challenge” in Maryland, have helped to spur these new purchasing initiatives.

1,000 Pounds of Butter Warms Pennsylvania Home

Once an agricultural fair or farm show is over, what to do with a decorative butter sculpture? In Pennsylvania, a 1,000-pound sculpture was brought back to the farm and converted into biofuel through a mix digester.

Hawaii Introduces Farm to School Bill

Hawaii State Representative Cynthia Thielen recently introduced a bill that would permit schools throughout the state to purchase more food products grown or raised in the state. Rep. Thielen explained that the bill would support farmers economically while improving the health of students.

Future Farmers Answer Farm Bill Challenge

Officers of the National Future Farmers of America (FFA) answered a challenge from U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to develop their own suggestions for the next farm bill. The organization, which focuses on school-based and extracurricular agricultural education, proposed recommendations in four categories: “Getting started in production agriculture; creating vibrant rural communities; who should care about agriculture and why; and planning for the future.”

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Farm and Food News 1/6/12

Protect your teeth and save farmland

Tom Chappell of the environmentally conscious, natural body products company Tom’s of Maine has joined the farmland protection movement in a big way. Chappell recently worked with the Maine Farmland Trust to protect 154 acres of his own farmland from development, and he joined the organization’s campaign to protect 100,000 acres of agricultural land as an honorary chair.

South Carolina farmer shares his love for the land

The South Carolina community and the USDA honored the Williams Muscadine Farm in Nesmith, S.C. during a recent educational USDA Field Day. Farm owner David Williams and his family have transformed the grape vineyard into a destination and place for visitors to learn more about Southern agriculture.

Land transfer program now available nationwide

The Land Contract Guarantee Program, first authorized as a pilot program under the 2002 Farm Bill but expanded and made permanent in the last farm bill, is now available nationwide as of January 3, 2012. The program reduces the financial risk for retiring farmers who sell their farmland to a beginning or socially disadvantaged farmer or rancher, providing “a valuable alternative for intergenerational transfers of farm real estate to help ensure the future viability of family farms.”

Farmer to co-op

A new local foods co-op in Wooster, Ohio, helps to bring products from small local farmers onto its shelves. With area farmers often having difficulty marketing and selling their goods, they are benefiting from selling them to the Local Roots co-op, where they receive 90 percent of the purchase price and local consumers are happy to support them.

Farm incubator programs grow more then experience

Farm workers often hope to eventually own their own land, but even with years of experience, being able to acquire the necessary land isn’t always easy or affordable. Farm incubator programs are increasingly trying to give aspiring farmers the support they need to get off the ground and be viable.

Anaerobic digester aids farmland conservation

A partnership among farmers, an environmental group and an American Indian tribe outside of Seattle, Washington, has resulted in an anaerobic digester that produces electricity and compost while helping dairy farmers deal with waste from their cows in an environmentally sound way.

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Farm and Food News 10/7/11

Devoted Pennsylvania farmer honored

American Farmland Trust honored Bob Ambrose with the Pennsylvania Farmland Preservation Local Hero Award this week. Bob and his wife run a 130-acre farm and are dedicated to protecting farmland from development.

Growing vegetables and palates

FoodCrops continues to thrive in its first year of service. One corps member in Maine is teaching students how to grow fruits and vegetables while eating healthier foods.

Creative (and manageable) solutions to farming

Sunnyside Farm in Dover, Pennsylvania, will be hosting a workshop on solutions to everyday farm problems on October 17th. Topics range from how to save thousands of gallons of water to learning about creating a pig-managed rototiller.

Grants awarded to beginning farmer programs nationwide

The USDA has awarded grants totaling more than $18 million for enhancing programming and support for beginning farmers and ranchers. Project funding was awarded nationwide, including support for the Stone Barns Center in New York.

More fruits and vegetables, how are you doing it?

The USDA is hosting a contest in which you submit short video clips on how you are adding more fruits and vegetables to your diet while still watching your budget. There are three different categories that you can enter into: tips for kids, tips when eating at home, and tips when eating away from home. So how are you adding more fruits and veggies to your diet?

Pure fall farm beauty

If you haven’t had a chance to get out to the countryside recently to enjoy the beautiful fall, savor some gorgeous fall farm photos before marveling in your closest countryside soon.

Climate change impacting wine industry

Changes in climate felt throughout the nation could alter grape growing conditions in California wine country within the next 30 years. Changes are already being felt in Washington’s Puget Sound and Central New York where conditions, for the time being, are becoming more favorable for the wine industry.

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In Praise of Farmers Markets

It’s National Farmers Market Week, just in time for everyone to enjoy the bounty of summer’s last fruits and vegetables.

To kick off the week-long celebration, the USDA unveiled the growth of farmers market listed in the National Farmers Market Directory, which now shows that there are now 7,175 farmers markets across the country. With 17 percent more markets than last year, the more than 1,000 new markets represent an unprecedented increase.

Why Celebrate Farmers Markets?

