Television remains the most common way for Americans to get their news.
For years, headlines have detailed the decline of the American Farmer. But when you combine the popularity of farmers’ markets with the passion of the locavore movement, and add in a tough economy with high unemployment — you find the idea of running a small local farm is appealing to many. Farming has never been easy work. We look at the challenges of being a small farmer today including how local farmers use technology, decide whether to ‘go organic,’ and more.
- Jim Crawford Owner, New Morning Farm; Founder, Tuscarora Organic Growers
- Clare Seibert [SIGH-bert] Co-owner, Clear Spring Creamery
- Renee Catacalos Communications and Conference Director, Future Harvest CASA (Chesapeake Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture)
- Kathleen Merrigan Deputy Secretary of Agriculture, USDA
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. The news hasn't been good for the family farm in a long time. A hundred years ago, 41 percent of Americans worked on farms. That number is now less than 2 percent. The younger generation has been abandoning the rural life for decades.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIAnd today, the average age of the American farmer is 57 and rising. Land prices have doubled in the past 10 years, often pricing new farmers out. But if local sustainable farming seems to be ending as a way of life, there's reason to believe or maybe hope that the trend could shift. Demand for organic produce has never been higher, and farmers' markets now compete in every urban and suburban area in our region.
MR. KOJO NNAMDILocally raised food is now featured on restaurant menus and in nearly every supermarket. And programs to support new farmers are blossoming here and around the country. Joining us to discuss all of this is Jim Crawford. He is the owner of New Morning Farm. That's a 95-acre certified organic vegetable farm in south-central Pennsylvania. He's also the founder of Tuscarora Organic Growers. Jim Crawford, thank you for joining us.
MR. JIM CRAWFORDThanks for having me.
NNAMDIAlso with us in studio is Clare Seibert, co-owner of Clear Spring Creamery. That's a dairy farm located in Washington County, Md. Clare Seibert, thank you for joining us.
MS. CLARE SEIBERTThank you.
NNAMDIAnd Renee Catacalos is the communications and conference director for the Future Harvest Chesapeake Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture. She's also a board member of Fresh Farm Markets, and she was the former editor of the magazine Edible Chesapeake. Renee Catacalos, thank you, too, for joining us.
MS. RENEE CATACALOSGreat to be here.
NNAMDIYou can join the conversation. Call us at 800-433-8850. Do you choose sustainable and local foods when you shop? 800-433-8850. You can send us a tweet, @kojoshow, email to email@example.com, or simply go to our website, kojoshow.org. Join the conversation there. Jim, you are a long-time sustainable farmer now. When did you start in the business, and what did the local farming picture look like back then?
CRAWFORDI started in 1972. It looked a lot different. There's fewer of us and fewer -- a lot fewer farmers' markets, of course, and a lot fewer farms.
NNAMDIWhat did you start growing when you started 40 years ago?
CRAWFORDI started growing vegetables, just kind of got started gardening and went to a bigger and bigger garden and...
NNAMDIWhat do you grow in your farm today?
CRAWFORDAll kinds of vegetables, just about everything you'd have in your garden, about 50, 60 different crops.
NNAMDIWhat's the size of your farm?
CRAWFORDWell, we own 95 acres, but we farm about 45. The rest of it is hills and woods and creek beds and stuff.
NNAMDIIt's my understanding you farm about 40 different crops. How many people employed there, besides you and your wife?
CRAWFORDA little over 20. A lot of people. It takes a lot of people to grow vegetables.
NNAMDIHow many people year-round?
CRAWFORDWell, in the wintertime, there's probably -- right now, there's five, but usually four or three in the wintertime, in the mid-winter, so a lot of seasonal.
NNAMDIClare, it's my understanding that your husband came from a farm family, but in some ways, this is the story we're talking because, out of five kids, he was the only one who decided to go into farming, and that only after trying another career. How did you two -- how come you two decided to farm?
SEIBERTThat's right. We're actually farming on the farm that my husband grew up on, and he's actually only been away from the farm for the few years that he was away at college. So he's a true farm boy. We both just have always loved the outdoors. I particularly had a specific interest in animals. And it was always our goal after we got married to move back to the family farm. And my husband was particularly interested in making a living back on the family farm. And so when we had the opportunity, we took it and moved back there and sort of gradually grew our business.
NNAMDIWhat was the career that he was considering while he was in college?
SEIBERTWell, his degree is in agronomy, so he's always been interested in soil and natural resources and farming.
NNAMDISo the only time he was actually away from the farm was while he was studying agronomy in college.
SEIBERTThat's right and a few years after, yes, in his early career.
NNAMDIRenee, a lot of people dream about running a farm, but they don't always know what they're getting into. Your organization works to help new farmers get started. Tell us about the beginning farmer training program.
CATACALOSRight. You mentioned earlier that farming was sort of disappearing as a way of life. And I think it's a romantic vision of that way of life that is starting to draw some people back to farming. There are a number of young people out there who are looking for that, but having grown up on farms and don't necessarily have the knowledge or skills to do the farming. So what we do through our beginner farming training program is pair them up with mentor farmers on whose farms they learn what the real work of farming really involves.
