The hay loft at the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture in Pocantico Hills, New York, looks a bit like the dining hall at Hogwarts. But I didn’t go there to learn about magic – unless, that is, you consider the work of a farmer to be magic (which you just might)!
Along with a few hundred young and beginning farmers, as well as people from organizations like Farm Aid, I found myself at Stone Barns in December for the National Young Farmers Conference. Over the course of two packed days, workshops were held on topics ranging from whole animal butchery to farmer friendly budgets to the 2012 Farm Bill (and much more).
Beyond the information taught through the workshops, one of the intangible successes of the conference was the opportunity for farmers to connect with other farmers face-to-face, and share challenges, skills, practices, and maybe most importantly, some camaraderie and friendship. While this is surely a benefit of all conferences, it is especially crucial that farmers have a chance to network with their peers, given the often isolated nature of farming.
In the past decade, there has been tremendous growth in the number of beginning farmer training programs and other support services around the country, but the movement is still in its adolescence. As more young and beginning farmers have moved onto the land, they have been experiencing the growing pains of figuring out how to properly run their businesses, steward the land, market their products, and make a living, all while trying to stay sane from the stress of it all.
A conference like the one at Stone Barns is invaluable for the space it provides new farmers to talk with each other about what they are dealing with on a daily basis. One farmer I spoke to pointed out that she needs the community and networks created by events like this just as much as the more practical information about resources.
The skills and knowledge spread at the conference also gave attendees better tools for connecting to people and organizations that can help them once they are back on the farm. The Virtual Grange recently launched by Stone Barns, which is an online community and hub for new farmers, was demonstrated at the conference. Also recently launched and featured in a conference workshop was the Beginning Farmer Network of Massachusetts, a great example of resources gathered for a specific area.
Lindsey Shute of the National Young Farmers Coalition and Farm Aid’s Alicia Harvie gave a workshop at the conference on resources for beginning farmers, including the Farmer Resource Network (FRN). The FRN is a national gathering place on Farm Aid’s website where farmers can find resources, organizations, and information for their region, spanning a variety of issues.
Because we want farmers to know where to go for information and services, a major priority for Farm Aid is continuing to reach out to farmers and provide them with these resources. We also see the benefit of connecting farmers with organizations in their own regions so that they can create networks with people right in their communities.
Make sure to keep up with the Farmer Resource Network on Facebook, Twitter, and follow our Resource Spotlight blog for current information on upcoming conferences, webinars, funding opportunities, and more. Let us know in the comments where you go for resources in your region or what networks you use to meet other farmers. And thanks to the National Young Farmers Conference for a great opportunity to connect with farmers from across the country!