When you think of “sustainable farming,” chances are you consider things like crop rotation, organic compost, or green manure cover crops. But there’s another kind of green that’s equally important to sustainable farming: Money.
After all, farmers are running a small business, and no matter how passionate they may be about tending the land, if they don’t also tend to their finances, they’ll inevitably fail. In fact, the USDA estimates that about 10 percent of all U.S. farms go out of business in a given year. A disproportionate share of these are small farms run by beginning farmers.
A program offered by Land Stewardship Project (LSP) aims to prevent this outcome by helping farmers with financial and business management skills, with the goal of creating more viable farms that are cultivating financial, ecological, personal, and relationship sustainability.
The Journeyperson Course is aimed at farmers with 3-7 years of farm management behind them. It includes three weekend retreats that combine workshops and planning sessions, followed by a year-long mentorship with a more experienced farm operator. The program also provides ongoing work with a financial advisor, as well as a matching grant designed to increase savings to be invested in a wealth generating farm asset.
Paul Freid took the course in 2014, and he says it helped close a skills gap he brought to his career on the farm. “Through the first years on our farm, we really struggled with the financial planning part of our enterprise,” he says. “Everyone thinks they can ‘just do it’ and we thought that as well. We were so wrong. Financial planning is a learned skill.”
LSP is well-positioned to deliver farmer training. The organization was founded back in 1982 at the height of the American farm crisis, and in the decades since, has played an instrumental role in the unfolding transformation of farming and land use.
The group is probably best known for its Farm Beginnings course, launched in 1997. The 12-month structure of Farm Beginnings is similar to the Journeyperson Course, except that subjects include farm techniques and hands-on field days, in addition to finances, business planning, and marketing. Hailed as a model by Kathleen Merrigan, U.S. Deputy Secretary of Agriculture at the time, the program has since spread to 12 states through collaboration between LSP and several other organizations that provide the training.
Other LSP programs include one designed to help connect would-be farmers with available land, and another that helps consumers find CSAs and other direct-marketed food. In addition to support for farmers, the organization has an active advocacy arm that conducts research, produces toolkits and resources for community activists, and lobbies state and federal government officials for policy changes related not only to farming, but also to land use issues such as suburban sprawl.
The common thread among these various initiatives is implicit in the group’s name: land stewardship. “I’ve come to realize the critical connection between how food is produced, the ecological health of our land, and the economic viability of our rural communities,” writes Charlotte Brooker, who was a past LSP board of director chair. In other words, it is our small farms that are central to a sustainable future.
The next Journeyperson course will be in Amery, WI starting in November of 2015.
The next Farm Beginnings courses are in Amery, WI and Glenwood, MN.
For more information: http://landstewardshipproject.org/morefarmers/farm
Organic Valley has long supported the education of our current and future family farmers and is happy to support the Land Stewardship Project in its efforts.