Recent estimates indicate only nine percent of family farm income comes from farming and fewer than half of our nation’s farmers and ranchers list farming as their primary occupation.
In Grinnell, Iowa, Andy and Melissa Dunham support themselves and their two children entirely on the 10-acres of USDA-certified organic vegetables, flowers and herbs they raise on their family–heritage farm. Their business brochure lists 39 different vegetables and herbs, and Andy believes they are the largest grower of kale, carrots and beets in the state. They are also among the more progressive, and more vocal, members of the state’s exploding local foods network.
USDA Farm Service Agency State Executive Director John Whitaker and Rural Development State Director Bill Menner visited the Grinnell Heritage Farm recently to meet with the Dunhams and explore potential roles for USDA. With a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) operation that already reaches into Des Moines, Cedar Rapids and Iowa City, a presence at the major farmers’ markets in the area, and a contract with a member-owned coop grocery, the Dunhams have seen their revenues almost triple over the last three years.
But in order to survive with no off-farm income, they need to continue to grow. And, the Dunhams say they want to expand production from ten acres to as many as 45, add 5,000 square feet of storage and cold storage space, and increase the number of seasonal workers they employ.
Menner pointed out that Rural Development’s Value Added Producer Grant (VAPG) program could be used to expand marketing of the CSA, while its Business and Industry loan guarantee program (B&I) could be accessed by the Dunhams’ banker. Whitaker discussed FSA’s Beginning Farmer Loan Program, its Farm Storage Facility Loan Program, and the Non-Insured Crop Disaster Assistance Program (NAP) and its applicability to vegetable growers.
The Dunhams are familiar with many USDA programs – they have applied for VAPG in the past and already track their production in a manner that simplifies work for local FSA employees. They have a vision for a system that enhances the ability of small growers to expand their markets, be profitable, but not face catastrophic losses or bankruptcy in the event of floods, hailstorms or other events.
They also recognize the importance of locally-grown foods and the relationship between producers and consumer – especially when that relationship is personal – such as the one that exists between the Dunhams and their CSA shareholders, as evidenced by this excerpt from their CSA newsletter last spring.
“Much of our landscape is shaped by our food system and the quality of our health is greatly dependent on what we eat. Transparency in our local food system is the greatest asset we possess and the best argument we can put forth when discussing food and food policy with naysayers.
When you meet your farmer and see your farm, you can be assured that we are not polluting, mistreating our employees or livestock, and not simply mining our soils. When you purchase your produce locally, that food dollar stays in Iowa, it isn’t sent out of state or out of the country. Reinvigorating small towns and cities depends in large part on creating and sustaining a regional economy.”
Learn more about the Dunhams and Grinnell Heritage Farm at www.GrinnellHeritageFarm.com. To find out how USDA can assist your farm visit the FSA or Rural Development web sites or stop by your local USDA Service Center.