Category: General

2015 Farmer Veteran Stakeholders Conference, Sacramento

Veteran Picture

There’s no equivalent to being around like- minded people that are willing to take time away from their lives and families to attend something important. People from all over the country came together November 17 – 19, 2015 to network, learn from one another and find ways to re-acclimate from the military to the civilian world. Farmers, supporters and partners shared experiences, educational material and advice to hundreds of vets looking to enter or continue in the farming community. I was honored to be one of the attendees.

My personal experience led me (by accident) to agriculture. I joined the Army at seventeen and after ten years, with tours in Afghanistan and Iraq, I honorably discharged to be at home after the premature birth of my youngest daughter. I entered a new world, a world I was not prepared for. After, obtaining an assistantship in my undergraduate degree, I began to work in agriculture. Agriculture was pure peace. It was a space that I was not forced into conversation or asked questions. I was able to work hard on the land with results that had a purpose.

My experience led me to both a Master’s degree and now a PhD. I am studying my personal, as well as other military veterans, experience in agriculture. Unbeknown to be, there is a growing community of military combat veterans that have experienced similar benefits from farming or are eager to start farming. Many of them attended the 2015 Farmer Veteran Coalition stakeholder conference this past November in Sacramento California.

My goals for attending the conference included gaining new ideas, fresh insights, listening to inspiring stories, and networking. Listening to, meeting, and later sharing ideas on research with the United States Department of Agriculture Military Veterans Agricultural Liaison, USDA Lanon Baccam, Qualitative Core Director-Medical Anthropologist, Center of Innovation on Disability and Rehabilitation Research for Veteran Affairs, Dr. Karen Besterman-Dahan and Col. Cindra Chastain the Farmer Veteran Liaison for the National AgrAbility far exceeded my expectations for the conference. Their commitment to military veterans in agriculture inspired my aspiration to continue the direction of my research. In addition, I had the opportunity to converse with many fellow military veterans, whom with I formed exciting new relationships.

Col. Chastain introduced me to many other AgrAbility staff across the country including, the National AgrAbility program director, Bill Field. I was honored to discuss their views on military veterans in agriculture, as well as, their experiences in AgrAbility. AgrAbility is a sponsor of the FVC and I have recently joined the AgrAbility Virginia team through an assistantship with Virginia Tech under Dr. Kim Niewolny as part of my PhD studies.

The Mission of the Farmer Veteran Coalition is “Mobilizing Veterans to Feed America”. We share the belief that veterans possess the distinctive skills and personal character needed to build up agriculture communities and create sustainable and secure food systems. As my own experience has shown, farming offers veterans opportunity to work on the land in a physical manner. Psychological benefits occur through purpose.

Attending the conference gave the opportunity to specifically identify public and private entities that can work in collaboration to provide assistance to military veterans entering the agriculture community.  I was also able to view specific detailed quantitative and qualitative data showing how working with plants and animals and producing food is therapeutic to those dealing with post-traumatic stress and/or traumatic brain injuries. I learned of Homegrown by Heroes label and the importance of its use in marketing military veterans’ products.

Outstanding breakout sessions were available. I attended Employment Opportunities in Agriculture, Successful Farmer Veterans – Stories of Transition and Achievement, Ag Entrepreneurs – veterans who have launched successful agriculture businesses outside of production and Financing Your Farm which all helped me understand how to better support veteran farmers. Finally I attendant the closing dinner. Where, successful stories of healing were shared and Mayor of Turlock, California discussed his time and work in Afghanistan and his mission to build their agriculture. Dinner allowed a space for more networking and sharing.

One repeated theme throughout the conference was how important local agriculture and food security are to our nation. There was no disagreement that military veterans are a great fit and should be a part of the solution. The veteran farming coalition, the executive director, Michael O’Gorman, staff, supporters, partners and of course, the military farming veterans, have a great community with in themselves. The Farmer Veteran Coalition was a true gathering of inspirational, motivating and supporting people. I was more than privileged to attend.