CATACALOSAnd then we also pair that up with classroom work and field days and workshops that help them understand how to actually make a living at the same time that they are finding this way of life.
NNAMDIBecause the dream can often deteriorate into an unexpected reality if you're not prepared...
CATACALOSVery sure and very certain...
NNAMDI...if you're not prepared for it. Jim, what challenges are there now to younger farmers that may not have been around when you started?
CRAWFORDChallenges that are there now, I think of it kind of the other way around where more challenges back then because there was so much fewer -- so many fewer of us. There's plenty of challenges, though. Of course, it's always challenging in -- to grow -- to do agriculture in...
NNAMDIBut it seems to me that when you started, there might have been more farmers around who, like Clare's husband, were the children of farmers and therefore had institutional knowledge, and there might not have been in as need of the beginning farmer training program as some people are today. Did you find that to be the case when you first started?
CRAWFORDWell, I was really lucky that I actually had some neighbors who were young people who grew up on farms, and we're starting...
NNAMDIThat's the point.
CRAWFORDYeah. But that was really unusual, though. And it was...
CRAWFORD...just total coincidence and great luck for me that they were nearby because there were very few models and...
CATACALOSI think the other important thing, too, is that a lot of the farmers who were out there and farmers following the footsteps of Jim are farming in sustainable ways, organic ways, integrated pest management or biodynamics and different systems like that were not as common at that time, either. So I think that -- I mean, I know Jim was among the pioneer group of people coming direct to consumers out of organic and sustainable practices. So there is more -- there are more resources available to farmers who want to go in that direction now.
NNAMDII want to talk about the practical aspect of one of the things Renee talked about earlier, and that is the dream, Jim. It's one thing to actually do the farming, but farms, as she pointed out, are also businesses. Do a lot of people miss that in their dream of owning a farm, in your experience?
CRAWFORDYeah. I think a lot of people do. Young people are coming into this, you know, very idealistic and altruistic and tend to -- and be either environmentalists, so they have a lot of motives that aren't connected to business and realities, like finance and stuff. So, yeah, it's -- I think it's a maturing learning process. Everybody goes through that that we went through.
NNAMDIRenee, what business skills does the beginning farmer training program focus on?
CATACALOSWell, we partner with folks out of extension and out of marketing departments with the local universities and agricultural resource council, various other groups, to bring programs that help new farm farmers understand, as Jim mentioned, financing, looking at business planning, looking at marketing, figuring out before you actually plant crops, whether you're planning the right crops that are going to either grow in the area you're in and also if you have a market to sell those crops at, understanding how you're going to price that, how you're going to handle your distribution.
CATACALOSThere are just a number of things that go into being a successful farming business that are in addition to understanding how to actually grow food.
NNAMDIClare, I often hear people say, or hear farmers say, farming is a lifestyle as well as a job. What were some of the biggest challenges that you and your husband faced in starting your farm?
SEIBERTYeah. That's very true. Basically, it's just all encompassing. I mean, when you make the commitment to be a farmer, it's 24 hours, seven days a week, and especially...
NNAMDIYou got two kids.
SEIBERT...with animals. We have two children, yes. And so it's always a struggle to have a good balance, but at the same time, there are certain things that can't be ignored. And if you have an animal that needs helps at 4 o'clock in the morning, you've got to go do it and, you know...
NNAMDIJim, when I'm finished here at the end of the day, I'm going home. Is life like that for you?
CRAWFORDIt's not like that at all.
CRAWFORDYeah. It's really -- as Clare said, I mean, we don't have a lot of animals, but we have greenhouses, and we have frost coming in May or April. And we have all kinds of things that keep us kind of involved 24 hours a day. So it is really that way. I mean, it's definitely -- it's pretty hard to go home.
NNAMDIYou don't punch a clock here. Let's go to the telephones. We'll start with Sophia in Potomac, Md. Sophia, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
SOPHIAHi. My name is Sophia. Thanks for having me. I'm just calling -- I'm starting up an educational assignment Potomac, Md., only 20 minutes from D.C. and actually my family's land. We're fighting to keep it -- to save it from development right now, releasing it from the Board of Education, public school land. And I'm just really interested in recruiting more farmers to, you know, the workforce and to sort of transition to a more localized economy to improve our environment and our communities.
SOPHIAAnd my question is, how can we expose children and so get it integrated maybe into our school programs and our school systems to really have them see that farming is a worthwhile career, and it's important, and it's respected? And I think that sort of mind, that paradigm shift would really help, you know, our future farmers and the sustainability of this career.
