Starting a farm requires a lot more than passion and determination. For beginning farmers, the biggest challenges are access to land, startup capital and services, like training and apprenticeships, explains Emily Oakley, interim executive director for the National Young Farmers Coalition.
"To be successful, there should be a combination of internship and apprenticeship opportunities, affordable land or available land leases, and a market for the products,” Oakley explains.
Based on research as of Feb. 2014, these five states are among the best places for new farmers to get their start.
With 245 farmers’ markets and CSAs serving a population of 626,000, Vermont has the top ranking for per capita opportunities for farmers to connect with customers. Support for the markets is strong: In 2013, the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont offered grants to help farmers markets’ make capital improvements and build community collaborations.
Although farmland costs $2,800 per acre (just below the national average of $2,900), support is available through a number of organizations:
Although row crops might dominate the Cornhusker State, farmers interested in small-scale production will receive a lot of support in Nebraska. In 2013, the Nebraska Department of Agriculture introduced the Nebraska Beginning Farmer Tax Credit Program to offer new farmers a three-year land lease and $500 tax credit reimbursement to start their farms. Landowners who lease their land to new farmers are also eligible for tax credits.
In addition, a host of organizations is available to provide resources to beginning farmers. The nonprofit Community Crops runs a farm incubator called Prairie Pines to provide support and training for those new to the farming scene. NebraskaBeginningFarmer.org is a database that links new farmers to statewide resources for land, education and financial assistance.
With 111 farmers markets and CSAs across the state, Nebraska ranks in the top 20 for per capita access to farm-fresh foods.
With a temperate climate and growing conditions that accommodate a variety of crops and livestock, it’s no surprise that the cost of land in California averages $7,300 per acre. Despite that, there are more than 80,500 farms across the state producing 400-plus commodities and nearly half of the fruits, nuts and vegetables grown in the U.S., according to the California Department of Agriculture.
In 2013, California passed the Urban Agriculture Incentive Zones Act to increase the amount of vacant and private land used for urban agriculture by offering reductions in property taxes and to expand its agricultural reach even further.
In addition to a bumper crop of internships and apprenticeships, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition offers a Beginning Farmer and Rancher Individual Development Account Program that offers matched savings accounts to help new farmers in California build capital to start or expand their farms.
4. New York
From small-scale urban farms in The Big Apple to rolling pasturelands upstate, New York is a popular place for new farmers to get their start. More than 700 food-producing urban farms are spread across the five boroughs, and farmland spans more than 7 million acres across the state. Compared to an apartment in Manhattan, farmland is affordable, averaging $2,600 per acre—far lower than in neighboring northeastern states.
The Hudson Valley is a hotbed of sustainable farming activity. In 2013, the Local Economies Project of the New World Foundation created the Hudson Valley Farm Hub to provide training in sustainable agriculture, help securing affordable land and expanded access to capital for new farmers and their expanding businesses.
To further support new farmers, the National Young Farmers Coalition started a local chapter, the Hudson Valley Young Farmers Coalition, which provides support and resources to beginning farmers.
5. New Mexico
In the Land of Enchantment, farmland averages just $550 per acre, according to the 2013 USDA Land Values Report, making it the least-expensive farmland in the nation.
Along with affordable land comes the challenge of farming in the desert. Thanks to drought conditions that make it difficult to grow vegetables, there are only 108 farmers’ markets and CSAs in the entire state.
However, programs are in place to help new farmers willing to take on the challenge. The New Mexico Farmer-to-Farmer Training Program offers free training in sustainable farming and partners beginning farmers with supportive mentors. Through the Young, Beginning and Small Farmer and Rancher Program, Ag New Mexico helps new farmers start their first agricultural operation with financing, education and training.
If you’re already living in one of these states and are gearing up for your land purchase, you’re in luck! If not, connect with resources in your own state to make the transition to sustainable farming an experience that is both positive and profitable.
About the Author: Jodi Helmer is a freelance writer specializing in sustainable living and is the author of Farm Fresh Georgia (UNC Press, 2014).