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Beginning Farmer Resources

This page outlines programs and resources offered by the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources (MDAR) and other organizations of particular benefit to new and beginning farmers.

According to the 2017 USDA Census of Agriculture, the average age of the principal operator of farms in Massachusetts is 59 years old. Many of these farms do not have an identified successor to take over their farm businesses, land, and farming assets. There is a skilled, enthusiastic next generation of farmers ready to take on the challenges of finding land and opportunities to contribute to a strong regional agricultural economy. MDAR understands the importance of supporting beginning farmers and is dedicated to providing assistance and resources to help farm businesses succeed. 

Table of Contents

MDAR Resources

The Farm and Market Report: MDAR's bi-monthly newsletter which includes the Commissioner's Column, program and grant updates, workshop and educational updates, USDA News, along with calendar and classifieds. Sign up here.

Agriculture Industry Calendar: Current listings of conferences, workshops, board meetings, and other agricultural activities throughout the Commonwealth.

Agricultural Business Training Courses:

  • Exploring the Small Farm Dreamprovides structure for people thinking about or actively planning to start an agricultural business to help determine if their idea is feasible.
  • Growing Your Farm Business provides instruction on financial management, marketing, risk management and goal setting to help established farmers with at least 2-3 years in business develop or update their farm business plan.
  • Succession School in partnership with Land for Good – provides information for farm operators to understand the importance of succession planning and what they need to do in order to transfer their farm to the next owner.

Grants and Financial Assistance Programs: An overview of grant programs MDAR provides. You can view more information about each program by clicking on the link in the description.

  • Matching Enterprise Grants for Agriculture (MEGA): for Farmers between 1-6 years in business and minimum gross farm revenue of $7,500.  Reimbursement grants up to $10,000 with a 50:50 matching contribution from the farmer.
  • Urban Agriculture Program: Established urban farmers with more than three (3) years of commercial urban farming experience may apply for long-term capital investment projects. Reimbursement grants of up to $50,000 with a 25% match required for requests over $15,000.  Land acquisition proposals are eligible for up to $100,000 with a 25% cash match.
  • Organic Certification Cost Share: Annual reimbursement program for 75% of the cost for Organic Certification up to $750.
  • Rollover Protective Structure Retrofit Program: cost share rebate for tractor Roll Over Bar to prevent injuries.

MassGrown Map: Mobile-friendly statewide map of retail farms. To be included, fill out survey(.doc) "MassGrown" logo marketing price cards, posters and stickers here.

Farmers’ Markets: Resources to find, join, or start a market, plus info about SNAP/HIP programs and an updated statewide list of markets that are seeking vendors. Manager contacts here.

Agritourism Program: Roadside signage, farm stand zoning, and PYO liability laws.

Agricultural Preservation Restriction (APR) Program: Voluntary program which offers payment to landowners in exchange for a permanent deed restriction to protect their farmland and make it more affordable for the purchaser if sold.

Apiary Program

Food Processors Resource Guide: provides approachable information about what’s needed to start a food business. The focus is for growers looking to add value to their crops and for food entrepreneurs. 

Food Safety Program: Offers education and technical assistance to produce farms to help them prepare for inspections and compliance with the Produce Safety Rule (PSR), as well as general farm food safety training.

Regulations 

Land and Land Access

Land for Good helps farmers with land access with a toolbox of resources for buying and leasing farmland.

New England Farmland Finder regularly updated regional listings of available land  managed by the New England Farm Link Collaborative.

National Young Farmers offers a free, online, and self-directed course on finding farmland.

New Entry Sustainable Farming Project offers a free, recorded webinar on finding and assessing farmland.

Northeast Farmers of Color Land Trust is an innovative land access model focused on opportunities for Indigenous, Black, and People of Color.

All Farmers supports refugee and immigrant farmers in the Springfield area in accessing land, training, and resources.

Equity Trust helps communities to gain ownership interests in land and other local resources, including farmland for farmers and provides publications about preserving affordable working farms.

Chapter 61A is the state law defining land in agricultural use for tax purposes.

Training Programs

The Urban Farming Institute offers a 29-week training program in urban farming.

New Entry Sustainable Farming Project’s Incubator Farm Training Program provides practical, hands-on training for beginning farmers.

World Farmers Flats Mentor Farm provides land, infrastructure, and training for immigrant and refugee farmers to get started.

Planning for start-up

An Entrepreneur’s Guide to Farming in Massachusetts is a resource guide of 35 independent fact sheets addressing topics for start-up, business management, and marketing.

Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) offers this plain language guide for people who want to start a small farm.

ATTRA provides numerous resources for beginning farmers on farm start-up and starting a farm business.

Workshops and Courses

New Entry Sustainable Farming Project offers a variety of farmer training courses from exploring farming to crop production and business planning.

Northeast Organic Farming Association Massachusetts Chapter hosts annual conferences and workshops held throughout the year.

Southeastern Massachusetts Agricultural Partnership (SEMAP) conducts educational workshops and an annual Food and Ag Conference

Community in Sustaining Agriculture (CISA) offers workshops for farmers year-round.

UMass Sustainable Food and Farming Program offers online courses open to all in addition to a full undergraduate program at the University.

UMass Extension Vegetable Program offers Twilight Workshops and the Veg Notes newsletter during the growing season.

UMass Extension Crops, Dairy, Livestock and Equine Program offers webinars, fact sheets, and a newsletter.

Cornell University Small Farms Program offers online courses for various types of agricultural production.

ATTRA provides online resources include dozens of free downloadable pdfs, articles, podcasts and webinars organized by topic and easy to search for self-directed learning. 

Association of Specialty Cut Flower Growers offers online workshops, farm tours, mentorships, and a collection of research reports

Financing and Financial Management Education

Farm Credit East’s Farm Start program provides working capital investments for farmers in their first 3 years of business, and the Generation Next annual seminar series offers training a range of management skills.

Farm Service Agency (FSA)’s beginning farmer loan programs offer micro, operating, and farm ownership loans for farmers who are in their first 10 years of business.

Pioneer Valley Grows Investment Fund has financing available for equipment, working capital, and startup expenses, as well as offering business assistance in preparation for financing.

The Carrot Project hosts financial management workshops, videos, and webinars.

BeginningFarmers.Org offers a guide to business planning and enterprise budgeting.

Environmental Justice Resources

Soul Fire Farm has many resources for farms, organizations, and individuals.

SARE and Young Farmers’ Racial Equity Toolkit is a downloadable pdf for on farm use.

Organizational Justice and Equity Self-Assessment Rubric created by Angela Park and hosted by New Entry Sustainable Farming Project is a downloadable pdf for assessment.

Legal Assistance

Legal Food Hub, a project of the Conservation Law Foundation, houses a resource library on farm and food related legal issues on their website and offers pro bono legal services for eligible farmers.

Farms Commons is a membership organization offering information and workshops on legal issues.

Agricultural Mediation Program helps resolve disputes on a range of agricultural issues.

Research and Extension Services

UMass Extension provides educational resources for growers of all sizes and all crops.

UMass Soil and Plant Nutrient Testing Laboratory provides soil and plant nutrient testing services.

UMass Plant Diagnostic Laboratory offers identification services for plant problems.

Northeast SARE offers grants for commercial farmers who want to test a new idea using a field trial, on-farm demonstration, marketing initiative, or other techniques as well as SARE-funded resources and publications.

Grower Associations and Buy Local Groups

Contact

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