NNAMDISophia, I'm going to put you on hold for a second because we have a similar question and maybe a suggestion before we go back to our panelists from Hank in Prince George's County, Md. Hank, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
HANKHi. Thanks a lot. Great show and a very important topic, and I wanted to support what Sophia just said. There is an excellent opportunity to establish, really, what's a training center for young people who are interested in farming but need to learn exactly those skills, not just the growing and not just the enthusiasm but the business skills as well. Nick's Organic Farm located out in Potomac for 30 years has been growing organic farms and sustainable -- using sustainable methods.
HANKI've been there a number of times. It's a great operation. And he has just so much to offer. But, unfortunately, the county behind -- county officials behind closed doors have made a deal with a private developer to develop soccer fields on that very property, which the (unintelligible)...
NNAMDIYou're talking about in Montgomery County, is that correct?
HANKYes, in Montgomery County, exactly.
NNAMDIWell, allow me to put you on hold also, Hank, because I think that's precisely what Carrie in Gaithersburg, Md., wants to talk about. Carrie, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
CARRIEHi. I actually wanted to bring up a quick story. My 12-year-old nephew is a Montgomery County student here, and they were learning about the Chesapeake Bay. And although he is 12, after attending the classes provided by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, he walked away with the idea that farming is enemy number one to the bay, that modern farming practices are a major pollutant to the bay.
CARRIEAnd I think that having a course where kids learn about organic farming and sustainable agriculture practices is a great thing to learn to counterbalance what they're already going on school trips to learn. They're learning about farms and how they pollute our bay, but they could also learn about sustainable agriculture practices to...
NNAMDIIt's my understanding that you volunteer with them. Where?
CARRIEYes. I do volunteer to help with kids trying to understand the difference between organic farms and how they operate, which is very different than the traditional farming, which, in Montgomery County, we used to have plenty of.
NNAMDICarrie, thank you very much for your call. I'll start with you, Renee, in terms of both what Hank and Sophia were talking about, the learning opportunities for young people.
CATACALOSWell, they're absolutely right, and a lot of us in the community are aware of what's been going on out at Nick's Organic Farm, too. And, you know, what's really valuable about places like Nick's, places like Potomac Vegetable Farm in Fairfax County, places like ECO City Farms that's in Prince George's County, these are closer in-farms, farms that are in areas that either have become developed around them or that actually, you know, never really had a farming area. But they're finding ways to get urban farming into these areas, urban suburban farming.
CATACALOSAnd having children exposed to the fact that farms actually still exist and that they can see them and, even if they can't get out to the country to get to rural farms, that they can see them nearby, I think, is really important for people to understand that it is an economically viable career alternative and that it's an important part of our community. In Maryland, I know there's a move this year to try to beef up the Jane Lawton Farm to School Act.
CATACALOSThat is supposed to create stronger ties between farms and schools in terms of getting locally grown food into the schools, and there are other things around that, around education, et cetera, that can be brought into play as well.
NNAMDIAnd, Sophia, thank you very much for your call.
NNAMDIWe're going to take a short break. When we come back, we will continue this conversation on essentially growing new farmers. We'll be joined by phone by Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture Kathleen Merrigan and continue taking your calls at 800-433-8850. Do you run a farm? What are some of the challenges you face? Call us, 800-433-8850, send us a tweet, @kojoshow, or email to firstname.lastname@example.org. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIIt's a Food Wednesday conversation about growing new farmers. We're talking with Clare Seibert, co-owner of Clear Spring Creamery, a dairy farm located in Washington County, Md. Jim Crawford is the owner of New Morning Farm, a 95-acre certified organic vegetable farm in South Central Pennsylvania. He's also the founder of Tuscarora Organic Growers. And Renee Catacalos is the communications and conference director for the Future Harvest Chesapeake Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture. She's former editor of the magazine Edible Chesapeake.
NNAMDIAnd joining us now by telephone is Kathleen Merrigan, deputy secretary for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Kathleen Merrigan, thank you so much for joining us.
MS. KATHLEEN MERRIGANHey, Kojo, thank you for having this show. What an important topic. I'm really excited. I know some of the folks that you have on your panel, and it's a really timely show because we are unveiling a big, new, exciting report at the U.S. Department of Agriculture today that touches upon this very theme.
NNAMDITell us what's new and exciting about the report.
MERRIGANWe've had this initiative for three years called Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food. Secretary Vilsack and I have been going around the country saying, not every family needs a lawyer, not every family needs an accountant, but every family needs a farmer and do you know yours? We've got a problem in this country with 1 percent of us actually hailing from the farm and ranches, the other 99 percent not exactly knowing their farmer or how food is produced.
MERRIGANIt's really created a lot of challenges and among them, the fact that we need to repopulate our working lands. Thirty percent of farmers now are aged 65 and above. I meet farmers when I go around the country who are 80 years old, still farming, don't know who to pass the family farm on to. So in this initiative, we've been trying to find ways to better utilize USDA resources to facilitate the construction of local and regional food systems.
MERRIGANConsumers want to buy local. They want to know their farmer. Let's figure out what USDA tools we have available to help them. We've put it all together on a map of the country, where we've put our investments, put it in a document, how you can use USDA tools. We're releasing it today at 2:30 -- two o'clock. The secretary and I are having a webinar that people can join. But go to USDA's website. Anyone who's interested in farming, particularly beginning farmers, people who aspire to farm, this will be an incredible tool (unintelligible).
