Growing Growers with the National Young Farmers Coalition

The National Young Farmers Coalition is working hard to provide resources, mentors and political support for the next generation of farmers.

| March 2015

  • Missouri Young Farmers Coalition
    Members of the Missouri Young Farmers Coalition take part in the Summer Crop Mob at Happy Hollow Farm.
    Photo by The National Young Farmers Coalition
  • Hearty Roots Farm
    Beginning farmers gather at Hearty Roots Farm in Clermont, NY, for the Hudson Valley Young Farmers Coalition summer mixer.
    Photo by The National Young Farmers Coalition
  • Washington Young Farmers Coalition
    The leaders of the Washington Young Farmers Coalition show their enthusiasm for farming.
    Photo by The National Young Farmers Coalition
  • Jean-Martin Fortier
    Jean-Martin Fortier speaks to a packed house during the event hosted by the Missouri chapter of the National Young Farmers Coalition.
    Photo by Kyle Spradley with MU College of Agriculture, Food & Natural Resources

  • Missouri Young Farmers Coalition
  • Hearty Roots Farm
  • Washington Young Farmers Coalition
  • Jean-Martin Fortier

Having grown up a country kid in the “corn belt,” I have a pretty solid idea of what a traditional farming conference looks like, and trust me, my fellow millennials aren’t exactly lining up to attend. The usual farming crowd in Kansas includes older men and a few women gathered around wildly expensive farming equipment, discussing the application of chemical-based fertilizers and pesticides (components of farming I’d rather avoid). Chances are, the event will be partially sponsored by Monsanto or Cargill, and if I ask about organic practices I’ll feel frowned upon as an “idealist who doesn’t care about feeding the world.” Put simply, it’s not my kind of party.

The fact that the traditional farming community isn’t enticing to new farmers with alternative ideas is unfortunate, especially when one considers that the median age for farmers and ranchers in the U.S. is 58 years old, and getting older by the year. We desperately need a new generation of farmers, and as climate change brings drought and other complications, we need those farmers to be intelligent and flexible. New farmers, however, need resources and trusted mentors to succeed, and those can be hard to find. Luckily, the National Young Farmers Coalition (NYFC) has stepped up to the challenge, and their motivated crew is actively working to provide young farmers with fertile ground and seeds of change.

The National Young Farmers Coalition

Similar to organizations like The Sierra Club, the NYFC is a national organization with chapters in each state. “Our chapters are local organizing hubs, completely run by young farmer-leaders,” explains the organization’s national field director, Sophie Ackoff. “So far, the organization has boots on the ground in 26 states and growing.” (To see if your state is on the list – and to start a local chapter if not – check out the Young Farmers website.)

In addition to forming local chapters that support farmer collaboration, the NYFC tackles agricultural issues on a national level. Their action for student loan debt forgiveness for new farmers seems particularly impactful. The coalition believes that farmers — like nurses, teachers, government employees and non-profit workers — should qualify for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program. When college graduates are stuck paying off debt, it’s nearly impossible to scrape together the necessary funds to start a small farm or business.

“Because our coalition is run by young farmers, for young farmers, our campaigns truly resonate with our constituency,” explains Ackoff. “From fighting for funding for farmer-training programs in the Farm Bill, to working with the Farm Service Agency to establish the micro-loan program, to taking on the major barrier of student loan debt forgiveness for beginning farmers, the NYFC is focused on the needs of first-career farmers.”

While the National Young Farmers Coalition is composed of many young, beginning farmers, there are also a number of established farmer mentors, food advocates and conscious consumers in the field. The coalition uses the word “young” to grab the attention of policy makers, but the resources they provide can benefit all beginning farmers, from the first-year apprentice to the mid-life career change. The coalition has done a fantastic job of providing time-tested knowledge in a format that resonates with a tech-savvy crowd, including YouTube videos, an easy-to-use and well-organized website, an active social media presence, and more.

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