Imagine a future where farmers have ample access to land, financing, hands-on learning, and viable markets to sell their products. This is just the kind of future CFAC’s Beginning Farmer and Rancher (BFR) program aims to achieve; the kind of future where a sustainable food system supports the family farms that feed us.
The average Montana farmer is 59 years old; with a vast land transfer on the horizon, what will Montana’s agricultural landscape look like in twenty years? CFAC’s BFR program kicked off in 2015 to offer answers to that important question. Through BFR, CFAC provides no or low-cost training, workshops, technical assistance, and financing tools to farmers in the early stages of business planning.
The program also includes the web platform Farm Link Montana. This platform offers one stop shop access to the above listed services as well as land for lease or sale, mentor/mentee opportunities, and on-farm employment, internships, and apprenticeships.
In 2017, beginning farmers and ranchers:
- established 27 new farms with program assistance
- leveraged a total of $117,000 in alternative financing tools to build infrastructure, improve efficiency, and expand production
- accessed resources on Farm Link Montana, which connected 7,500 users to land, mentorship, and training
The ever popular Planning for On-Farm Success workshop offers beginning farmers and established growers an in-depth curriculum centered around direct markets. These markets include typical avenues such as farmers’ markets, Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs), restaurants, and stores, but it also gives producers insight into selling agricultural products to wholesale venues. Last year, the workshops were able to reach and benefit over 700 local farmers.
Conserving Montana’s rich agricultural heritage is one key to ensuring the future of our state’s food security, because when family farms remain a valuable part of Montana’s identity, we all have access to the nutritious food they provide to communities big and small.