New ag venture support program

Final Report for CNE06-014

Project Type: Sustainable Community Innovation
Funds awarded in 2006: $9,250.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2007
Region: Northeast
State: New York
Project Leader:
Ora Rothfuss
Wayne County Planning
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Project Information

Summary:

1) A “majority of [Wayne County farmers] indicate that the next generation of their family will probably not be farming (62 percent, according to a 1994 Wayne County Agriculture and Farmland Protection Board survey).1”

2) There is an identified interest in starting a small farm business, and there are approximately 5500 parcels of land in the county that are between 10 and 70 acres in size, many of which have been subdivided from working farms;

3) In the last few years, as towns in Wayne County have updated their comprehensive plans, the role of agriculture has been highlighted significantly more than in previous plans. For example, the town of Ontario's comprehensive plan update contains nine pages of text regarding agriculture compared to the previous plan that had one paragraph.

To address these problems, Wayne County

1) Offered the “Exploring the Small Farm Dream” workshop for rural and suburban landowners.

2) Used the American Farmland Trust “Planning for Agriculture” workbook and a farmer panel to train town planning and zoning board members on agricultural issues as they relate to zoning law.

3) Developed a New and Beginning Farmer Resource web page that brings the many existing resources to one easily-accessed point of information;

1 Wayne County Agriculture and Farmland Protection Plan, 1997

Project Objectives:
  • Offer the “Exploring the Small Farm Dream” course to 20 people to help them clarify their feelings, identify potential farm enterprise opportunities and lay the groundwork for a more extensive business planning process for those who want to begin a farm business. Use Cornell Cooperative Extension of Wayne County and an experienced farm business owner to create a dynamic mix of classroom and on-the-ground knowledge.

    Offer a planning and zoning board member training program for 60 members of local boards, using the American Farmland Trust “Planning for Agriculture” workbook as a curriculum. Each municipality received a copy of the workbook as part of the training seminar. The training also helped the board members to fulfill their training requirements for a recently adopted New York State law.

    Create a farm resource web page that will bring together all of the contact information for area businesses that support and service farms.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Beth Claypoole
  • Elizabeth Henderson

Research

Materials and methods:

Our overall approach for this project was one of using existing curricula and experienced partners to strengthen agricultural economic development efforts.

The “Exploring the Small Farm Dream” is a well-established curriculum that provides a framework for the personal and financial commitment necessary to begin a farm enterprise. By working with Beth Claypoole of Cornell Cooperative Extension and Elizabeth Henderson of Peacework Organic Farm, we were able to offer a course with experienced agricultural educators and 25 years of farm business ownership.

Many Wayne County towns, in their comprehensive plans, have identified agriculture as being important to their future. Additionally, municipalities across the state have been working on farm-friendly zoning for years. The American Farmland Trust workbook has an incredible amount of information and case studies of existing planning and zoning laws from around New York State. We felt that planning and zoning board members would benefit from having this resource available, and from training program that identifies some of the most relevant ones for Wayne County communities.

With a diverse agricultural industry, it is difficult to keep track of and disseminate a complete list of resources and service providers that serve our businesses. By using the county industrial development agency (WEDC) web site, the ag industry is linked a little more closely to a traditional economic development agency. Support for new farmers will be in the form of easier access to information such as land availability, equipment dealers, suppliers, banks, and other providers as well as identifying appropriate business planning opportunities.

Research results and discussion:

Exploring The Small Farm Dream had 23 participants from eighteen farms. Beth Claypoole, Cornell Cooperative Extension of Wayne, Executive Director & Course Instructor, said of this effort, “They all loved it and realize that they have more work to do to start farming than what they had realized. They all still want to start a farm business.“

Other comments from course evaluations included:

"Good to have a week off in the middle of the time period to give more time to interview farmers."

"Best was getting to know other participants and being able to learn from them."

"Learned that I need to know more!"

"Great follow-up opportunities."

"I need to do more research."

"Instructors and guest speakers were great!"

"A sincere thanks to both of you for presenting such an excellent program. It has been and will continue to be a tremendous help to me."

"Class was reassuring in what I had thought about."

"Would like another class on financial management or starting a business plan."

The course was offered as a decision-making tool for those who are exploring farming. As the comments above demonstrate, the course succeeded in helping move people toward their goal of beginning a farm enterprise or business. The course graduates have kept in touch though an electronic mailing list and have expressed interest in meeting formally two or three times a year as a discussion group. There seems to be interest in a follow-up course or workshop.

All the people taking this course were computer literate, familiar with the internet, and daily use of e-mail. Beth has seen a notable increase in the volume of calls--about three a month--from people who are starting to explore the possibilities of beginning a farm business.

Cornell Cooperative Extension of Wayne County will offer the course again the fall of 2007. CCE of Wayne County has also added a section to their web site called Small Farm Dream that includes a new publication, “Guide to Farming in New York, a beginning farmer project.”