Communities are embracing farmers markets and the mounds of fresh produce and other farm products that they provide locally. (Check out the Top 100 farmers market photos from Real Time Farms for a mouth-watering glimpse of farmers market offerings.) But farmers markets usher forth more than healthy farms, healthy food and healthy communities.

In his proclamation to ring in this year’s National Farmers Market Week, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack pointed to a number of key benefits. Farmers markets:

  • Serve as an important outlet for direct farm-to-consumer connections;
  • Provide access to fresh, healthy food, an opportunity that is increasingly being made available for SNAP and other nutrition assistance recipients; and,
  • Help support and develop local and regional food systems.

The growth and support for farmers markets helps keep farmers on the land. Direct farm-to-consumer business helps to provide income opportunities for farmers.

At the same time, the rising interest for local food straight from the farm highlights the urgent need to protect farmland to meet that demand! The USDA National Farmers Market Directory lists the top states for growth and the total number of markets. Texas ranked second in growth from 2010 with a 38 percent increase behind Alaska at 46 percent. However, Texas ranks highest for farmland loss at nearly three million acres (from 1982 to 2007), and has been losing more than 360 acres of farmland per day. Similarly, California, which has the most farmers markets in the directory at 729, ranks second for farmland loss and has been losing more than 135 acres per day.

Shopping at farmers markets is one of the best ways to support farms, farmers and local economies.

American Farmland Trust holds the annual America’s Favorite Farmers Markets™ contest to raise national awareness about the importance of buying fresh food from local farms and saving the farmland where it’s grown. As part of the America’s Favorite Farmers Market contest, we have released a real-time listing of the top 20 markets in the country. Vote for your favorite markets and keep track of how they do!

About the Author: Gretchen Hoffman is Manager of Engagement and Communications at American Farmland Trust.  She can be reached at ghoffman@farmland.org.

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Reconnecting Farmers and Consumers Makes Dollars and Sense

Americans are hungry for local food. With rising consumer interest in “buying local,” local and regional food systems are emerging to help farmers meet the demand. As the New England Governors Conference identified:

Growing demand for local food … fuels exciting new market opportunities in agriculture. Direct-to-consumer sales – through farmers markets, roadside stands, farm restaurants, and pick-your own operations – have skyrocketed.

The growing interest in locally grown is impacting other aspects of our food production. According to the governors’ report, the direct-to-consumer connection is also sparking interest in land conservation and farmland protection.

Reconnecting the food system also makes economic sense. A recent report, Ohio’s Food Systems – Farms at the Heart of It All, by Ken Meter of Crossroads Resource Center finds that the clusters of community-based food businesses forming across Ohio create both jobs and collaborative groups of new business owners. At the same time, it questions why  local and regional food—a major industry in the state—have been eroding despite rising personal income and increased food consumption. In fact, the steadiest growth in Ohio’s farm economy—at about five percent annually—involves direct food sales from farmers to consumers. According to Meter, “If this were a single product, it would count as the 13th-ranked farm commodity.”

Food is an important industry in the Buckeye state. Ohioans purchase $29 billion of food per year, and the food industry accounts for 13 percent of the state’s economic activity. According to Meter, state policies that focus on distant markets rather than local consumers are detrimental to the economy—resulting in a $30 billion economic outflow each year, more than four times the $7 billion of total farm production in the state.

Recapturing these dollars would create significant economic opportunities, especially in Ohio where personal income increased 70 percent and food consumption increased 32 percent over the past 40 years. In recent years, direct sales from farmers to consumers rose significantly: 45 percent in Ohio (just shy of the 49 percent national average). The value of those sales rose 70 percent in the state. While the total sales figures remain small, farmer-to-consumer sales are one of the fastest growing sectors of the food economy, offering valuable opportunities to keep farmland in farming, especially in areas where farmers have close access to consumers. Indeed, a report on Northeast Ohio proposes that a 25 percent shift to local products could result in the creation of more than 27,000 jobs!

In Ohio, as in other parts of the country, local and regional food systems face many obstacles when scaling up to meet consumer demand, especially from institutional and other large market outlets. Public and private investment in infrastructure like food hubs (as pointed to by the USDA), processing facilities and distribution channels is needed to foster this growth and incentivize farmers to expand production to meet demand. The time is ripe for collaboration and strategic partnerships that develop the proper infrastructure to better connect farmers and consumers. It’s something that just makes sense.

About the Author: Julia Freedgood is Managing Director for Farmland and Communities at American Farmland Trust.

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Planning for Landscape Integrity in the 21st Century

The National Agricultural Landscapes Forum brought together thought-leaders from around the country to foster a deeper understanding and dialogue about major trends and issues shaping the future of agriculture, conservation and rural regions. Held April 7 and 8 in the shadow of a federal government shutdown, the forum put forward policy and program opportunities to increase government effectiveness and engender cross-jurisdictional collaborations that improve agricultural and conservation outcomes in a sober budgetary environment.

The following is the first in a series of stories that will reflect on the major themes from the forum and what they mean for 21st century agriculture.

