After several bouts of bad weather, including snow, freezing rain, and subzero temperatures, spring was in the air at the Build Your Network, Grow Our Future event held February 19, 2014, at Scout Hall in East Windsor, Conn.
The purpose of the event was to help people new to the world of agriculture meet, make contacts, compare notes, give advice, inform of services, and share the wealth of information brought to the room. The group uses the term new/beginning to grab attention, but whether new or a veteran in the field, everyone was welcome. On this day, approximately 60 people came together with one intention: to build a community.
Why the focus on newcomers? Nationally, agricultural census figures show the fastest-growing group of farmers and ranchers is the segment over 65. Did you know that according to USDA statistics, for every one farmer/rancher under the age of 25, there are five who are 65 or older? Add to that a growing world population that some experts predict will require 70 percent more food production by 2050, and we've got a problem on our hands.
Build Your Network, Grow Our Future is a way for Connecticut's new and beginning farmers to transition into being the ones who will tackle that problem, and for others to give them the tools that will be required.
Commissioner of Agriculture Steven Reviczky delivered the opening words on the importance of events such as this. Wes Hannah, representing the National Young Farmer Coalition (NYFC), delivered a thought-provoking talk about NYFC and their efforts around the nation to bring together the same types of groups as this one, with the same goal of building communities.
Hannah highlighted the barriers new and beginning farmers are experiencing, including lack of financing for start-ups; access to land (with housing) for sale or lease; legal concerns; and the technical assistance required once the farm is up and running. He also addressed the positives, including what he believes are exciting changes coming for these entrepreneurs with the new Farm Bill.
According to Hannah, the sky is the limit with these types of networks popping up across the country. To add to Hannah's optimism, information released last week in the preliminary report from the 2012 Census of Agriculture indicates that while the number of farms in the U.S. has declined, the number actually increased in New England--by 5 percent since 2007. Other amplified numbers for New England included the number of beginning farmers, up by 401; farms with women serving as principal operator were up 15 percent; farms with sales of $1 million or more increased 16 percent; and total land in New England farms increased 4 percent to 4.211 million acres.
Following a series of breakout sessions, representatives from farm service providers, including two USDA agencies (the Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Farm Service Agency), were on hand to spend some one-on-one time with farmers to answer questions, explain services their agencies provide, and listen to issues.
Participants left with a "top 10" list of things to do after they return home, including signing up for GovDelivery (http://www.govdelivery.com
, the government's digital communication platform), visiting NRCS's web soil survey (http://websoilsurvey.sc.egov.usda.gov/App/HomePage.htm
, a website that tells visitors what types of soil are on their land), and visiting USDA Service Centers to initiate paperwork to apply for programs.
Other service providers included Connecticut Farmland Trust, Connecticut Farm Bureau, Northeast Organic Farming Association, and Land for Good.
The event, funded by the Risk Management Agency, is a cooperative effort of the New Connecticut Farmer Alliance, USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service, USDA-Farm Service Agency, University of Connecticut Cooperative Extension System, and the Connecticut Department of Agriculture.