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Young and beginning farmers tackle obstacles to securing their future
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Young and beginning farmers tackle obstacles to securing their future

RICHMOND—Recent survey findings reveal a new generation of farmers answering the call to provide healthy food, preserve the land and cultivate community well-being, but myriad challenges stand in the way of their success.

Today’s beginning and young farmers face obstacles like student loan debt, climate change, immigration issues, and access to land, capital, affordable housing and federal programs, according to the 2022 National Young Farmers Coalition Survey.

Tackling start-up challenges alone can be “overwhelming,” as first-generation farmer Swathi Gaddam learned after leaving a career in information technology to pursue her calling.

Enrolling in the Northern Piedmont Beginning Farmer and Rancher Program at the Fauquier Education Farm was “life-changing” for Gaddam. The program offers two multi-week courses for those who are new to farming or just dreaming of starting a farm.

The program is part of the Virginia Beginning Farmer & Rancher Coalition, which aims to improve opportunities for beginning farmers to establish and sustain viable agricultural operations and communities.

Gaddam has continued learning through Fauquier Education Farm’s New Farmer Incubator Program. This course sets up participants for success with ongoing mentorship, hands-on experience with onsite plots and direct sale opportunities at the Warrenton Farmers Market. It also helps participants develop sustainable business plans.

The VSU Small Farm Outreach Program features a beginning farmer program with a similar holistic approach.

Roger and Amanda Weakley-Scott, the 2021 Virginia Farm Bureau Federation Young Farmers Achievement Award winners, had to “scrounge up lots of capital” when starting their now-multiple farm enterprises.

“And navigating the ‘alphabet soup’ of resources online can get overwhelming fast,” Amanda noted.

She recommends first writing up a business plan and then sitting down with Virginia Foundation for Agriculture, Innovation and Rural Sustainability to identify opportunities for grant funding. She also recommends meeting with an accountant and attorney to help navigate the set-up process.

The Scotts utilized U.S. Department of Agriculture Farm Service Agency loans, but issues with timeliness can be prohibitive—especially for those looking to secure land.

Amanda said land seekers should use the Virginia Farm Link Program to connect with retiring farmers and landowners.

“We’ve got new threats to prime farmland and agriculture’s future all the time—it seems like there’s a new battle to fight every month,” remarked Pam Jones, chair of the Loudoun County Young Farmers Committee.

The committee received national recognition for voicing concerns to county leaders about overdevelopment and under-regulation.

According to the most-recent U.S. Census of Agriculture, almost 11,000 farm acres in Loudoun County and half a million statewide were lost between 2017 and 2022.

Loudoun’s Young Farmers continue to push for a purchase of development rights program, protection for prime agricultural soils when cluster subdivisions are proposed, and programs for area beginning farmers.

See more in Virginia Farm Bureau News magazine at https://bit.ly/4cUlLLa.

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