Planning for Agriculture. Originally, we had hoped to offer training in two sessions to 60 local planning and zoning board members. We did offer one two-hour training session that focused completely on agriculture. There were bout 35 people at this session. Speakers included a representative of New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets, Wayne County Planning, and two local farmers. The American Farmland Trust workbook was distributed to each municipality and used as a framework for discussion during the session. Based on seminar evaluations, the participants increased their knowledge of the issues facing farmers and dramatically increased their knowledge of effective land-use planning supportive of farming.

The Wayne and Seneca County Departments of Planning incorporated our second session into a New York State training seminar that was jointly sponsored. This was a three-and-a-half-hour seminar for local planning officials with 150 people in attendance. Highlights from the Planning for Agriculture workbook were distributed and a short presentation was given that identified some of the critical issues in the interaction between local zoning laws and agricultural businesses. Informal feedback from this seminar was positive and raised the awareness of a large number of officials who are making and interpreting local laws about the potential impacts of their actions.

Farm Resource web page

This portion of the project has been the most difficult part of the project to finish and catalogue results. The economic development arm of Wayne County, the Wayne Economic Development Corporation, has been very supportive of incorporating an agricultural section into their web site. Unfortunately, due to staff changes and high workloads, their website development project has been slow to take shape. The county information technology department is providing assistance to complete this project. In 1997 the county adopted an agriculture and farmland protection plan that included the goal of preparing a booklet on resources available to Wayne County farmers. With the many advances of the internet over the last ten years, we felt that a web site would be a much more useful and dynamic tool. We have completed background work on the database design prior to finishing the actual page layouts. The goal is to offer a user-friendly, searchable site featuring farm-related businesses and contact information that is not overly burdensome to administer. The main benefit at the time of this final report is the strengthened relationship between the agricultural industry and the traditional economic organization.

Participation Summary

Education & Outreach Activities and Participation Summary

Participation Summary:

Education/outreach description:

Outreach for the workshop included publication in several Cooperative Extension newsletters as well as the Small Farm and Beginning Farm newsletters, in press releases to the local newspapers (this triggered the largest response), and contacting previous inquirers. Over 1000 people were reached by e-mail through the NYFarms, Small Farm, NOFA, and Abundance Cooperative listserves. There were many calls from outside the area, including one from Vermont. Responses were good, with over 30 people expressing interest in signing up for the course; one person drove two hours to take the course. Some people who were more advanced in their planning, were referred to Cooperative Extension Regional Specialist Team.

Outreach for the web page will include direct mail to over 100 businesses, press releases, and e-mail contacts.

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

We have attained and exceeded our business planning and land-use training goals for this project. The "Exploring the Small Farm Dream" course has enabled the attendees to make more informed decisions on their paths to beginning a farm business. Cooperative Extension of Wayne County now has a curriculum to offer to our residents, one with proven success at the local level. The response from the planning officials to the seminars demonstrates that towns are interested in supporting agriculture and, through discussion and use of a good resource workbook, planners can help towns decide if they want farms and how to have ordinances that are geared that way. The web page, while not yet complete, has generated interest and support with partnering agencies that don’t traditionally work with farmers. I believe it has helped cement a working relationship with the WEDC that will benefit our farmers for years to come.

Assessment of Project Approach and Areas of Further Study:

Potential Contributions

About 44 forty-four percent of the available landmass of Wayne County is classified as being used in farming by the USDA Census of Agriculture. Since all land-use planning decisions in New York State are made at the local (city, town or village) level, it is critical that zoning and planning officials have a sense of what farms mean to their communities, both from a land-use perspective and from an economic development standpoint. There are many existing laws and regulations throughout the State that are farm-friendly and can be used as examples by interested towns. As towns begin to recognize that poorly conceived local laws negatively impact the businesses, they will begin to draw on successful regulations that encourage and support the local farms without compromising the public good. I also believe that more town planning board members will seek training to help identify zoning ordinances that treat farms and agriculture equitably.

I believe that there is a high likelihood that the "Exploring the Small Farm Dream" course will be offered again. The response of the educators and the attendees has demonstrated that this course fills a vital role in our community. As the percentage of our population with farming experience decreases, it will be important to have a teaching tool that offers a reasoned approach to exploring the concept of a farming enterprise or business.

As new and beginning farmers enter into the Wayne County business realm, they will be able to use the web page to find local resources. With the speed at which things change in today’s economy, it is crucial that the web page is easy to use and update with pertinent information.

Future Recommendations

Agricultural economic development is not a one-tool process and many organizations have offered programming for different segments of the industry. In a world economy, it will take many people and organizations working together to help our farmers to remain competitive.
The three-pronged approach was effective in building and strengthening partnerships. Based on responses of attendees, we will offer continued support for local zoning and planning officials who are interested in adopting local laws that recognize the importance of agriculture in the local landscape and economy. As long as there is continued interest in starting a farm business, the county will continue to offer opportunities for people to explore the concept and begin the business planning process.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.