NNAMDIWe'll make sure we put a link to that website at our website, kojoshow.org. Can you talk about a little bit of what you're offering here? Because it's particularly hard, at least it's my understanding, for new farmers to buy land, which is much more expensive now and to buy equipment. What help is there that the USDA can offer with financing, for instance?
MERRIGANWell, we provide farm operating loans. For example, in the last couple of years, we have had 40 percent of all our farm loans going to beginning farmers and ranchers. So we do have money available. We have grants to help farmers do value-added products. So, you know, I grow pumpkins, but then I get some help from USDA to produce a pumpkin puree product that I can then sell throughout the calendar year and continue my income stream.
MERRIGANWe have conservation programs that help farmers. One of the things that's been exceedingly popular is seasonal high tunnels. I'm from Massachusetts. We call them hoop houses, temporary greenhouse-like structures that allows the farmer to get a crop in earlier, keep it in later and sell year-round in certain places, so we have a number of winter farmers' markets. So they're doing really well around the country, and it's really exciting.
NNAMDIHow's the department supporting local and regional farming?
MERRIGANWell, that's what this compass document, the, know your farmer, know your food, document we're releasing today will let people know. I can go to this geospatial mapping tool if I'm in Montgomery County or if I'm in the state of Florida, wherever you are in the country, you can go to your county and you can see what USDA investments have been made. And furthermore, you can go look a state over, another county over and say, hey, they got some of that. I want that here as well.
MERRIGANAnd so we're hoping it will contribute to the national conversation and put some more demands on our resources to help people build up these local food systems that we know is one of the biggest, if not the biggest, food trend that we've seen in decades.
NNAMDIKathleen Merrigan is the deputy secretary for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which at 2 p.m. today will be announcing the, know your farmer/food compass. She's just been describing it for us. It's an interactive map where you can find out what local food is available in your area as well as what programs there are to support you if you choose to produce food locally. Kathleen Merrigan, thank you so much for joining us.
MERRIGANThanks so much, Kojo. I'm going to continue listening. It's a great show.
NNAMDIThank you. Renee Catacalos, your organization also advocates for the sustainable agriculture community. One of the bigger pieces of legislation your organization is working on is the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act of 2011, a bill that may be passed as a part of the farm bill, it's my understanding. Tell us about that.
CATACALOSRight. That bill is, as you said, part of the potential farm bill. It hasn't been moving quite as quickly as everyone would've liked this year, but we are -- our advocacy committee is working to make sure that the needs of local and regional farmers are heard on these and that we are advocating for that. The other part of that is the Local Farms, Food and Jobs Act, which also includes some important provisions that can really help to build local and regional food systems.
CATACALOSI mean, some of the things that are involved in these, you know, reflect some of the things that Deputy Secretary Merrigan was talking about. There's money in this beginner --Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act to be able to, for instance, come up with micro loans that would help new farmers get started with those equipment costs and things, facilitate. They're getting that money easier.
CATACALOSIn the Local Farms, Food and Jobs Act, there are some important provisions that could do things such as making it easier for small farmers who bring poultry to local markets to slaughter that in one state and then be able to sell it in another state, which is really important in a region like the Chesapeake, where our farmers are maybe located in Pennsylvania but are selling in Maryland and West Virginia or in Maryland and selling in D.C. and Virginia, et cetera.
NNAMDIThat's, I guess, very important to you also, Jim Crawford.
NNAMDIWhat she was just talking about. But your farm also supports apprentices, does it not?
NNAMDIWhat do you hope to give to the next generation of farmers?
CRAWFORDWell, we -- we've had apprentices at the farm since the beginning. We now have 12 altogether, and I think they do a lot of learning. They also help us manage and operate the farm, but, yeah, they...
NNAMDIDo they generally move on to become farmers themselves?
CRAWFORDWell, many of them do. We have -- I lost count a long time ago -- something -- I was thinking something in the neighborhood 40 or so after -- we've been doing this for 40 years, so -- but, I mean, still a relatively small percentage of the total apprentices we've had at the farm, but, still, you know, dozens anyway that are farming now, yeah.
NNAMDIClare Seibert, there's another dimension to your farm because it produces milk, yogurt and cheese, which to me sounds ambitious. How did you and your husband learn that side of the business?
SEIBERTWe, as soon as we started milking, became interested in value-added product and how to add value to what we were doing and really try and make it a livable enterprise because it was quickly obvious that what we were doing was not going to be. And around that time, we started connecting with other farmers, dairy farmers, that were doing exactly what we're interested in doing: making cheese, bottling milk.
SEIBERTThrough some other organizations that we belong to, we just networked. We went to every farm we could drive to in one day that was doing something like this and looked at how they did it and kind of picked and chose what we liked about what different people were doing and sort of developed our own unique. But it is -- yes, it's a huge -- it's still learning process and it's never done.
