According to the 2007 USDA Census of Agriculture, the average age of the Massachusetts farmer is 54 years old. As our population of farmers continues to age, we must rely on the next generation to carry out our tradition of farming to ensure that we maintain a safe and secure source of local food and that the agricultural economy of the Commonwealth continues to thrive. MDAR understands the importance of the next generation and is dedicated to assisting the state’s beginner farmers in a variety of ways. This includes assisting farmers in need of technical, business, and marketing skills.
Business training is often of key importance for beginner farmers, and can be required if seeking lending. MDAR’s Division of Agricultural Conservation and Technical Assistance offers business training courses for beginner farmers in their early stages looking to start an operation or those with a few years of experience looking to expand their existing operation. The division also offers financial opportunities, such as the Matching Enterprise Grant for Agriculture Program (MEGA), to assist beginning farm businesses with start up or expansion costs.
A successful farming operation must keep an eye on marketing trends. The demand for local and sustainably grown food has increased drastically over the last several years, as is evident from the growing number of farms offering Community Supported Agriculture (CSA’s) and the nearly 200% growth in farmers markets over the last ten years. This increased demand provides ample opportunities for beginner farmers to sell directly to the public, and in doing so allows for establishment of relationships with their customer. MDAR’s Division of Agricultural Markets works to share market trends and opportunities such as these with beginner farmers so that full potential can be reached.
In addition, MDAR aims to provide resources for our beginning farmers by working in partnership with groups across the state, all sharing a common goal, such as the Beginning Farmers Network of Massachusetts (BFN/Mass), New Entry Sustainable Farming Project (NESFP), and New England Small Farm Institute (NESFI). These groups further assist beginning farmers in areas such as land acquisition and financing, and provide opportunities for beginning farmers to connect with one another across the Commonwealth. The Urban Farmer Training Program (UFTP) trains residents from Boston neighborhoods in the specifics of small plot urban farming.
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