Today I'd like to introduce you to a few of the beginning farmers we will be depending on in the years ahead to provide us with the fresh, wholesome food we need every day. In addition to being new to farming, these farmers share another connection: they all now have experience in finding credit, a sometimes tough but essential thing for all new farmers to find.
Meet Luciano Alvarado, a 29 year old North Carolina blueberry farmer. Luciano was four years old when he came with his farm worker family from Mexico to the U.S. In this video clip, Luciano introduces himself and discusses some of the difficulties his family has faced in establishing their operation outside of Fayetteville. Luciano credits veteran farm advocate Benny Bunting of RAFI-USA, a long-time Farm Aid ally, for guiding him through a prolonged, dispiriting, but finally successful series of encounters with his local Farm Service Agency office in applying for a post-hurricane emergency loan. Luciano’s Palomo Farms is still in business and is determined not only to survive, but to thrive.
Meet Zoë Bradury, a 28 year old organic produce grower from the southwest coast of Oregon. In this video clip, Zoe tells her own story in illustrating what new, small-scale, organic growers face in attempting to secure financing for their start-up operations. You can also read Zoë’s Diary of a Young Farmer, which chronicles her first year as an independent grower.
And meet Doug Crabtree and Anna Jones-Crabtree, a 40-ish couple in Montana whose organic dryland crop farm is helping to break the conventional commodity mold in the Big Sky state. Here’s Anna’s end of 2009 reflection on the state of their new farm (PDF link). Despite an excellent credit rating and a 45% down payment,the Crabtrees were denied private financing. But thanks to an Farm Service Agency (FSA) beginning farmer and rancher loan--they are in business for the long haul.
Luciano, Zoë, and the Crabtrees were all part of a contingent of new farmers from around the country who came to Washington, D.C. in conjunction with this month's Drake Forum on beginning farming. Farm Aid took part in the “Farmer Fly-In,” organized by the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, by hosting Luciano and accompanying him to meetings at the USDA and his congressman’s office on the Hill, and then attending two intense and invigorating days at the Drake Forum for new and beginning farmers.
Among the 200-some people attending the Forum were 40-50 beginning farmers and ranchers, whose ethnic, gender, and even age diversity offered a visible manifestation of demographic changes taking place right now in American agriculture. The shared sense of hopefulness, passion, and cooperation they displayed made the very real obstacles all new farmers face-- corporate concentration; restricted access to disaster insurance, land, and credit; lack of equipment and infrastructure; mis-directed federal subsidies swallowed up by the largest farms—seem somehow surmountable. These are the farmers we will depend on in the days, months, and years ahead, and we ignore their needs at our own peril. Support new farmers in your locale!