NNAMDIIt's on my understanding also that your cows operate on a natural schedule so that you don't have milk all year. Tell us about that.
SEIBERTRight. Well, they have a natural lactation cycle, so any cow is going to have a beginning and an end of their lactation time. And we actually just breed our cows so that they have their calves right about now. We just started calving last week.
SEIBERTWe had a couple calves today, actually, before I came here. But -- and then they naturally are at the end of their milking cycle around Christmastime, which is when we like to dry them off and have a little bit of time before we get started again. So...
NNAMDISo this is the time of year when you're getting up early in the morning to deliver?
SEIBERTYes. Oh, so far, we're not doing any delivering. We're just checking on everybody.
NNAMDI...for the time being. On to the telephones where a lot of callers await. We will start with Holly in Capitol Heights, Md. Holly, your turn. Hi, Holly, are you there? Holly may have stepped away from the phone for a second. I'll put Holly on hold and go to Andrew in Takoma Park, Md. Andrew, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ANDREWOh, thanks, Kojo. This is a great show. I'm really enjoying it. I have a comment and a couple of questions, and then I'll hang up and listen. The comment is when I was a kid I went -- well, I grew up in the U.K., and at elementary school there, we would all -- several times a week, took care of our own plots of ground growing vegetables. That was part of the school curriculum. And I think it was an extraordinarily good idea. And I don't see any discussion about things like that returning to core educational syllabus. And the other thing is...
ANDREW...I'm -- the question is I'm interested in being self-sustaining rather than farming. And I wondered if there was any information available as to how much acreage I would need, whether I could use a rooftop garden and what they think of vertical gardening and what sort of -- if there's a map that describes or gives you information about the viable crops for certain climate zones, particular climate zones in the U.S. (unintelligible)...
NNAMDIAs a matter of fact, we just did a show about the existence of such a map, and we're going to pull up that information and make sure we put a link to that show on our website so that it will be available to people like you, Andrew. But in terms of the core educational syllabus that you are just asking about, I don't know if Renee Catacalos can tell us anything about that.
CATACALOSWell, yeah, you're right. It's definitely not part of the core educational syllabus...
CATACALOS...at too many schools around. But, I mean, there are a lot of schools that realize the value in gardening or in teaching their students about growing things. A lot of schools independently are taking up gardening projects, and I think we'll probably see that grow. It takes a lot of resources to do a school garden actually. And I think this is one of the things that happens sometimes, just like people kind of getting into farming in general. And, actually, it even happens to a lot of us who just try to do a backyard garden.
CATACALOSIt sounds great at the beginning and you start it, and then you haven't really realized how much time it's going to take to maintain it. In a school setting, the kids are out of school for a lot of the growing season around here, so there's always an issue of who's going to maintain it over the summer. None of these are obstacles that can't be overcome. But I think we're just starting to see some kind of dedicated teachers and folks in communities making these things a priority.
CATACALOSAnd, hopefully, they'll become more of a priority as we move forward and also as we have more farms around that are viable and that are available to kind of support these kind of learning classrooms.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Andrew. And, well, good luck to you. Later in the broadcast, I'll give you an indication of the show that we did, when we did it, about what grows in this area at what times of year. And we'll have a link on our website. On to Holly back in Capitol Heights, Md. Holly, you're on the air now. Go ahead, please.
HOLLYHello. I'm sorry about that earlier. I'm more comfortable in the field than I am with this technological cellphone.
NNAMDIDon't worry about it.
HOLLYI have a small farm in Talbot County, our family farm. We raise chickens and cows, and we sell eggs. I'm also the president of the Maryland Organic Food Farming Association. And I called in because I really feel it's so important to have young people exposed to responsible and worthwhile projects and for children to have access to these projects. And, for example, the (word?) farm on Brickyard Road is the ideal place for this to happen.
HOLLYI'm really worried that our children have the impression that, you know, farms are big agricultural things -- agricultural corporations and not necessarily farms. And, I think, being exposed to projects where they can actually see an organic farm or a farm that's (unintelligible) is so important. Hello?
NNAMDIIndeed, I think you'll find agreement around this table.
NNAMDIJim, I wanted to ask you, when you started in the business, what kind of interest was there in sustainable organic food in 1972 compared to now, for instance?
CRAWFORDWell, it was a lot smaller -- of course, it was a lot smaller than it is now, but there was -- there's significant number of people. I was -- started -- I lived in Washington when I decided to become a farmer, and so I was familiar with Washington. And there was a significant demand for organic food back in the '70s just...
NNAMDIBut haven't we seen a more dramatic change during the course of the last 10 years or so? And what has that meant for your business?
CRAWFORDOh, it's been great for our business. Although I still think, though, that most consumers are maybe more interested in the local thing than they are in the organic thing. I think that's always been our strongest, you know, point that people really appreciate buying directly from a farmer, knowing your farmer and having that experience of a farmers' market and communicating with the person who grew the food. So I think that's a stronger motive for a lot of consumers of the organic thing.
