Why a farm incubator?
There are teaching farms and farm incubators dotted around the country. They serve specific purposes and are helpful to beginning farmers in many different ways. But, in doing our research during the development of this program, we found that not a single one brings all of the important aspects together like the FRESH Program does.
First, an analogy: If you were given a tomato plant, would you just take it home, toss it in your yard, and hope it found an environment to be productive in? Of course not! You’d prepare the soil or container to plant it in, you’d water it, give it the nutrition it needs to thrive and give it support when it got large enough to bear fruit.
Well, we realized that the support and care that we would give a little tomato plant was not being given to the students coming out of these horticulture programs, and these students are so much more valuable and important than any crop.
Sure, they can get loans and grants. They have the technical knowledge to farm. But still, about half of them burn out in the first two years. A staggering percentage of those left burn out by year five! This, while the average age of the American farmer is 58.3 years old and rising. We are, like those tomato plants we talked about, just throwing these new farmers out into the industry and hoping they find a place to produce.
Some will. Some are resilient and stick with it, often with long hours, stress and heavy debt. Some luck into a retiring farmer’s enterprise and can take over. What about those that don’t? The ones that would make tremendous farmers if they just had the chance or a little boost? They don’t want a handout. They are willing to and excited about working for it. They have a head full of ideas and can’t wait to get their hands dirty! All they need is a little support.
So, with that in mind, we have developed a farm incubator that does just that. It’s not an elaborate farm rental program like some incubators around the country. We are not in the business of making a profit while these farmers toil away in debt and unpaid bills. No, it is a non-profit, well-rounded, comprehensive business development program that trains these beginning farmers in everything they will need to run a successful farm business.
To break it down:
- We provide the farmer with land on which to farm that is adjacent to other participants on the same property as well as the centrally located, foundation run farm. This provides support from other participants and access to equipment, tools, and materials on-site. For convenience, yes, but more importantly for economic savings. They won’t have to “run to town” every time something is needed or to rent/buy equipment and tools.
- We provide financial management. Help developing a business plan, budget, marketing plan, tax plan, everything they would need to know and, unfortunately, sometimes learn the hard way if they are on their own. By the time they complete the program, they will have a road map to financial success, in whatever form that means to them. The program contains specific steps to achieve all of these goals.
- We provide professional support. Not only can they rely on other participants for advice and support, but we also provide them with access to experts, industry professionals, local and online educators, and regulatory agencies. This will help when filing for various certifications or grants/loans, with technical questions, legal questions, establishing best practices, and any other problems that might arise. In addition, the on-site farm manager will be there to mentor, advise, and coordinate communication with these support resources.
- We provide marketing assistance. The Foundation-run CSA and Native plant lines, online sales, on-site sales, and various farmer’s market booths all serve as an outlet for these budding farmers to market the fruits of their labor. One of the biggest barriers to being successful is being able to sell what you produce. You could grow a thousand pounds of food but if you are unable to sell it you are wasting your time and money. These marketing outlets as well as the previously mentioned support system will be available to these farmers, if they wish, even after they complete the program. Then finally, and most importantly,
- We provide a chance for these farmers to be successful in a field that they love and are well trained to do. That chance is provided without them having to go into crippling debt to do so. It is focused on them and their success, not financial gain of the incubator. These farmers come first!
They will also be involved in the Teaching-Farm activities. From hosting or leading public tours and field trips to attending or helping teach classes and hosted events. In turn, they will be able to educate their future customers about how, where, and who grows their food. These outside attendees become the kind of consumer that demands that kind of sustainable production for their food. All these things work together. The end result is a safer, environmentally conscious, local food supply that everyone benefits from.
We hope you can understand and get behind what we are doing, and more importantly, WHY we are doing it.
These farmers can quite literally change the world if given the chance. Well….here’s that chance! Let’s change the world together!