In Virginia, the younger generation is returning to the farm. That’s great news for the state, but many of them have discovered that starting a farm does not come easy.
Eager to come up with a solution to the financial burdens facing Virginia’s new farmers, the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS) Office of Farmland Preservation and Virginia Farm Bureau Young Farmers introduced the Certified Farm Seekers program in the summer of 2012.
The program is designed for farmers of all levels, whether they are beginning, transitioning or established and looking to expand. It allows them to become a Certified Farm Seeker, which lets landowners know that they are serious and dedicated to farming.
Crystal and Edward Marshall of Montgomery County know firsthand the challenges of beginning a farm in a new area. The couple moved from North Carolina to Virginia in 2002. Edward farmed for 10 years in North Carolina, and they’re beginning to farm on an emerging basis here, thanks to the Certified Farm Seekers program.
“We really appreciate the structure and opportunity of this program in Virginia. It makes good sense for an experienced farmer like Edward to find land that we can possibly steward and also farm,” Crystal says.
The couple says they found the program online and felt that it helped them take their business plan one step further. “It made us get very specific about our needs and interests,” the couple says.
The program is designed to help interested farmers produce a business plan and resume, as well as demonstrate on-farm experience through five Whole Farm Planning Modules that contain objectives and questions to help farmers obtain their goals. By highlighting certified farm seekers, the program also enhances VDACS’ Farm Link database, which connects farm owners interested in exiting the agriculture industry with those looking to begin or expand their farming operation.
The program is clearly beneficial for young farmers starting in the business, but it’s also very important to Virginia’s agriculture industry by keeping farmland in production.
“We need qualified young farmers to not only take on these businesses, but to successfully build them for the challenges facing our farmers in the future,” says Ron Saacke, director of the Virginia Farm Bureau’s Young Farmers and Women’s programs. “The partnership between VDACS’ Office of Farmland Preservation and the Farm Bureau’s Young Farmers is a great example of public-private partnership at work, and we believe it will pay dividends for the future of agriculture.”