The AgrAbility Virginia website can be found at:

The Farmer Veteran Coalition website can be found at:

Post Contributed By: Crystal Kyle. Crystal is a PhD student of Agricultural, Leadership, and Community Education at Virginia Tech, and works as a graduate research assistant for AgrAbility Virginia.

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5 Things You Should Know About Farmland Leasing


Kathy Ruhf of Land for Good​, keynote speaker at the workshop, summarizes key considerations when crafting a farmland lease.


We have all heard about how hard it is for beginning farmers to get onto a nice piece of farmland. If you want to be a farmer, one of the biggest challenges is how to gain access to good land, as Kathy Ruhf of Land for Good, a nonprofit that helps farmers access land, will tell you. Land access is especially difficult if you are new to farming, and don’t have farmland in the family.

I am one such individual. My husband and I aspire to – god willing – in a few years – and if all else goes according to plan – gain access to a piece of farmland. We have big dreams, which are slowly but surely evolving into a working farm business plan, for the future dream farm. Depending on how things go, we might lease land, or lease out pieces of land we own, or both. Either way, the topic of farmland leasing is a new one for us, and, honestly, maybe a little intimidating.

Luckily, there is help for people like us. I recently attended an excellent workshop in Charlottesville, put on by the Piedmont Environmental Council, all about farmland leasing. The workshop really boiled down a lot of the sticky points. I’d like to share with you five main points that I found to be super-helpful in understanding farmland leases:

  1. Leasing can be a great option for beginning farmers looking to gain access to farmland, since it is less financially risky than purchasing land. By leasing their land to a farmer, landowners are helping to keep farmland in production, which helps ensure our community’s food security in the long run, while promoting good stewardship of the land.
  2. Landowners get a substantial tax break when they lease their land to a farmer. This can be enough that some do not even charge rental fees.
  3. Farmland leases can (and should!) include lots of specific terms of the agreement, like what sorts of farming practices are or are not allowed, who is responsible for maintenance of things like water and fencing, and when/how each party has access to farm buildings and equipment. This helps both parties know where they stand, and reduces confusion if issues do arise. See Land for Good’s Toolbox for Leasing Farmland for a summary of things to consider.
  4. If the landowner plans to help farm, and may work on the farm more than 500 hours a year, s/he may be viewed as a sort of “partner” in the farm enterprise, so may have to pay the self-employment tax. This part of farmland leasing has inspired me to always seek consultation by a lawyer while crafting a lease agreement.
  5. If you’re looking for land to lease in Virginia, check out the Certified Farm Seeker Program. It hooks up experienced farmers who are looking to retire with new and beginning farmers who are looking to get on a piece of land, whether it’s leasing or owning. Some have gone so far as to compare the program with (online dating for farmers!), but the program is much more than that. While Certified Farm Seeker still certainly requires work on the part of both parties, the program helps that relationship get started, and provides resources beyond, to facilitate the land transfer.

I have learned that leasing farmland is a great option for someone who is looking to get into farming, or wants to expand their farming operation. It is also a good option if one buys farmland, but may not be ready to farm it themselves quite yet (plus, you get a tax break). Most of all, I learned that there is plenty of help for those who want to learn more, so I invite you to click on the links in this blog for more information.


Post Contributed By: Lorien E. MacAuley, M.S.. Lorien is a PhD student of Agricultural, Leadership, and Community Education at Virginia Tech, and works as a graduate research assistant for Virginia Beginning Farmer and Rancher Coalition.

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Helping New and Beginning Farm Businesses Succeed in Southwest Virginia

Growers Academy 2016 Picture

A 2014 study of the Roanoke Valley’s regional food system assessed the challenges and opportunities of food system stakeholders, from producer to consumer. The study, “Linking the Catawba Sustainability Center to the Local Food System,” resulted in a report that recognized these challenges and included suggestions for optimizing the impact of the Virginia Tech Catawba Sustainability Center on the regional food system. The study recommended that the Center focus on three overarching thematic areas: 1) Business Incubation and Acceleration; 2) Stakeholder Connectivity and Capacity Building; and 3) Innovation and Experimentation. The Catawba Sustainability Center has been advancing projects within these focus areas for several years and with this validation of need, will continue to improve existing and take on new initiatives.

