Vilsack's goal is to encourage 100,000 more people to start farming

MONTEVIDEO, Minn. - It seems like a lofty goal: USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack wants to increase the number of farmers by 100,000 across the country.

MONTEVIDEO, Minn. - It seems like a lofty goal: USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack wants to increase the number of farmers by 100,000 across the country.

To reach the goal, Vilsack is taking steps to increase opportunities for beginning farmers and ranchers. Last month, USDA deputy secretary Kathleen Merrigan announced recipients of $18 million in 2010 Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program grants.

Among the recipients are the Land Stewardship Project in Minneapolis and its Farmers Growing Farmers program; Land Stewardship Project in Lewiston and its collaborative alliance of farm beginnings programs; Farmer's Legal Action Group in St. Paul and its successful beginnings program for promising beginning and immigrant farmers; Practical Farmers of Iowa; and the Communicating for Agriculture Scholarship and Education Foundation in Fergus Falls.

"The first five years are key for successful beginning farmer start-ups," said Amy Bacigalupo, LSP Farm Beginnings director. "Good public policy like the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program can help groups plan and carry out the technical and on-farm assistance often needed beyond the first few years of farming."

Practical Farmers of Iowa director Teresa Opheim agrees. They have more than 300 beginning farmers in their network.


"And its growing all the time," she said.

Bacigalupo said Farm Beginnings classes are filled with applicants.

"We've got a waiting list and, after 14 years of Farm Beginnings, we continue to see increased demand. People want to farm," she said.

The grant will be used to continue building mentoring and farm beginning programs.

Bacigalupo said the grant will help LSP develop new training approaches to move beginning farmers beyond the novice and advanced beginner stages. She envisions accomplishing the goal through in-depth training and support from established farmers.

"These beginning farmer project awards are an important first step toward realizing the goal of...increasing the number of new farmers by at least 100,000 in the coming few years," said National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition policy director Ferd Hoefner. "Beginning farmers face a range of challenges to successful start up including access to credit, access to land, access to markets and technical assistance."

The success of LSP's Farm Beginnings' training program is based on the understanding that knowledge, not just information, is passed on to beginning farmers by established ones, Bacigalupo said. That leadership is core to the success of all Farm Beginnings programs.

When USDA announced the 2010 Beginning Farmer and Rancher program recipients, it also called for grant applications for the 2011 grant.

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