The Northeast Beginning Farmer Project, a part of the Cornell Small Farms Program, was recently awarded a $712,500 grant through the National Institute of Food and Agriculture’s Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program, a division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The new funding will be used to create community-based resources for two underserved groups, veterans and “advanced beginners” who have been farming anywhere from four to seven years.
Erica Frenay, coordinator of the Northeast Beginning Farmer Project, said U.S. military veterans have reached out to the Small Farms Program for guidance on how to start their own farms.
“We wanted to partner with other organizations to see what we could do statewide to help serve them,” Frenay said. “We have been contacted by a number of military veterans wanting to take our online courses and those struggling to figure out how to use their G.I. Bill benefits to be able to get into farming.”
At the end of the three-year initiative, Cornell expects to have served 100 veterans, 500 farmers and 100 service providers. In addition, the goal of the program is to help establish 20 new veteran-owned farms throughout the state by the end of 2018.
Frenay said the Northeast Beginning Farmer Project is working closely with the Farmer Veteran Coalition of New York, Cornell Cooperative Extension and National Center for Appropriate Technology on this venture.
Jamie Critelli, an Iraq War veteran, owner of Floral Beauty Greenhouses in Elmira, New York, and co-chair of the Farmer Veteran Coalition of New York, is working with the Northeast Beginning Farmer Project on this endeavor.
“The average age of the American farmer now is approaching 60 years old,” Critelli said. “We are going to need about 1,000 new farmers a year for the next 10 years just to keep up with the numbers that are retiring.”
The team will be implementing a wide variety of programming and resources throughout eastern, central, northern and western New York. An “Armed to Farm” intensive training boot camp will take place once a year, providing classroom and farm-based learning. They also plan to establish administrative and policy reform, eliminating structural barriers that prevent job training funds to be used toward farming.
“We have a whole number of veterans coming out of the service,” he said. “A lot of them don’t have a lot of career ambition or understand what they want to do and we’re trying to marry up the two.”
NY FarmNet, an organization that provides free confidential consulting to farm families in New York State, will be aiding the Northeast Beginning Farmer Project on the “advanced beginners” portion of the grant.
Daniel Welch, business and succession planning coordinator at NY FarmNet said their key role in the project will be to provide leadership in the profit team components, involving targeting farmers who are looking to grow their business or diversify.
“Traditionally a lot of beginning farmer resources have really focused on the start-up phase,” Welch said. “What’s been missing is helping folks that have some experience, but need a little bit of help to take their business to the next level.”
Critelli said this two-pronged project will encourage veterans and young farmers to get involved and continue working in the New York State farming industry.
“We can show them how to be profitable in agriculture,” Critelli said. “We’re hoping it allows them to have a little respite from the world and make some money too.”
A look inside veteran-owned, Floral Beauty Greenhouses