One of the Center’s signature programs since 2012 has been the Growers’ Academy. The course is designed to help new and transitioning agricultural businesses succeed. The learning series focuses on whole farm business planning and low-input crop production and instructors include resource professionals and regional farm business owners. Last year, the Center aligned even more closely with the Virginia Beginning Farmer & Rancher Coalition by offering the Coalition’s Whole Farm Planning curriculum as part of the Academy. From 2012 – 2014, the Growers’ Academy held classes in Roanoke, VA and traveled to Wytheville in 2015.

In partnership with Virginia Cooperative Extension and the Virginia Beginning Farmers and Ranchers Coalition, the Virginia Tech Catawba Sustainability Center and Montgomery County Cooperative Extension are offering the 2016 Growers’ Academy in Christiansburg, VA. Class will be held on Tuesday evenings from 6PM – 9PM, from January 19 – February 23.

Topics include:

  • Introduction to Whole Farm Planning
  • Business and Finance
  • Enterprise Budgets & Financial Services
  • Soil and Pest Management
  • Marketing Strategies
  • Crops and Crop Planning

The Farm Credit Knowledge Center is committed to sharing knowledge and resources with individuals interested in agriculture and has sponsored the program to lower the cost for individuals to attend. Registration for the program is $200.

Register Now, space is limited.


Post Contributed By: Josh Nease, Catawba Sustainability Center Manager,

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Appalachian Sustainable Development Offering Whole Farm Business Planning Workshops

ASD Color Logo

The Virginia Tech Beginning Farmer and Rancher Coalition has partnered with Appalachian Sustainable Development to offer a short series of FREE Whole Farm Business Planning workshops.  These workshops are taking place Thursday nights of October 22, 29 and November 5 from 5-7pm at the Appalachian Sustainable Development office located on Old Berry Dr.


On October 22 from 5-7pm, Kim Morgan from the Virginia Tech Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics will give a workshop on Financial Statements.  This workshop will cover the four financial statements, including income statements, balance sheet/net worth statement, statement of owner’s equity, and cash flow statements.   These statements help you understand where your money was spent and provides lenders with the information they need to help you plan your financing options.  The Balance sheet allows you to see the big picture of your financial standing, and is also referred to as your farm’s “net worth”.


The October 27 workshop brings in representatives from Farm Credit Virginias and First Bank & Trust of Johnson City.  These lenders will provide overviews of the programs and lending their institutions offer, tell borrowers what they need to be prepared to provide a lender, and provide time for questions to be answered. Plan to bring your records and resources based on the October 22 meeting notes and the Enterprise Analysis: Farm Financial Systems Overview and Resources Checklist!


For the November 5 workshop, Kim Morgan will return to assist attendees with Enterprise Analysis.  This workshop will cover the four budgets we can use to plan for a profitable future, and include enterprise, partial, whole farm and cash flow budgets.  This type of budgeting allows farm managers to compare different ventures and assess which option(s) would make the best use of existing financial, production, and human resources based on profitability estimates.  With these budgets, you can make informed business decisions.


In preparation for these workshops we ask that participants take the time to view the webinar “Enterprise Analysis” which can be accessed at:


Participants will also be provided with lots of great materials including:

Enterprise Analysis: Farm Financial Systems Overview and Resources Checklist, Farm Financial Systems: Financial Statements and Farm Financial Systems: Enterprise Analysis, Building a Sustainable Business, Teaching Direct Marketing and Small Farm Viability, and Whole Farm Planning modules from VA Tech


For those who want to continue writing their farm business plan, one-on-one technical support will be provided so participants have complete whole farm business plans.


