Farm Aid Board Members Willie Nelson, Neil Young, Dave Matthews, John Mellencamp
Each year, Farm Aid partners with, and grants to, farm organizations all across the country that are working to change the farm and food system. Take a look at our new column, Growing Change, where we highlight the amazing on-the-ground work these organizations are doing and the positive results they’re achieving for their communities.
For the inaugural column, we looked at the work of the New Entry Sustainable Farming Project out of Lowell, Massachusetts. They work with immigrant and refugee farmers to develop farm businesses here in the U.S., contributing to the vitality and sustainability of New England’s agriculture
The New Entry Sustainable Farming Project (New Entry) is an organization based in Massachusetts that was one of the first programs in the country to help immigrant and refugee farmers develop farm businesses in the U.S.
New Entry’s work contributes to the vitality and sustainability of New England’s agriculture, and builds long-term economic self-reliance and food security among its diverse communities. At the same time, it is expanding access to high-quality, locally grown and culturally appropriate foods in underserved areas.
A partner of Farm Aid’s since 2008 — and a current grantee of our national Grant Program — we’re so grateful for all the work that the dedicated staff at New Entry do year-round to foster the next generation of America’s family farmers.
As New Entry sees it, the greatest challenge to the revival of local and regional agriculture is the beginning farmer. New farmers are critical to sustain American agriculture and replace the aging farmer population, yet they face a growing number of barriers to starting and establishing successful careers on the land. At the same time, growing demand for local, family farmed foods – both from everyday eaters and from institutions like schools and hospitals – presents a huge opportunity.
So how can we seize this time to rebuild vibrant food systems and ensure beginning farmers can succeed in a challenging marketplace? Immigrant and refugee communities in the U.S., many of them steeped in agricultural heritage and knowledge, are an important piece of the puzzle.
Jen Hashley, New Entry’s executive director, explains, “When I first started at New Entry our core focus was on immigrants and refugees to figure out the skills and training they really needed, because they were already skilled growers.”
— Linda Noel, Terrapin Farm, Franklin MA
The trick was helping them to utilize their agricultural knowledge in a new context, growing culturally appropriate produce adapted to conditions in New England. “The real value we could provide was marketing support and business planning catered to this region,” she explains.
But how do you provide training and skills development for an essentially landless group of people? Where will these farmers find markets, and how will consumers find their good food?
New Entry is a trailblazer in the new farmer movement. By providing a full suite of services, agricultural skills training and technical assistance, New Entry prepares people of all backgrounds for successful careers on the land and, often, smoother transitions into a new country.
“What sets New Entry apart is that we are a comprehensive program,” Hashley emphasizes. “We look at an individual and support all their learning needs the best we can through our programs and partnerships. We stay with them over the long haul as they mature and grow their business. And we have a great staff that love people and are willing to do what it takes to help individuals succeed.”
A robust aspect of the New Entry program is its “farm incubator” model, which uses a set of training farms in Dracut, Massachusetts where participants can rent plots of land (at an affordable price of $675/acre each year). The land is equipped with some farm equipment and infrastructure (like hoop houses). Participants engage in New Entry’s training curriculum, and receive business planning and marketing assistance. As they move through New Entry’s programs, new farmers gain additional skills and clarify the true trajectory of their farm business, even receiving assistance in securing land of their own. New Entry’s training curriculum includes programs like Farm Business Planning, Field Workshops, Poultry Processing and lots more.
Program graduates represent a global community—people hail from Africa, Southeast Asia, Europe, the Middle East, the Caribbean, South America and yes, here in the U.S. To date, over 60 farmers have graduated from New Entry’s Farm Business Training Course, equipped to establish new farms or work on existing farms throughout New England.
In 2005, New Entry launched the World PEAS (People Enhancing Agricultural Sustainability) Marketing Cooperative to help its farmers connect with local consumers. By forming a cooperative, growers combine their products to more effectively reach eaters looking for their food, and benefit from marketing support to overcome cultural barriers in the marketplace. Today, about three dozen farmers coordinate their production and marketing through World PEAS, sourcing additional fruits and produce from local farmers within 100 miles of Boston. Roughly 75% of the revenue goes back to the farmers to support their budding farm businesses. The remaining revenue covers the cooperative’s costs.
Farm Aid support
In 2012, Farm Aid supported New Entry’s efforts to take its farmer training curriculum online—offering new distance learning options so that a broader swath of farmers can receive training. They are already making plans to expand the program, integrating a livestock training module and one on regulatory requirements for on-farm poultry processing.
Farm Aid support is also helping New Entry engage in model-sharing so that other organizations offering farmer training and farm incubation programs across the country can learn form its long history of success. New Entry has launched a National Technical Assistance Initiative to “train the trainers” with practical information on how to support new farmers through a land-based incubation program via webinars, field schools, and one-on-one technical assistance.
Hashley is inspired by what she’s witnessed over the years.
“The industry has changed so much. It wasn’t very sexy to be a farmer when we started,” she reflects, “but the whole local food movement blossomed in recent years.”
Still, she says, “This is long-term work, and we need committed support and funding over time.” USDA programs like the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program have been critical to supporting projects like New Entry across the country, but are threatened by the country’s economic situation.
“Farming is a life-long learning process. Hopefully a lot of these good Farm Bill programs continue to get funding,” Jen says. “That’s what we need to provide support for new farmers and help them through a very challenging industry.”
- Farm Aid grants help farm families stay on their land, build local markets, confront the threat of corporate control of agriculture, train new farmers and support farmer-to-farmer programs for more sustainable agricultural practices. Read about other grantees here.
Photos above provided courtesy of New Entry Sustainable Farming Project.