The following was submitted by project organizers.
We are at a critical juncture. Our elder farmers are now retiring, potentially opening a world of opportunities – and challenges – for new farmers. With rising land prices, the age-old tradition of transferring the farm, together with the knowledge of farming, from one generation to the next is increasingly complex. For elder farmers, their land is most often their greatest asset. For new farmers, access to farmland and training are their greatest challenges.
What does this mean for the future of the island’s agriculture?
In response to these significant issues, a consortium of local and regional organizations has been awarded a USDA Beginning Farmers and Ranchers Grant to find solutions to these challenges. The San Juan Islands Agricultural Guild (Ag Guild), Washington State University Extension (WSU SJC), Whidbey Island Conservation District (WICD), the Organic Farm School (OFS), and Northwest Agricultural Business Center (NABC) are working together to help new farmers succeed.
“There are many exciting opportunities for new farmers to start growing food for local or regional markets,” said Peggy Bill, Coordinator of the Ag Guild’s Farmers to Farmland Program, “and also for current farmland owners seeking to retire and transfer their land or provide a long-term lease to new farmers. We want to hear from new farmers seeking support, and farmland owners seeking to retire or to lease their farmland.”
The goal of the islands Beginning Farmer and Rancher program is to assist new farmers in the San Juan Islands and on Whidbey Island with establishing, growing, and improving farm enterprises. Funding from the grant supports:
• Ag Guild (http://sjiagguild.com/beginningfarmers/) and WICD (https://www.whidbeycd.org) will offer new farmers information about leasing or purchasing land, succession planning, and helping to link new farmers to available and appropriate farmland;
• WSU SJC (https://sanjuan.wsu.edu) will connect new farmers to mentors with expertise in relevant crop production, and will also offer workshops on crop production, livestock, business planning and access to capital;
• NABC (https://agbizcenter.org/) will offer direct support for new farmers to develop a viable business plan, necessary for obtaining funding; and
• OFS, located on Whidbey Island, will offer 9-month training programs for new farmers (2018 program starts in March. Apply now at https://organicfarmschool.org/).
If you are a new farmer seeking access to land, a farmland owner seeking someone to farm your land, a farmer seeking mentoring from an experienced farmer, or a new farmer interested in a 9-month training program – then we want to hear from you. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 360-378-0095 and we will connect you with the resources you need.