If you are interested in attending any or all of the workshops, please RSVP so we will have enough materials for everyone.  Let us know you plan to attend by calling (276) 623-1121 or emailing

Post Contributed By: Tamara McNaughton

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The Northern Piedmont Beginning Farmer and Rancher Program Begins Planning this Year’s Classes

With whole farm planning programs beginning to take shape for this coming winter, we wanted to feature a post about another wonderful program for beginning farmers and ranchers in Virginia. This post was contributed by Jim Hankins with the Northern Piedmont Beginning Farmer and Rancher Program:

One of the most rewarding parts of our on-going work with new farmers in the Northern Piedmont Beginning Farmer and Rancher Program are those frequent moments when all we have to do is step back and let new farmers learn from one another. Each year we have attracted a group of very smart people who have come to the classes with a wealth of experience and knowledge. That knowledge base may not be in agriculture but running a business, dealing with employees and taxes, marketing and research – all skill sets that are necessary to launching a new farming career. The new farmer who will speak up in class and share genuine real world experience is the best educational tool any teacher could hope for.

This farmer to farmer learning does not stop once the Beginning Farmer classes have stopped. The Northern Piedmont program has been serving our region for several years now and so there are several “generations” of prior year’s students who are showing up at workshops and Extension events. This summer at one workshop at the Fauquier Education Farm there individuals from four different sessions of the Northern Piedmont program in attendance. Again the reward happens once I’ve made an introduction and can just step back and see the excitement build as these new farmers share their experience with each other. And believe me, they are not shy about sharing! The value of introducing an aspiring new berry farmer to the gentleman from a previous session of the same program who is several steps ahead and already has 1500 blueberries bushes planted is much richer than anything I could put into a PowerPoint presentation. I have had the good fortune of seeing this happen many times.

We have even had the pleasure of seeing new farmers from the Northern Piedmont program move on and formally become part of our learning process. Chris Pearson signed up for the course years ago to become better informed about how to generate some income off of his land. Chris is also a CPA in Culpeper and has returned each year since he took the course to give a presentation as part of our Whole Farm Business Management and Planning module. His voice as a new farmer and an excellent CPA really gets our students attention and his contribution to the program is huge. John Fant also took the Northern Piedmont program years ago and has since then moved to SW Virginia. However, John has continued to take great interest in the Virginia Beginning Farmer and Rancher Coalition and now serves on the Advisory Board for the Coalition. His contributions as a new farmer and veteran will help see our Coalition grow stronger into the future.

The planning has begun for next year’s newest class of the Northern Piedmont program and we look forward to meeting that new group of excited new farmers. We take the course very seriously and put a good deal of effort into presenting valuable information. However, we know that any time you put 25 aspiring farmers together for several weeks that there will be all of that unplanned learning going on as well, and it is a process that will continue for years to come. As I write this I know I will be going to one of our Twilight Veggies Tours this evening in Madison Co. There will be farmers talking to farmers and freely sharing information and excitement. It is a pleasure and a privilege to be part of.

Beginning Farmer Logo      VCE Logo      Fauquier Educaiton Farm Logo


Fauquier Education Farm Website:

Program Contacts:

Jim Hankins
Fauquier Education Farm, VSU Small Farm Outreach Program

Ray Pickering
Fauquier County Ag Development Office

Post Contributed By: Jim Hankins

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Virginia Certified Farm Seekers Program Provides Farming Opportunities to New & Beginning Farmers


Agriculture remains a diverse and challenging industry, and farmers exist at many different experience levels.  Farming is an occupation that is asset heavy – land, equipment, buildings, machinery, livestock – and all of those assets are expensive. A mid-size farm can run up to hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars. Some farmers are making a living on thirty acres or fewer.  But if a would-be farmer really wants a farm with all the acreage, barns, sheds, tractors, planters, sprayers, combines and harvesters, what are they to do?

