by Troy Bishopp
TRUMANSBURG, NY — While many area farmers were tackling the corn harvest and dodging raindrops, a small, passionate group of 20- and 30-something farmers gathered at the Devon Van-Noble Farm, around a smoker full of tasty pork with all the fixin’s, and delved head-first into a policy discussion about the National Young Farmer’s Coalition direction here in New York.
“We want to implement policies that help young farmers be successful,” said guest facilitator, David Howard, National Young Farmers Coalition’s Northeast Campaign Director.
New York just so happens to be home to the National Young Farmers Coalition, where the organizational founders first came together to organize in 2010. Regional chapters around the state led by local young farmer leaders include: The Hudson Valley Young Farmers Coalition, ADK Farmers Coalition, Leatherstocking Young Farmers Coalition, Greater Catskills Young Farmers Coalition and the Central NY Young Farmers Coalition who hosted this listening session. “We meet to build community among young farmers, sure, but we also amplify young farmers’ voices to make real policy change. As a chapter of the National Young Farmers Coalition, we are networked with other young farmers across the state and the country, and combined, our collective voices are strong,” said organic dairy farmer, Liz Pickard of the CNY leadership team.
“The goals of the Central New York chapter are to build community, advance social and racial justice, and use our political voice for change,” said Ariana Taylor-Stanley. “We have a golden opportunity to weigh in on state legislation and direct national priorities. We like to think we can be the incubator for change to help young farmers build viable businesses.”
Howard was in town with one mission: To listen for opportunities and concerns, take chapter ideas back to NYFC headquarters in Hudson, NY and figure out what the priorities are, policy-wise. “What NYFC learns from this, and similar events around the state, will help inform our New York State policy work over the next year. We’d like to expand our state policies and incubate federal policies since we are engaged in the Farm Bill. Evaluating programs tailored towards young farmers is a priority for us,” said Howard.
The group of dairy, livestock, vegetable and diversified farmers started with the positive opportunities and aspects of farming in Central New York. High marks were shared for being in an active farming community with generous mentors, a helpful agency and extension presence, good access to used equipment and markets, supportive retailers and wholesalers, a strong tourist population and college campuses, relatively good processing facilities for livestock, a lot of fallow land and New York State’s commitment to foster market differentiation.
There are challenges however, for young farmers (and even established ones) to thrive in agriculture. Topping the barrier list included: Being constantly judged and paid based on the commodity markets and consumer demand for cheap food, access to affordable health care, funding for portable infrastructure on leased land, skilled labor, access to credit in a lower equity position, selling to institutions, incentives tailored to small farms, a centralized food transportation hub, extreme weather events affecting young farmer’s resiliency to bounce back and NRCS programs incentivized for small farms while not always being resource-concern driven.
A discussion followed about on-going New York policy recommendations that included establishing a financial incentive for workforce development, helping new farmers manage student loan debt and accessing credit by lengthening the window of application eligibility after graduation, establish a tax incentive program to encourage the sale and renting agricultural assets to new farmers and to continue to invest in an approach to farmland protection that protects working farms, the land and the farmers who steward it.
Young farmers are being heard. In August 2018, The National Young Farmers Coalition, together with its five New York chapters, New York Farm Bureau, American Farmland Trust, and land trusts from around the state successfully advocated for the passage of the Working Farm Protection Act (Bill A.10301-B, S.8362-A). The Act passed the New York State Legislature unanimously with support from lead sponsors Assembly member Didi Barrett (D-106) and Senator Patty Ritchie (R-48), along with 63 co-sponsors in the Assembly and Senate. “The Act helps address farmland access by making working farm easements permanently eligible for funding through the State’s Farmland Protection Implementation Grant (FPIG) program. Working farm easements include farmer ownership and affordability provisions such as preemptive purchase rights, which help keep protected farmland affordable and in the hands of farmers.”
“The Working Farm Protection Act is about one thing—standing with farmers. We can no longer assume that protecting farmland will also protect the people who work it,” said Lindsey Lusher Shute, Executive Director of the National Young Farmers Coalition and co-owner of Hearty Roots Community Farm in Clermont. “This bill is an important step towards making New York State farmland affordable for working farmers. We are grateful for the Governor’s support, and the leadership of Assemblymember Barrett and Senator Ritchie.”
“We aren’t just cows and plows. We are leaders and achievers, learners and servers, teams with dreams.” ~ FFA
The Central New York chapter which stretches from the state’s southern border near Elmira-Corning, north to Sodus Bay, east through Syracuse, and south down the Route 81 corridor down to Binghamton can be accessed by visiting www.facebook.com/CNYYoungFarmers/
The National Young Farmers Coalition (NYFC) is a national advocacy network of young farmers fighting for the future of agriculture. Visit NYFC on the web at www.youngfarmers.org.
Young farmers amplify their voices on ag policy direction
by Troy Bishopp