NNAMDIYou direct-marketed your products in Washington right from the very beginning in 1970s, not surprising now for farmers to sell produce that way. But how unusual was that back in 1972?
CRAWFORDWell, it was unusual. There were very few farmers' markets in Washington then.
NNAMDIYou're considered one of the pioneers in these regions of farmers' markets.
CRAWFORDWell, sort of. I suppose that's true. I just knew that I wanted to do this direct marketing and do farmers' markets, and one of the first things I did was found a site and a neighborhood and started a little farmers' market there in 1973. And -- but there was a lot of excitement about it in the neighborhood because, I think, it's just sort of fundamental motive. People want to, you know, have that contact with the person who's growing their foods.
CATACALOSI think the other thing that the growth of farmer's markets has helped to do, as we've seen after Jim, then we started to see larger farmer's markets come into the area, markets like the FRESHFARM Markets that I'm a part of. And it provides the opportunity for some younger farmers to interact with more experienced farmers in that, kind of, almost a professional, you know, networking setting as well and for them to see, to learn how they market those things and to compare, you know, what different farmers are doing. So I think that's been an important support system as well.
SEIBERTI just want to add, too, that the benefit for the farmer, as far as not just financial, of having this direct relationship with their customer, but also for feedback. And, you know, it's a very isolating profession. A lot of times, you're all by yourself. There's not a whole lot of social interaction on the farm. And, for us, it just -- every week, we go and have this connection with our customers and then get all this good feedback and...
NNAMDII was about to say where do you sell your dairy products?
SEIBERTWe sell right down here, Dupont, Takoma, Falls Church, Arlington.
NNAMDIIn the local farmers markets.
SEIBERTIn the local area, yeah, so we get all this great feedback from our customers. It gives us energy to go back and start again on, you know, Monday and go back at it and work hard and...
NNAMDIIt's the connection. Holly, thank you so much for your call. Tomorrow, by the way, we'll be talking to the chef who helped change Baltimore school lunches. He's known as the cafeteria man. He started a farm to teach kids about growing the food they eat. Right now, we're going to take a short break. If you have already called, stay on the line. If you have not yet, the number is 800-433-8850. Is there a farm operation in your family, past, present or future?
NNAMDIYou can also send email to email@example.com. Send us a tweet, @kojoshow. Or simply go to our website, kojoshow.org. Ask a question or make a comment there. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back to our conversation on beginning farmers or growing new farms. We're talking with Renee Catacalos, communications and conference director for the Future Harvest-Chesapeake Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture. Clare Seibert is the co-owner of Clear Spring Creamery, a dairy farm located in Washington County, Md., and Jim Crawford is the owner of New Morning Farm, a 95-acre certified organic vegetable farm in South Central Pennsylvania. He's also the founder of Tuscarora Organic Growers.
NNAMDIWe got an email from Constance, who says, "Would you ask if your guests have looked into the farm co-op business structure used in the U.S. heartland during the mid-20th century? I think it helped farmers share the cost of large equipment and band together for get-to-market options." I don't know about that, Jim. But I do know that you also distribute your produce to a kind of co-op, don't you?
CRAWFORDYes, absolutely. And...
NNAMDITell us about that.
CRAWFORDOur co-op is structured just in the same example she's talking about there. We're a standard agricultural marketing cooperative, and we have 47 farmer members who are owners of the co-op and bring their produce to the co-op. And the co-op markets it and ships it to market as sales.
NNAMDIAnd, Renee, I am a beginning farmer, let us assume, and I have done my apprenticeship. And I'm looking to start a farm some place. I have no land. Can you connect me with someone who does?
CATACALOSRight. That's definitely one of the biggest challenges that some new farmers face today. And we have identified that at Future Harvest CASA. And many other organizations are looking at that, too. So what we try to do is connect our beginning farmers with facilitators that are putting them together with possible sources for land. We're finding that, even though there's pressure, a lot of farming land is being taken out of production.
CATACALOSAt the same time, we are hearing, on an ongoing basis, from people who own land, who do not farm it or who would like to have it farmed or where it has been farmed in a conventional manner using chemicals, et cetera, for many years, and now a younger generation has come back and wants to transition it to something more sustainable but doesn't either know how to do it or doesn't want to do it themselves. So they're looking for people either to lease this land or to come and be a farm manager and run a farm for them.
CATACALOSSo there are land-linking organizations out there that facilitate conversations that lead towards actual business arrangements where new farmers can get on to these kinds of land operations.
NNAMDIClare, you and your husband are in a relatively enviable situation and that you have more demand for your products than you can meet. But, for you, there's a tension between wanting to meet that demand but also, at the same time, to stay small. How do you reconcile those tensions?
SEIBERTYeah. That's always -- that's a struggle, but we try and stay true to the way we, you know, initially pictured our business as not as that, you know, we are in complete control of the product. And, you know, the number of animals we have right now is sustained with the number of acres that we have, and we don't want to have more animals to produce more milk. It's never been our goal to produce the most milk. We just want to have a high-quality product and a sustainable farm.
