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Young Farmers Build a Network to Grow Connecticut’s Farming Future

This committee planned the “Build Your Network, Grow Our Future.”

This committee planned the “Build Your Network, Grow Our Future.”

Getting the younger generation interested in farming is important for the future of American agriculture, and a recent event in Connecticut served as an education and network opportunity for beginning farmers.

The “Build Your Network, Grow Our Future” event held last month in East Windsor, Conn. attracted about 60 people to share resources and learn.

The purpose of the event was to help people new to the world of agriculture meet, make contacts, compare notes, give advice and inform others of services.

So, why focus on newcomers? Nationally, agricultural census figures from USDA show the fastest-growing group of farmers and ranchers is the segment over 65. With the population continuing to grow globally, there is a need for younger people to heed the call to farming and ranching.

At the conference, Wes Hannah, with the National Young Farmer Coalition, delivered a thought-provoking talk about the group and their efforts around the nation to bring together other people with the same goal – building communities.

Hannah talked about some of barriers that new and beginning farmers are experiencing, including lack of financing for start-ups, access to land for sale or lease, legal concerns and technical assistance once the farm is up and running. He also addressed the positives, including what he believes are exciting changes coming for these entrepreneurs with the 2014 Farm Bill.

“The sky is the limit with these types of networks popping up across the country,” Hannah said.

Following a series of breakout sessions, representatives from farm service providers including staff from USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and Farm Service Agency (FSA), met one-on-one with farmers to answer questions, explain services their agencies provide and listen to issues.

“Small and beginning farmers face significant challenges in the coming years,” said Lisa Coverdale, state conservationist for NRCS in Connecticut. “It’s important for them to visit their local NRCS office and find out what kind of technical and financial assistance we can offer them in order for them to meet those challenges head on,” she said.

Asked about the efforts in her state, Coverdale says, “The approach used in Connecticut can be used as a national model for how service providers and industry work with beginning, new farmers to interact and move forward, together.”

NRCS offers technical and financial assistance to farmers and ranchers wanting to implement conservation on land they own or lease. To get started with NRCS, visit your local USDA Service Center or www.nrcs.usda.gov/GetStarted.

Participants left with a list of 10 next steps, including signing up for NRCS’ email blast and visiting agency’s Web Soil Survey.

FSA offers loans and other program opportunities for farmers and ranchers. These efforts are part of a broader effort of USDA to help small and mid-sized farmers and ranchers.

USDA’s state leaders in Connecticut, Bryan Hurlburt with Farm Service Agency and Lisa Coverdale with Natural Resources Conservation Service, met with Wes Hannah (center), organizer of the National Young Farmer Coalition.

USDA’s state leaders in Connecticut, Bryan Hurlburt with Farm Service Agency and Lisa Coverdale with Natural Resources Conservation Service, met with Wes Hannah (center), organizer of the National Young Farmer Coalition.

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