USDA grant helps Purdue reach out to beginning farmers

Daily Reporter staff reports

HANCOCK COUNTY — A team of Purdue University faculty, staff and extension educators will lead a U.S. Department of Agriculture effort in Indiana aimed at supporting new and beginning farmers and ranchers, including those in Hancock County.

The National Institute of Food and Agriculture initiative — called Infrastructure, Access, Community: A Plan to Support Beginning Farmers in Indiana — is designed to increase the number of farm start-ups in the state and provide direct, practical assistance to anyone who is new to farming.

“We are particularly interested in supporting small farms and military veterans,” Team leader Kevin Gibson said. “This grant comes at a very critical time for the agriculture industry. The ag workforce is rapidly aging, and the average age of farmers in this country is now more than 58 years. Once these farmers and ranchers start to retire, who will grow our food?

“At the same time, consumers are increasingly interested in buying local foods and supporting local farmers. There are real opportunities for new and beginning farmers to help meet this demand.”

Plans call for annual training sessions for extension educators, workshops and farm tours focusing on effective farming practices, a one-stop shop website with a variety of resources for beginning farmers and networking events.

“We will accomplish our goals by improving the infrastructure needed to support beginning farmers, increasing the access beginning farmers have to training and educational materials, and developing a community of educators and experienced farmers who will support beginning farmers and ranchers,” research scientist at Purdue and project leader Tamara Benjamin said.

Including funds provided by Purdue, the project will spend nearly $850,000 during a three year period to address these goals, she said.

Key partners in the project include the National AgrAbility Project, which will focus on expanding opportunities in agriculture for military veterans, and the Local Growers Guild, which will arrange farm tours across the state and provide other resources for farmers.