SEIBERTBut, yes, there's definitely more demand, and there's room for other people to do exactly what we're doing because we just can't get to all the places that want fresh milk and yogurt and cheese, you know, available.
NNAMDIOn to the telephones again. Here is Forest (sp?) on Smith Meadows Farm, Va. Forest, your turn.
FORESTHey, Kojo. Thank you very much. And I know all your guests there, so you're in good company. It was no accident that I was alerted to your show by a former apprentice of ours, Lawrence Pearlman, (sp?) who has started his own farm over Shepherdstown. And I couldn't agree with Clare more. We've been doing farmer's markets in D.C. since '99, and we've always tried to balance our own sustainability with the land in conjunction with demand.
FORESTAnd, eventually, you'll reach a point where your farm is going to only grow so much. So we started an apprenticeship program in 2005, and I'm really pleased to say that all our apprentices -- we've had 12 -- are all either actively farming or involved in the local food movement in some way.
NNAMDIOh, really? Thank you very much for your call, and congratulations on your apparent success.
NNAMDIOn now to Lewis in Washington, D.C. Lewis, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
LEWISHi. Thanks, Kojo, for having me on the show. I love your show. The thing that I would like to ask is, I find it very hard, as what you were just alluding to, to become a farmer. I've been trying for, like, the past two years. Either I get the response of I don't have the experience or I don't have enough money to really, you know, get into it. So I believe, in the past few minutes, you have kind of started to address that.
NNAMDIIndeed. I'll turn to Jim Crawford because, Jim, one of the challenges, as we hear from Lewis, is making a farm pay. A lot of farmers don't make money at all in the first year or, for that matter, the second. What's the general rule about how long it takes to become self-sustaining? And what advice would you give to Lewis?
CRAWFORDWell, I don't think there's a general rule, but I have been really interested to observe people, our apprentices, our alumni, I kind of think them as going out there and starting their own operations and watching how they've done it. And it's a years-long process. It -- there's a couple that I was just talking to the other day that have been preparing for 10 years. They started out as apprentices for us 10 years ago, and now they're ready to start their operation, 10 acres of vegetables.
CRAWFORDSo -- but there's lots of other examples where it's been three, four, five, six years of apprenticing at different farms around the country. It's really good to have the experience of more than one farm, probably, and then, you know, learning what it takes and gradually developing the skills and learning what, you know, the financial requirements are going to be. And so it's a long process. It's not something you can do in a few months or a couple of years, but it's definitely being done by many people.
CATACALOSThat's very true. I would just add that, with our Beginner Farmer Training Program, we actually do require that applicants that we accept have some experience, apprenticing or working, to some degree, on some farms so they really know what they're getting into and are actually committed to what it's going to take.
NNAMDIHere's an email we got from Gail, (sp?) who says, "I'm pleased to hear about the USDA's efforts. However, I am a new female African-American farmer in Charles Town, W.Va. I was born in Georgetown, Guyana, in 1972," a place with which I am vaguely familiar, having been born there myself. But first question, Renee: "Are there training resources for aspiring farmers in their 40s and their 50s?" Gail, I guess, is just about to turn 40.
CATACALOSYou know, the folks in our Beginner Farmer Training Program are across the board in terms of age. There's no minimum or maximum age requirement here. And, in fact, some of the -- you know, we don't always refer to it as young farmers. We call it new and beginning farmers because, in fact, a lot of people are maybe career changers or have done some other things before they have come to farming.
NNAMDISo no restrictions on age.
NNAMDIHere's the -- a part of the rest of what Gail has written. "I've learned that there are almost no direct funds available for beginning farmers in their first year of operations. In fact, the rules have been changed so that you would have to be in business for a year before you can get a hoop house." Know anything about that?
CATACALOSI can't say that I know specifically what she's talking about. I know that sometimes grant or funding programs do have some sorts of prerequisites like that. That would probably be something she'd want to talk with maybe some local extension agents or get in touch with people who are doing some type of farmer training programs to better understand what resources are out there. And perhaps the new Compass that Deputy Secretary Merrigan talked about will, you know, take away some of the difficulty with figuring those things out as well.
NNAMDIThis is not to discourage anyone, especially not Gail, but do many farmers also keep a day job as far as you know?
SEIBERTYeah. I guess I can speak specifically to that. We did. My husband actually kept his full-time job for the first two years that we were, and it was a huge struggle just to stay on top of everything. But he would come home from work at 4:30 in the afternoon, and we'd milk cows at 5 o'clock. And we'd get in the house and eat and go to bed and start all again the next day. But, for us, it was the only way to do it because of the tremendous investment and the risk associated with a new venture and not knowing if it could support our family and where we were going to end up in the end, so...
NNAMDIObviously, you have to take creative approaches to this. On now to Greg in Severn, Md. Greg, your turn.