With the average age of farmers approaching 60, Virginia is experiencing a rapidly increasing demand for quality land transitions. All across the commonwealth, a large number of farmers are facing retirement without a next generation family member to take over their life’s work. Luckily for the future of agriculture, there is an up-and-coming dedicated generation of young and beginning farmers eager for opportunities.  In recent years, a partnership between the Virginia Beginning Farmer and Rancher Coalition, Virginia Farm Bureau Young Farmers and the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Office of Farmland Preservation, led to the creation of the Virginia Farm Link Certified Farm Seeker (CFS) program. The CFS program is designed to provide individuals seeking farming opportunities with the tools needed to successfully demonstrate their farming commitment and vision to interested landowners.

Agriculture is a business; in fact, it is Virginia’s largest industry. And like any other business, would-be farmers need a sound business plan as a first step on the road to their goal of farm ownership. The CFS Program is designed around helping interested farmers produce a business plan and resume, as well as demonstrate on-farm experience. Five modules are available as resources to assist in accomplishing these goals: Introduction to Whole Farm Planning, Business Management, Land Acquisition and Tenure, Marketing, and On-Farm Experience.  Each module contains objectives, questions and possible activities to help beginning farmers reach their goals.  This is NOT a course to teach people how to farm, but is designed for all farmers, including beginning, transitioning, and established.  It is a self-guided program that strives to provide individuals seeking farming opportunities with the tools needed to successfully demonstrate their farming commitment and vision to interested landowners.

CFS provides significant advantages to farmers looking for land by giving them a leg up on the competition. CFS helps produce successful transitions by providing landowners with quality farm seekers who are serious about farming and have established clear goals and plans. To prepare for talks with owners, certified farm seekers are required to develop a professional business plan and resume and demonstrate on-farm experience.

va farm link

Certified farm seekers will receive landowner matching assistance/facilitation and elevation on the Virginia Farm Link database.  The Virginia Farm Link is an online database designed to bring those landowners interested in passing land on to the next generation together with those interested in gaining access to farmland and farming operations in Virginia.  Currently the Virginia Farm Link website is being revised with a new, easier-to-use version expected to be available before 2016. Those who are “certified” will receive special designation in the database, thereby increasing their chances of being contacted by a landowner.  Other incentives include a one-time professional business plan review, social/networking opportunities with other farmers/landowners, and possibly cost-share in time with a transition mediator or attorney.

Even if you are an established farmer and not actively seeking land, CFS offers benefits for everyone. CFS is designed for farmers of all experience levels, and  those who complete the program also receive $500 cost-share towards a farm planning tool, a professional business plan review, and numerous networking and social opportunities.  There are currently 15 certified farm seekers and over 75 farm seekers working through the application process.  The current list of certified farm seekers is posted on the VDACS website and displays those farmers who have completed the program and are the first recommendations to landowners looking for a farm transition.

The Certified Farm Seeker Program is a partnership between Virginia Farm Bureau’s Young Farmers and the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, made possible by the Virginia Beginning Farmer and Rancher Coalition Project through Virginia Tech and revenue generated from the Virginia Agriculture specialty license plate.

VDACS, young farmers


Program Contacts:

Mrs. Katie Myer
Certified Farm Seeker Coordinator
(804) 357-6303

Mr. Ron Saacke
Virginia Farm Bureau
Young Farmers
(804) 514-4202

Mr. Andy Sorrell
Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services
Office of Farmland Preservation
(804) 786-1906

Post Contributed By: Andy Sorrell, Office of Farmland Preservation Coordinator with the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS); Katie Myer, Certified Farm Seeker Coordinator

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Welcome Back to the Virginia Beginning Farmer Connections Blog!

Hello everyone! 

We have seen a lot of changes and progress with the Virginia Beginning Farmer and Rancher Coalition Program since our last blog post! We thought we would reopen our blog with an update on some of our goings-on in the last year. In addition to reading this blog post, you can view our most recent newsletter here.

