grow a farmer


Grow a Farmer is an effort to inform and inspire our community to support beginning farmers. Below are some common issues that face beginning farmers and how they are sometimes misunderstood. There are also brief descriptions of the realities faced by those farmers. While the solutions to these systematic issues are complex, there are many ways you can help!

Come visit our exhibit at the 2014 Minnesota State Fair. Our "Grow a Farmer" themed Healthy, Local Foods exhibit is part of the EcoExperience, located near the north east corner of the fairgrounds, at the intersection of Randall Ave and Cosgrove St.

Land Access
Locating suitable land to farm is difficult - especially near urban centers where ready markets for fruit and vegetables already exist.
Myth    I drive through the countryside and see oceans of corn - how can there be a lack of farmland?
Reality  But is it for sale? Farmland is being consolidated into larger and larger farms and increasingly held in trusts - making them less likely to ever be sold. 
Create policy that incentivises farmers who buy larger farms to retain farmsteads and enough acres to serve as a "starter farm" for a beginning farmer. And help connect retiring and new farmers to transition the land.

Market Access
The demand for Local Food is there - but finding reliable outlets can be challenging.
Myth If you build it they will come.
Reality Many beginning farmers have yet to build a community of support for their product.  When they do find a market they face strong competition from larger and more established farms.
Solution  Consider becoming a member of a beginning farmer's CSA. This will give them the support (both financially and mentally) they need starting out.  

Capital Access
For beginning farmers, access capital continues to be limited.
Myth Banks are loaning money to small businesses at record low interest rates.
Reality Many young farmers don't have the equity or collateral needed to qualify for those low interest loans. With skyrocketing school loans, land prices, and many banks unfamiliar with small farm financing there is little credit or loans available for beginning farmers.
Solution  Consider investing in a beginning farm by purchasing a CSA share.

After paying rent or a mortgage, labor, fuel, and equipment costs new farmers must earn enough to support themselves and family.
Myth Food is so expensive - how can farming NOT be lucrative?
Reality There are numerous start up costs for beginning farmers: land costs, fencing, equipment, animal housing, or processing... but wait, the farmer hasn't paid themselves or their workers. 
Solution  Buy direct from farmers and businesses who use local foods.

Risk Management
Farmers must constantly be looking for ways to spread risk across multiple farming endeavors.
Myth Farming isn't risky because of the farm bill.
Reality While it is true the government  guarantees insurance policies for some crops - so if the crop fails - farmers are covered. But his is NOT true for almost all fruit and vegetable crops.
Solution  A CSA is a great way to spread the risk of farming over dozens to hundreds of people. If the disaster strikes - the farmer will have some hedge against the loss and if it is a great year - then members will probably have more tomatoes than they know what to do with!

Finding balance between family, leisure and farm work is a struggle.
Myth Farming is Lovely! No Boss! Winters Off! and all the raspberries you can eat.
Reality Farming is lovely. But rare is the farmer laying on a beach for 4 months. Winters are spent repairing machinery and infrastructure. Winter is also an ideal time to engage in continuing education and the review of financials. What raspberries? They were sold at market.
Solution  People coming together to pitch-in on farm chores can free up time and also keep the farmer connected to their community.

In Minnesota the seasons present challenges to beginning farmers.
Myth From rhubarb and radishes to pumpkins and apples there is a cornucopia of fruit and vegetables gushing from the farm.
Reality With careful planning a farmer can expect to bring on different crops on a regular basis. But with the ever unpredictable whether coupled with pollinator issues and pressure on seasonal workers, farmers are especially vulnerable to constant change.
Solution  Greenhouses can get plants started early and even grow some produce year round. But this is an expensive solution and often out of reach for beginning farmers.