GREGThank you for taking the call. I work with Southern Maryland Ag Development Commission, and we have a FarmLink program that's on the website that people can access if they want to lease or sell farms if they're looking to buy or lease property. So Virginia also has a FarmLink program, and Montgomery County has one. So I think it's a great tool for people who are looking to either lease land or looking to make land available. And they just aren't often used enough, so I encourage people to make use of that resource.
NNAMDIWe're putting a link up at our website even as we speak, Greg, at kojoshow.org. Go ahead, please, Renee.
CATACALOSI'm glad Greg mentioned those, and I'll just also add that the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture has launched a land lease link program as well, so...
NNAMDIAnd we got an email from Cathy, who writes, "Two programs available locally have a wonderful focus on school gardens, and their resources are easily available in the D.C. area. One is the Audubon Naturalist Society's GreenKids program. The other is the Project Learning Tree GreenSchools! program, which is transforming schoolyards around D.C. into thriving garden spaces." Back to the telephone now. Here is Bob in Silver Spring, Md. Bob, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
BOBOh, hi. Thanks, Kojo. Another good show. I hope I can phrase this question well. There seems to be a tremendous amount of cooperation among the farmers and the folks who are talking on your show. And I'm trying to put this in the sense of the notion that businesses and the world we live in, at least in the states, is a capitalist society. And yet it seems like they are -- they're sharing their information. They're helping each other. They're mentoring folks who will ultimately become their competitors.
BOBNow part of this was answered a few minutes ago when one of the -- your guests said that there's plenty of buyers out there, so maybe there isn't that kind of competition. But I wonder if your guests could comment in any way how they see the notion that they're working in a competitive, capitalistic business, and yet there's such tremendous cooperation among the folks. And I'll take my answer off...
NNAMDIGo ahead, please, Clare Seibert.
SEIBERTOK. Yeah. I just never felt that there is a competitive nature to what we're doing. Maybe it's because of the fact that there's -- it's just obvious there's a lot more demand than what we can meet. And I was shocked, when we first started investigating this business and meeting with other people doing on-farm processing, at how generous people were with their information. You know, nobody gave me their recipes.
SEIBERTI don't give people my individual recipes. But I will -- you know, we do presentations and workshops and describe our processes and give people all the information they need to do, basically a very similar thing to what we're doing, so, yeah. And I think we all just want to see other farmers succeed, especially people that are going to do it in a sustainable way, and we're happy to share that.
NNAMDII guess our callers want to know why you're not working to drive your competition out of business, Renee.
CATACALOSI think that, you know, local and organic food represents something about 2 percent of the entire, you know, U.S. food economy at this point, so I don't think that we're really at the point where anybody has to worry about there not being enough for everyone. There's still a lot of room to grow the entire pie -- that is, local food. And the more people we have to help supply that, we can start to get it into places like schools.
CATACALOSWe can start to be able to supply larger amounts so that it becomes not just a specialty or something that you get directly, but that becomes a part of our food system in a more institutional way. And it's going to take more farmers to do that.
NNAMDIAnd, I guess, answering the question of why is this business model important, here is Christophe (sp?) in Burlington, Vt. Christophe, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
CHRISTOPHEHi, Kojo. Thanks for having me.
CHRISTOPHEI'm actually -- I'm a D.C. resident. Hello?
NNAMDIYes. We hear you loud and clear.
CHRISTOPHEOK. I'm a D.C. resident, and I go to school, studying agriculture. And this is just such an important issue because the reason that local food disappeared was because of cheap fuel. And you can see it now. There's all this riffraff about rising fuel costs. And it's only going to get higher in the future, and local food is eventually going to become the cheapest option. So for anyone who's listening and, you know, who's asking themselves, why does local food matter to me, I would say to them, you should get involved because it is going to matter soon.
CHRISTOPHEAnd your food, that is going to be the cheapest source of food, and we're going to need farmers in place.
NNAMDIIndeed, Renee, your organization supports something called the Local Food, Farms and Jobs Act. What would that bill do?
CATACALOSWell, it would help to strengthen the infrastructure for local and regional food economies. One of the things that is becoming more and more apparent as the sustainable agriculture community grows is that we actually have to pay attention to the regulatory and policy environment around food and making sure that sustainable farmers' voices are heard.
NNAMDIAnd I'm afraid that's all the time we have. Renee Catacalos is the communications and conference director for the Future Harvest Chesapeake Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture. She's also a board member of FRESHFARM Markets, and she was the former editor of the magazine Edible Chesapeake. Thank you for joining us.
NNAMDIClare Seibert is the co-owner of Clear Spring Creamery, a dairy farm located in Washington County, Md. Clare Seibert, thank you for joining us.
NNAMDIAnd Jim Crawford is the owner of New Morning Farm, a 95-acre certified organic vegetable farm in South Central Pennsylvania. He's also the founder of Tuscarora Organic Growers. Jim Crawford, thank you for joining us.
CRAWFORDThank you very much.
NNAMDIThank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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