We all have a few hard-to-buy-for hobby farmers on our holiday shopping lists. This year, instead of presenting them with gift cards or gardening gloves—again—make a donation in their names to an ag-related charity. With a plethora of options to choose from—from organizations with a worldwide reach to agencies that support farmers in your own backyard—you’re sure to find a farming charity that your family and friends will feel proud to help support.
Even if all your gifts are purchased, wrapped and ready to go, now’s the perfect time to make a donation to your ag charity of choice in order to reap the benefits come April 15. If you file an itemized tax return, donations to 501(c)(3) organizations are tax-deductible expenses.
If you’re overwhelmed by the charitable-giving choices at your disposal, give some thought to whom you’d most like to help during this holiday season. Here are a few suggestions:
Founded in 1944, Heifer International promotes long-term solutions to hunger and poverty by providing training and livestock to families around the world. For recipient families, Heifer animals, such as llamas, cattle, water buffalo, draft horses and even fish fingerlings, help sustain their households and generate valuable income from the sales of cheese, fiber and other farm products. Recipients also help other families begin farming through what Heifer calls “passing on the gift.” By breeding their animals and donating the offspring to their neighbors, they are able to promote self-sufficiency and sustainable-ag practices in their communities.
Heifer International’s gift catalog helps you tailor your purchases to a host of interests. Give the gift of Honey bees in the name of your favorite apiarist, or donate a Knitter’s Gift Basket (which represents a llama, an alpaca, a sheep and an angora rabbit) on a fiber enthusiast’s behalf.
Ease the transition from battlefield to crop field. With the Department of Labor reporting a 10.9-percent veteran unemployment rate as of August 2012, the need for stable employment for veterans—especially those recovering from physical and psychological war injuries—is clear. Several veteran-to-farm organizations, including the Farmer-Veteran Coalition and Veterans Farm, have stepped in to offer returning veterans training and support in preparing for agricultural careers.
The Farmer-Veteran Coalition links farms and farmers to returning veterans interested in pursuing ag careers, obtaining farm internships or using GI Bill funds to study agriculture at a 2- or 4-year college. Through programs, such as educational farming retreats, farmer-veteran mentoring, and ag-education and career fairs for veterans, the FVCÕs goal is to train and support veterans to fight a new set of battles for sustainability, rural development and food security.
Located in Florida, Veterans Farm was started by combat veteran and Purple Heart recipient Adam Burke to combine vocational education, socialization and therapy for disabled veterans. In addition to growing and harvesting the farm’s flagship “Red, White and BLUEberry,” participants in Veterans Farm’s programs cultivate other fruits and vegetables, raise poultry and tilapia, and keep bees. They also sell their wares at farmers’ markets, volunteer with local organizations and educate their neighbors about the benefits of nutritious, farm-fresh produce.
Although Veterans Farm does not have 501(c)(3) status, tax-deductible donations can be made to the farm’s fiscal sponsor, Work Vessels for Vets, and earmarked for Veterans Farm.
Farms for City Kids Foundation
Farm life is full of educational opportunities for youngsters: From mastering the principles of photosynthesis by raising a crop from seed to following the steps that lead from a field full of forage to a wheel of tasty cheese, kids with access to farms have the opportunity to reinforce classroom lessons with hands-on experiences.
Through the Farms for City Kids Foundation, more than 750 students each year have the opportunity to immerse themselves in farm life as part of a free, week-long residential program at Spring Brook Farm in Reading, Vt.
Working in teams, the farm’s young visitors complete farm tasks and experience numerous facets of the sustainable farm’s operation, including animal care, crop production, cheese making and maple-syrup production, while learning lessons about teamwork, communication and leadership.
Beginning Farmer Organizations
Despite the issues facing new and would-be farmers, including a lack of access to land and capital, the challenges of negotiating the marketplace, and the social isolation that can go hand-in-hand with rural life, many young people are launching small-scale, sustainable farming operations. Organizations like the National Young Farmers Coalition and The Greenhorns help young and beginning farmers get a leg up by offering networking and education, pursuing creative solutions to the day-to-day challenges confronting new farmers, and advocating for farmer-friendly policies and legislation at the local, state and federal level.