by Tyler Mason
Lindsey Lusher Shute saw a need for young people who wanted to stay or become involved in agriculture to have access to land, equipment, capital and education. She pointed out that most U.S. farmers today are over 50 with few successors and there are some young farmers out there who need to succeed. Recognizing this situation, she envisioned a future where young farmers could have a strong voice and a stronger means for investing in their food production businesses. In 2010, Lindsey and a group of like-minded individuals started the National Young Farmers Coalition, based in Hudson, NY, to help access funding for small diverse farms.
In 2012 and 2013, a group of six young Vermont farmers in the Burlington area became inspired by the national coalition and what it stood for, and established their own chapter. This chapter is called the Vermont Young Farmers Coalition (VYFC). Taylor Hutchison is the leader.
According to Hutchison, the Coalition’s overall mission is to “support, connect and advocate for young and beginning Vermont farmers by creating opportunities for resource sharing, building community and serving as a collective voice to influence agricultural policy.” She said the coalition seeks anyone who is interested in becoming a farmer and has been farming for 10 years or less.
Recently the coalition has made some connections in the Vermont statehouse where members have educated themselves on the political process. They were beneficial in advocating for the state’s on-farm slaughter exemption. The members have seen a rise in acknowledgment from the statehouse in the importance of attracting and maintaining young people’s interest in agriculture.
When asked if consideration has been taken to join efforts with other organizations such as FFA, 4-H and Grange, Hutchison answered, “Yes.” However, she was quick to add they are “not willing to tread on what has already been going on.” She was clear that VYFC is careful to try to cover new ground rather than take action where someone had already made gains. They would rather make progress where it is needed or aid other organizations. Hutchison said that their relations with other organizations have already proven strong in the time VYFC has been around.
Hutchison brought up a subject many are familiar with. There are many young or beginning farmers who are first generation and do not have other farmers in their families or even acquaintances to learn from. Some take up agriculture with great intentions. They may charge full steam ahead in the beginning but become discouraged as they learn the realities that make farming difficult. Then they will find out how hard it is to get financing and, at that point, many give up entirely. One of the goals of VYFC is to ensure that young farmers know what resources are out there for education and training and for beginning farmer loans. Hutchison said, “We are in a really exciting time right now for agriculture and supporting young and aspiring farmers to succeed is important for the future of our food system. We are trying to reduce barriers to capitalize on that excitement.”
The first resource to go to for becoming a member of the VYFC is to join the national organization, which gives access to discounts, educational materials for land access and loan information. Some examples of these ways and means are the Vermont Beginning Farmer Program at the Intervale Center and the Farm Viability Program. The national organization can be joined at www.youngfarmers.org.
The next event VYFC will be holding is a bonfire April 14 at Pigasus Farm in South Hero. Check their Facebook page for details about that event. She added that becoming a member of VYFC is free of charge.