A failure to plan is a plan to fail

(L to R) Blue Ribbon Panel Members A.G. Kawamura, Patrick O'Toole and Varel Bailey

The need to think strategically about the future of agriculture was a sentiment shared among the conservation leadership gathered at the recent National Agricultural Landscapes Forum. Looking at the landscape from his vantage as former California Secretary of Agriculture, A.G.Kawamura described California AgVision 2030—a stakeholder-driven effort to shape the state’s food and farming system—as an example of how to bring diverse interests to the table to move agricultural policy into the 21st century. Calling for an agricultural renaissance, Kawamura shared his perspective on converging watersheds, foodsheds and energysheds that will create dynamic communities and end the 20th century exodus from rural America. “The human landscape means there’s an ag landscape as a part of the human environment,” he explained. “How do we plan the environment so it’s sustainable in all its different aspects?”

One answer came from Richard Barringer, Research Professor in Planning, Development and Environment at the University of Southern Maine. Barringer pointed to the New England governors’ Report of the Blue Ribbon Commission on Land Conservation. This ground-breaking initiative addresses five regional landscape themes, including keeping “Farmlands in Farming” and “Forests as Forests.” While New England, according to Barringer, is a “land of rugged individualists, we’re living in new time,” and this effort embodies several key principles: private ownership creates challenges and opportunity; collaboration is absolutely necessary; and conservation solely for natural benefits is no longer enough–today we must incorporate the social and economic benefits. Working together must be a part of the plan. Inspired by U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsak’s address at an America’s Great Outdoors workshop in March, Barringer concluded, “Our conservation legacy will be defined by new partnerships and collaboration.”

A changing demographic landscape

A necessity for more effective collaboration points to a need to understand who will be farming in the 21st century. In a poignant keynote address, Sec. Vilsak’s Chief of Staff, Krysta Harden, asked, “Are we talking to all the right people to ask them what they need or are we only talking to people we are comfortable with and know?” She pressed further: “Are we talking to people who feel like they don’t usually have a place at the table?”

According to the most recent USDA Census of Agriculture, the average age of farmers in the country is 57.

Walter Hill, Dean of the College of Agricultural, Environmental and Natural Sciences at Tuskegee University, reminded us that historically we have not succeeded in engaging the whole community. The 2007 Census of Agriculture shows growing ethnic, racial and gender diversity and a rapidly aging farm population. Farm operators 75 years and older increased by 20 percent while those under age 25 dropped 30 percent. Farmers aged 65 or older own 21 percent of America’s farmland, suggesting a huge transfer of land is imminent.

Hill challenged the audience, comprised largely of gray-haired men, “to get inclusion from every group that you can.” He advised, “Building trust is a monster; it takes time.” By 2042, the U.S. Census Bureau also predicts that current minority populations will become the majority, and it is time to start now if we want to be ready.

Beyond the tipping point?

As former Secretary of Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets Roger Allbee pointed out, it has been 30 years since the National Agricultural Lands Study (NALS), the only time the federal government has comprehensively assessed the challenges and opportunities facing the nation’s agricultural land base. Since then, he said, “We’ve lost as much farmland as Illinois and New Jersey put together.” Proportionally more of our best land has been lost, especially prime farmland and cropland. As Craig Cox, senior vice president of Agriculture and Natural Resources at Environmental Working Group stated bluntly, “The 21st century reality is we’ll have less land and water with which to do more.”

Since NALS, we have developed 41 million acres of rural land—or one out of three acres ever developed in this country. Cox was spot on when he said we’ve been “losing rather than gaining ground.”

(L to R) Ross Racine, Jon Scholl, Otto Doering III, Varel Bailey, Julia Freedgood, A.G. Kawamura, John Stierna

Assuming development continues its historical pattern—consuming our best agricultural soils fastest— Jeff Herrick, research soil scientist with USDA Agricultural Research Service, believes demand for farmland will drive expansion onto marginal lands or rangelands. He called for resilient landscapes that have the capacity to recover from extreme weather events: “Sustainable production at landscape scale.” However, with a rapid increase in non-operator landowners, especially in the Corn Belt, Iowa State Assistant Professor J. Gordon Arbuckle, Jr., predicts that future landowners will be further removed from the land, both geographically and culturally, less likely to participate in working lands programs and will spend less on conservation.

A challenge worth taking

If we continue these patterns, where will we be in 2042 when the world population is predicted to be nine billion people? The National Agricultural Landscapes Forum presented a valuable baseline but now we need to answer the big questions: How much land will we need to meet 21st century demands not just for food, fiber and fuel but also for clean air and water and biodiversity? What do we need to do now to secure it? Who will be the farmers and ranchers of tomorrow and what resources will they have to conserve and protect our precious agricultural landscape?

What rang clear from the voices emerging from the forum was the need to think strategically and plan for the future of agriculture, conservation and our precious land and water resources. As Craig Cox advised, “We will have to run much faster and smarter to stay in the same place.” It has never been more urgent to conduct a forward-looking assessment of the agricultural landscape and create the vision and policy direction needed to ensure—borrowing from Aldo Leopold—its integrity, stability and embodiment of community.

About the Author: Julia Freedgood is Managing Director for Farmland and Communities at American Farmland Trust.

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