- Education and Training: farmer to farmer, mentoring, networking
- Farm Business Management: cooperatives
- Production Systems: organic agriculture
The USDA reports that the average age of a U.S. farmer is now 58, with one fourth of our farmers over the age of 65. In 2006, John Crabtree of the Center for Rural Affairs in Nebraska told The New York Times' "Upfront" magazine that "Twenty-five years ago, there were 350,000 farmers and ranchers under the age of 35...now, there's only 70,000.”
It is estimated the United State’s population will increase to over 40 million people by 2025. With the above attrition rate of farmers, it is also estimated that by 2025 the U.S. will need to fill at least 100,000 farmer positions to meet our Nation’s food requirements. Veterans like me can, and want to, fill the gap.
In Missouri, 25% of all farms are less than 50 acres, according to the 2012 USDA Ag Census. Missouri has 500,000 Veterans, many of whom live in rural areas where the primary employment is related to agriculture. Coincidentally, VA housing benefits seem well suited for helping Veterans to access small farms for both housing and a source of income. Conversations with Veterans who want to farm indicate they want to operate small farms that minimize financial risk but allow a lot of hands-on management of plants and livestock
The purposes of this grant is to conduct Research and Development to a) help remedy the problems of the declining farmer population, b) help increase income for small, local farmers, c) educate rural and beginning farmers on sustainable agriculture, and c) disseminate information to other organizations.
“A Call to Farms”:
SOLUTION One: Within a 100 mile radius of Fort Leonard Wood, MO, I will locate and “register” Veteran Farmers and potential Veteran Farmers, as well as other small rural farmers interested in an Organic, Natural, and/or Sustainable cooperative-type system. This would be accomplished through established networks of farming organizations (Sustainable Ozark Partnership, Farmer Veteran Coalition, Farm Bureau, etc), and by using advertising methods.
a) Initial and follow-up Questionnaires will be utilized (both by email and reg. mail) to ascertain demographics, level of interest, food products/amount currently produced, and more.
b) At least one visit to each interested farmer will be conducted
c) During correspondence and farm visits, I will introduce area farmers to sustainable production practices that will enable access to high value markets. Farm tours of Falcon Ridge Farm and other farms will demonstrate use of conservation practices and practices that enhance soil quality and biological diversity. Agencies and organizations will assist with this message, such as USDA NRCS, Missouri Organic Association, and others.
SOLUTION Two: Develop a “food co-op/food hub” (FH/FC) model to maximize the collaboration of smaller farms to meet the demands of larger, targeted markets. The target markets will be centered around a need for organic foods, conscious livestock practices, and specialty/niche foods, where customers are more willing to pay more for higher quality and environmental care. The FH/FC model will be created by collaborating with institutions and organizations who have FH/FC systems in place, such as Tuskegee University (Alabama), “Farm to Family Naturally” (St. Louis, MO), and other successful organizations (some listed in the USDA’s 2014 Food Hub Resource Guide).
As a farmer myself, I have not been able to address these goals fully because of time and money constraints. This grant will allow me to complete this venture more quickly and with more directed attention.
Project objectives from proposal:
- Help remedy the problems of the declining farmer population by locating potential veteran farmers in south-central Missouri and reaching out to them about their interest and how to do sustainable production practices.
- Help increase income for small, local farmers by introducing them to sustainable production practices and developing a food hub that will enable access to high value markets.
- Educate rural and beginning farmers on sustainable agriculture in order to conserve or restore the environment through practices such as beneficial insect encouragement, rotational grazing, use of organic/non-GMO feeds, natural soil quality improvement, organic and holistic gardening, energy efficiency, and wildlife preservation.
- Disseminate information to other organizations through creation and collaboration of a core group interested in creating a food hub/cooperative model, farm tours, and presentations.