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Landlocked Farmers

September 23, 2011

Farm Loans

What do you suppose is the first thing you need to grow food? Is it seeds or water or tools? No, the very first thing is land.

Harvey and I are searching for a nearby small farm to call our home, and in the process we’re learning about the biggest obstacle to new farmers- access to capital to purchase land. We’ve been visiting farms for sale, and there are a few farms which have peaked our interest. So we took the next step and started talking with lenders. First, we looked into the Farm Service Agency’s New and Beginning Farmer Program which offers loans at very low interest rates for farm ownership. Unfortunately we can not qualify for their loans because we have only been farming for 1.5 years. They require 3 years minimum.

Next, we began talking to local commercial lenders. We’ve met with one bank so far, and it was an encouraging meeting. We’ll keep you updated on our progress with that, but it’s made us realize that there is a bigger picture issue here. There are a lot of young and beginning farmers in the US, but there is no clear path to acquiring farmland. Check out this new NPR report on new farmers, where they talk about new farmers trying to find capital for starting a farm. It’s interesting because in this story they focus on conventional farming, which can be expensive due to purchasing seed and chemicals every year. I would think that lenders would prefer to fund sustainable farmers, because they require less purchased inputs. Sustainable farmers tend to use manure or compost instead of chemical fertilizer. Many of us save seeds from one year to the next, keeping the cost of seed purchase at a minimum. Ironically, lenders hesitate to fund sustainable agriculture, because there is a stereotype that it is not profitable.

Harvey and I are in the thick of it. I know we’ll find a creative solution to this, but it is unfortunate that there isn’t something in place to help new farmers access land. Think of all the creative, smart people that are interested in growing delicious, healthy food for our local communities. Many of them will give up on trying to get a farm and in the mean time, older farmers are retiring. The young, would-be farmers are left to polish up their resumes and try to get a 9 to 5 job. That is easier said than done these days, and we are left to answer the tough question, “Who will grow our food?”

Like I said, Harvey and I are bound and determined to find a small farm. We love growing good food. And we are grateful to live in such a strong community of supportive people. Speaking of community, many thanks to everyone who came out last Saturday for the Harvest Festival. It was a really great way to end the season. I especially enjoyed watching the kids participating in the scavenger hunt. They eagerly ran around the market while asking farmers if they use chemicals on their crops and discovering what chickens eat.

Farmer’s Market

We have wrapped up our growing season, and we will not be at the farmer’s market this week. However, we encourage people to visit fellow our fellow farmers at the Selinsgrove Market. Tomorrow is the Market Street Festival, so the Farmer’s Market will be on Pine St, east of Market.

As always, feel free to contact us at seriousfarms@gmail.com or our Facebook page.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Jenny Ruth Hawbaker permalink
    September 26, 2011 11:50 am

    You have to farm for 3 years before you can get land to farm on? How does that make any sense?

    But I think you’re right to be confused at the lack of programs that exist to help small farmers get started. It may be a supply/demand issue. After 1990 the occupation of “farmer” was removed from census because it applied to less than 1% of the nation’s population. Hopefully the local foods movement can change that:) Good luck!

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