Farmer Mentoring Program

During the Twilight Farm Tour at Kentland Farm

During the Twilight Farm Tour at Kentland Farm

Our farmer mentoring program is in full swing! Our goal this year is to focus on local community mentoring in three locations across Virginia: the New River Valley, far southwest Virginia (e.g. Wise, Lee, and Washington Counties), and the Loudon County area of northern Virginia. Our farmer mentor coordinators hold on-farm events and hands-on learning experiences to link beginning farmers with experienced farmers. So far, two Twilight Farm Tours have taken place this summer at the Kentland Farm in Blacksburg, VA and Brann-King Farms in Riner, VA. Visit the events page of our website to keep updated on Virginia Beginning Farmer and other events.

Labor and Enterprise Budget Workshops

In December, several members of the Virginia Beginning Farmer team spoke at the Virginia Farm to Table Conference on labor issues affecting beginning and start-up farmers. A resource that was published as a follow-up to this workshop can be found on our publications page. In addition, the Virginia Beginning Farmer team held multiple workshops on enterprise budgets for beginning farmers throughout the winter and spring of 2015.

Webinar Series for Beginning Farmers and Ranchers

VBFRCP_Webinar_LandTransfer_AUG17_ Announcement2

In June 2015, Anne Geyer of Agriberry Farm and Allyssa Mark of the Virginia Beginning Farmer and Rancher Coalition Program presented a webinar on Critical Farm Labor Issues for Beginning and Start-Up Farmers. The webinar began with a broad overview of sources of farm labor, and topics to consider before taking new labor onto your farm, including: legal, management, insurance, and fair practice issues. Following this, Anne shared the labor story of Agriberry Farm and gave us great advice on hiring and working with farm workers and interns.

In July, Dr. Kimberly Morgan of the Virginia Tech Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics presented a webinar on Enterprise Analysis: Farm Financial System Overview. Kim gave an introduction to farm financial statements and farm planning budgets, including: balance sheets, income statements, statements of cash flows, and enterprise analysis.

Coming up in August, Andy Sorrell, VDACS Coordinator of the Office of Farmland Preservation, and Katie Myer, Certified Farm Seeker Coordinator, will give a webinar on Land Transfer Planning Tools: Virginia Farm Link and the Certified Farm Seeker Program. They will give a detailed walk-through of the required components of the Certified Farm Seeker program and common questions their applicants have as they complete the modules of the program. We will be writing a blog post after the webinar related to land transfer and these programs, so keep an eye out!

For more details on upcoming webinars, or to view past webinars, visit our webinar page.

We are excited to return to Virginia Beginning Farmer Connections!

Until our next post, you can stay updated by visiting our website. Either click our logo in the top right corner of this page or visit

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Coalition Meeting

Winter 2013-14 105

Kim writing notes during the listening session

On February 12, 2014 the Virginia Beginning Farmer and Rancher Coalition Project held a coalition meeting at the the Frontier Culture Museum in Salem, VA. Many members from across the state were present to discuss the progress of the coalition and future goals.

One of the achievements that was highlighted was the Whole Farm Planning Program. The whole farm planning teams have held many workshops across the state and are helping many farmers. The Virginia Association of Biological Farming has announced that it will be offering the Farm School for Beginners. The program has also been mentioned in the latest issue of Virginia Agriculture.

The highlight of the meeting was the break out listening sessions. The meeting attendees split into multiple groups in order to discuss their opinions on the coalition. Each group had a facilitator that recorded the thoughts of each group. The results of this activity were positive and constructive. Every group had good ideas on how to improve and develop the coalition and its priorities in the future. The ideas from these sessions will be used to create  common measures for an evaluation of the coalition.

The meeting was a success. Many members came together to celebrate progress and define the future of the coalition. An evaluation will be born out of the collaborative work, and stronger relationships were formed between members. The meeting ended just in time for everyone to return home safely before the huge snow storm.


Special thanks to A Bowl of Good for providing such delicious food even with an eminent snow storm.

