2012 PRESS RELEASES
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July 12, 2012
TURNING A CHILDHOOD FASCINATION WITH FARMING INTO A CAREER
By Matthew J. Lohr, Commissioner, Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS)
Contact: Elaine J. Lidholm, 804.786.7686
One of my staff members occasionally mentions that she would like to develop an agricultural-themed amusement park. She believes we all have an innate fascination with farming that begins in childhood with our play tractors and horse stables. I agree with that but take it a step further and believe that some people never grow out of that childhood fascination. Even though they didn’t grow up on a farm and don’t have a cousin or an uncle or a grandmother who owns one, they find farming fascinating and would love to try their hand at it.
In this theme park, people could drive big equipment, milk a cow, ride a horse, use GPS to target pesticide applications, take a break in the heat of the day and head down to the river, ride to the barn with a load of hay and sit down to a hearty country dinner. In the evening they could sit on the porch and listen to the crickets, and at night, they could look up and see a sky full of stars. Then they would sleep soundly through the night because of the combination of physical activity, fresh air and a sense of accomplishment. (This amusement park is somewhat unique in that people can spend the night on the premises.)
I’m convinced that the current popularity of agri-tourism harkens back to our childhood fascination with the farm. Many of these farms share some commonalities with amusement parks with their big equipment, petting zoos, hayrides, corn mazes and potential for danger. People don’t go just to pick berries or a pumpkin. They go to experience a day on a farm.
For years we have talked about the aging farm population, the reluctance of many farm-raised kids to keep the family tradition alive and the overall loss of farmers in Virginia. But now we are seeing a bit of a reversal of that trend as we hear from would-be farmers who need land and other assets to get started but otherwise are committed to a career in agriculture.
We have a word for those people at VDACS. We call them farm seekers. These are people who don’t have any expectation of inheriting a farm but who have a strong desire to be a farmer. They’re the modern day equivalent of Oliver Wendell Douglas, the New York lawyer who buys a farm near Hooterville on the old TV show called “Green Acres.” These farm seekers may be looking at farming for the first time, or they may have a farm background and experience but still lack access to land, equipment and other assets. We are interested in assisting all of these farm seekers.
In just a few days, July 27 – 29 to be exact, we will introduce the Certified Farm Seeker (CFS) Program to attendees at Farm Bureau’s Young Farmers Conference in Lynchburg. This is part of the Virginia Beginning Farmer and Rancher Coalition Project led by Virginia Tech, and we believe it will help close that gap between farm seeker and actual farmer. The CFS Program also will be discussed at the Farm Link and Transition Pilot Workshop set for August 4, 2012 in Weyers Cave.
The new program is designed to help all levels of beginning and experienced young farmers who want to begin farming or to expand their existing farm. It will help farm seekers develop a farm business plan and professional resume, as well as demonstrate on-farm experience. 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 will assist them with this important first step.
The Program uses five curriculum modules:
- Introduction to Whole Farm Planning - The main objective of the introductory module is to brainstorm why, what and where seekers want to farm. They will get a dose of the reality of establishing a farm enterprise by exploring motives, resources and personal goals relating to the farming industry.
- Business Management - This module provides the main start to creating a business plan. In this section, farmers will establish strategies for all financial matters, including input costs, risk management, loan acquisition and budgeting.
- Land Acquisition and Tenure - This module contains different options to allow for maximum customization. The General portion is required for all farmers. Options include Leasing, Farm Succession for Transitioning Farmers and Hybrid. Each option contains a brief description in order for participants to determine where he or she best fits.
- Marketing - The Marketing module answers pricing, promotion and distribution questions. Its main objective is to create a market strategy based on original goals and plans in order to specifically address production needs.
- On-Farm Experience - The CFS program stresses the need for practical, hands-on experience. The On-Farm Experience module requires individuals to raise a sampling of the crops and/or livestock they have included in the whole farm plan.
The program also plans to provide significant incentives to Certified Farmer Seekers, including cost-share for professional review of submitted business plans; an enhanced profile/visibility on the Virginia Farm Link database; invitations to social events where farm owners and Certified Farm Seekers can get to know each other and cost-share for attorney/mediator fees incurred as part of the farm transition.
I am very optimistic about this new program and believe it can fill a great need in Virginia and in other states. We need farms and farmers for food, fiber, wood products, green spaces, wildlife habitat and a high quality of life. Can you imagine how bleak the landscape would be without farms? Can you imagine a future where we import our food instead of growing it ourselves? Can you imagine how our physical environment would be diminished without our farms? I cannot imagine any of those scenarios.
Here’s what I can imagine, however: a whole new generation of farmers whose education, background, enthusiasm and philosophy suit them to the responsibility, sense of accomplishment and noble vocation of farming. When we have achieved that, we won’t need a farm theme park because we’ll continue to have the real thing for generations to come.
For more information on the Lynchburg or the Weyers Cave workshop, interested participants should contact Ron Saacke at 804.514.4202 or email@example.com. Or they will find additional information on the Certified Farm Seeker Program.