In 2012, CCOF and four other California Central Coast sustainable agriculture organizations — the Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems (CASFS), Community Alliance with Family Farmers (CAFF), and the Ecological Farming Association (EFA) — received funding from the Beginning Farmers and Ranchers Development Program (BFRDP), a new granting program of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, as part of the farm bill. The funding from BFRDP allowed this group of organizations to create a Farmer Education Network (known for short as FEN).
FEN’s goal is to cross-pollinate between the different groups who are striving to educate the Central Coast of California’s beginner farmer population. FEN has a calendar of workshops, field days, seminars, webinars, and other learning opportunities for Central Coast growers. Educational programs include classes on business planning, organic/sustainable agricultural production techniques, pests and disease, farm equipment, and more. The grant also compensates Jim Leap, former farm manager at the CASFS farm and garden, to do onsite one-on-one coaching with beginner farmers.
When asked about the benefits of the program, Masha Habib, a beginner farmer who currently runs Oya Organics in Hollister, California, mentioned that while employees of the USDA or large seed and pesticide companies may be available for questions, often they don’t have appropriate answers for small and beginning operations. “They can’t relate to our size,” she stated. But under the BFRDP grant, beginner farmer mentor Jim Leap was able to go directly to her farm for one-on-one mentoring. “He was able to get down on my level and talk about the small -scale details like appropriate irrigation and tractor setup.” Marsha said that this “advice was tailored to [her] level and skill of farming, which was super useful compared to other agency support.”
The BFRDP has funded the creation of educational outreach curricula, workshops, educational teams, training, and technical assistance programs that assist beginning farmers and ranchers with entering, establishing, building, and managing successful farm and ranch enterprises across the country. While the program was funded in 2012 with approximately $19 million, it was left bereft of funding in 2013. This was a result of the fact that a full farm bill was not passed and Congress chose to tack on a terrible 9-month extension to the 2008 Farm Bill, stranding many of the programs that benefit organic, including the BFRDP program.
We at CCOF support programs such as the BFRDP, which benefit young people coming into agriculture, and plead with Congress to pass a full farm bill now! If Congress chooses not to pass a full farm bill, we would like any extension to include programs such as BFRDP, the National Organic Certification Cost Share Program, and conservation programs!
If you’d like to follow the progress of the farm bill, sign up for our action alerts and check out our partner the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition’s website, which has an interactive up-to-date tracking system for the bill.