Follow VABFRCP on Facebook and Twitter



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Summer Opportunity at Turtle Crossing Farm

Turtle Crossing Farm is a community and family-oriented small homestead farm, founded in 1997.  I am looking for a person interested in picking up some basic homesteading skills: organic gardening, care of chickens, light construction and renovation, orchard and small fruit, woodlot care, firewood harvesting, small machinery, groundhog management, etc.  Payment will be in knowledge, skills, stories and a share of whatever we grow. One or two days per week, beginning in April.  Minimum commitment of 8 weeks preferred.  Farm is 40 minutes from Blacksburg. Transportation or ride sharing might be an option.  Contact Michael Blackwell at 540-922-2175 or

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Finding the Future of Agriculture

Originally posted to by Ed Avalos, Under Secretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs, on August 26, 2013 at 10:30 AM
During the North American Indian Days Celebration in Montana, Under Secretary Ed Avalos (foreground), witnessed the pride and commitment of youth as they celebrated their cultural and agricultural roots.During the North American Indian Days Celebration in Montana, Under Secretary Ed Avalos (foreground), witnessed the pride and commitment of youth as they celebrated their cultural and agricultural roots.

Agricultural producers in rural America represent less than 1% of the U.S. population, yet they produce almost 75% of the food we eat in this country and much of the food eaten throughout the world. Among that 1%, the average age of the American farmer is 57 years old—making it imperative for us to engage and encourage young people to pursue agricultural careers.

Earlier this summer, while visiting Browning, Montana, I had the opportunity to meet with Dr. Billie Jo Kipp, President of the Blackfeet Community College (BCC) and Mr. Terry Tatsey, Director of Agricultural Programs at the college.  Their efforts and commitment to educate local students and keep young people in agriculture is inspiring.

At BCC, programs like the Native Science Field Center use outdoor classrooms to give students hands-on experience in cataloging native plants and their relationships to nearby water sources.  The experience, supported through the Blackfeet Community College Extension, is a marriage of cultural and agricultural studies. It passes knowledge between generations and encourages young people to pursue a future in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) careers as well as agricultural fields.

The trip also gave me a chance to participate in the North American Indian Days Celebration. Here I met with tribal members, attended a 4-H livestock sale, participated in the rodeo and witnessed the pride and commitment of the young people as they showcased both their cultural and agricultural traditions.  At USDA, we are committed to providing American Indians and Alaska Natives equal access to all of our programs.  Our Office of Tribal Relations works with Indian Country, providing support across all USDA programs for tribal consultation, sacred site efforts, cross-agency federal programs and the recently created White House Council on Native American Affairs.

On my recent visit to Wisconsin, I had the honor to attend the opening day festivities at the Wisconsin State Fair.  Originating in the early mid-1800s, state fairs are a celebration of foods and the rural communities that produce them.  They are a showcase of rural America—shining a spotlight on farmers, ranchers, dairy producers, agribusiness and the communities that surround them.

Having been in agriculture in one form or another all of my life, going to the state fair is still exciting and fair season is one of my favorite times of the year. Along with attending a dairy show, touring the agriculture pavilion—not to mention stopping to enjoy some potato pancakes, sweet corn and a traditional crème-puff—I was able to attend the Wisconsin fair’s lamb show.  This gave me an opportunity to visit with some of the state’s young producers who were striving to win their class and make the sale.

These young people represent the future of agriculture, and are just one example of the up-and-coming farmers and ranchers who will feed our nation in the years ahead. Through programs like USDA’s Start2Farm initiative, funded through the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA),  and opportunities like the Specialty Crop Block Grants (SCBG) and Farmers Market Promotion Program, managed by the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), we are committed to creating opportunities in rural America.

By cultivating a passion for agriculture in students and supporting beginning farmers and ranchers, we will help build the future of agriculture and show that we do not take for granted the work they do to feed us all. We are dedicated to keeping families on the farm and creating opportunities for future generations.

When visiting the Wisconsin State Fair, Under Secretary Avalos (third person, back row) attended a lamb show and had the opportunity to meet with some of the farmers and ranchers who will feed our nation in the years ahead.When visiting the Wisconsin State Fair, Under Secretary Avalos (third person, back row) attended a lamb show and had the opportunity to meet with some of the farmers and ranchers who will feed our nation in the years ahead.

– See more at:

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