October 3, 2012
Today the New Entry Sustainable Farming Project hosted the first day of the National Incubator Farm Training Initiative (NIFTI) conference. The three-day conference started out in Lowell, Massachusetts, and will eventually end at the Intervale Center in Burlington, Vermont. The conference is designed to help organizations, like Brickyard Educational Farm, start, hone, or further develop their own farm incubator program.
The purpose of a farm incubator program is to provide people who do not have access to land, to lease a plot of land at an affordable, and usually subsidized rate. Added perks include receiving shared equipment, resources, community, and some assistance with writing a business plan, marketing, crop planning and growing.
While every farm incubator program is different, most farm incubator applicants have at least some experience working on farms prior to their application. A typical farm incubators sublease is three years.
I learned today that there are four major target demographics that farm incubator programs serve across the United States.
1) Young, beginning educated farmers with few resources for capital investment, but farming experience through low paying apprenticeships and internships.
2) Second career farmers, typically middle aged, and may have capital to invest in their own farm.
3) Farm workers with farm experience in this country who have excellent growing knowledge and skills, but need programs to help them in other areas such as marketing, crop planning etc.
4) Immigrant and refugee populations that come into the programs with a significant amount of farming knowledge and skill from their home country.
According to the U.S. Agricultural Census study, the number of farms increased in 2007 for the first time since World War II. With the average age of farmers in the United States being 57, we are in dire need of new farmers. Studies show the only growing sector of agriculture organic, in part because new and beginning farmers are interested in sustainable, organic agricultural practices.
I would suspect the farm incubator programs that have been sprouting up all around the country in the past two decades has helped breed new farmers, and contribute to this growing trend. Brickyard Educational Farm has appropriated ten acres towards a farm incubator program that has the ability to graduate three to six farmers every three years. And as you all know, we know organic, so I think we can meet the interests of our new budding farmers.