When it comes to organic farming, the numbers tell the story: demand is up and often exceeds supply. Yet less than 2 percent of U.S. farm acreage is certified for organic production.

While the barriers to changing this math are many, so are the young people with the passion to become organic farmers. Making their dreams a reality is the goal of CCOF’s Future Organic Farmer Grant Fund (FOFGF).

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Funded in part by a grant from Organic Valley’s Farmers Advocating for Organic (FAFO) fund, the FOFGF awards grants of $1,000 to K-8 teachers to implement organic curriculum in their classrooms; $1,000 to FFA students to help with supervised agricultural experiences; and $2,500 to vocational or higher education students to help with tuition expenses.

The FOFGF was able to raise more than $180,000 for grants in 2016, making it clear that investing in the next generation of organic producers is a top priority for the organic community.  The growing response from students and teachers is also an indication of the strong need for organic-specific educational grants. For two of the three grant categories – those made available to K-8th grade teachers and vocational/higher education students – the program received 169 applications within a few months. The application process for the third grant category – 33 $1,000 grants for FFA students in grades 7-11 – opened on September 1st, with an application deadline of November 15th.  More information on how to apply for one of those grants can be found on the SAE grant page of the National FFA website.

Once all three categories of grants have been awarded this year, the program estimates that 14,000 people will be impacted—twice as many as originally planned.

Two of those who have already benefited from the grant fund come from Organic Valley farm families – Joshua Dransfield and Ryker Smith.

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Joshua Dransfield, a young West Virginian farmer and college student whose family has been dairying since the 1930s, received a grant from FOFGF to further study organic dairy operations.

“As we transitioned to the practice of organic dairy farming in 2015, it became apparent that farming practices of my grandfather were much healthier, more environmentally friendly, and more economical than those that my father and his brother were using throughout the 1980’s and beyond. My father in 2008 started slowly changing the way we farmed. We fenced off creeks, put in water troughs, and changed our manure systems management plan. In 2013, we put a grasslands conservation easement on a portion of our farm. Through these practices, I’ve grown more knowledgeable about how to be a better steward of the land. I’ve also been studying the economic side of organic dairying, as compared to conventional, and am excited about the opportunity that organic production can provide to small dairy farms. My future goal is to take over the management of our dairy farm, and to continue to better provide a healthy food product for consumers.”

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Another grant recipient, Ryker Smith, is currently an ag science student at Cornell University, and plans to return to run his family’s 170 cow dairy and small fruit farm after graduating.  After facing significant challenges over the years, his family decided to transition to organic in 2015.  Since then, they’ve been farming for Organic Valley with gratitude – Ryker shared that if it were not for the contract with Organic Valley, he didn’t think the farm would have survived.

Both of these young men are examples that by supporting and encouraging farmers who are interested in organic production methods, their passion, knowledge, and old-fashioned hard work will slowly transform U.S. agriculture as we know it.