The USDA has awarded over $250k to the Community Food & Agriculture Coalition to expand Montana’s training and resources for beginning farmers and ranchers. The grant, which was awarded through the highly competitive national Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program, will focus on workshops and resource development. This is the first time a BFRDP grant has been awarded for work in Montana.

Photo by Chad Harder

Photo by Chad Harder

“Over the past fifteen years, the average age of farmers in Montana has gone up from 53 to almost 59 – and it’s even higher in Missoula County. That means that our overall population of farmers is aging rapidly and we need to be replenishing that pool with young people if we want Montana to remain an agricultural state,” says Annie Heuscher, program director at CFAC. “At the same time, we’re starting to see growth – between 2007 and 2012, Montana gained 91 farmers under the age of 34! The future of Montana’s agriculture depends on cultivating and supporting this next generation.”

The project will expand and enhance offerings for beginning farmers across the state, rolling out new programming continuously over the next three years. Workshops focusing on financial, legal, business planning, and land access topics will be offered during the winter months in Missoula and around the state via a partnership with MSU Extension. During the summer months, the project will offer on-farm field days for interns and new farmers on a wide array of production topics.

Two of the primary challenges facing beginning farmers are access to financing and access to land. The final two pieces of the project will focus on those challenges, with a range of partners coming together to develop local financing and investing tools and enhance statewide land access tools.

Liz Yuhas is a beginning farmer who has a small operation in Target Range. In early 2014, looking to expand her farm, Yuhas signed up for CFAC’s first year of business planning workshops. “The workshops did a thorough job of introducing me to what building a farm from the ground up entails.  Meeting other farmers with innovative ideas inspired me and made me feel I wasn’t alone in this,” says Yuhas.  “The information was eye opening for me.”

For more information on upcoming resources, visit http://www.MissoulaCFAC.org. This project is a partnership with MSU Extension, the National Center for Appropriate Technology, Farm Hands, the Montana Community Development Corporation, and the Montana Sustainable Growers’ Union (Homegrown) and is financially supported by the USDA NIFA BFRDP program.

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