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About The Growing New Farmers Project


 The History

During the last few decades, new farmers found it increasingly challenging to start and succeed in farming careers. At the same time, traditional support and services for new farmers seriously eroded. Agricultural service providers, strained by dwindling resources and competing demands, for the most part neglected the new farmer customer.

In the early 1990's, several organizations across the country established "farm linking" programs to assist new farmers in locating and acquiring farms. Perceiving a broader need, many of these linking programs expanded to other services for new farmers such as start-up business planning, skill-based curriculum development, technical assistance, and referral.

In the Northeast, three leading organizations with farm link programs collaborated to inventory and improve services to new farmers in the region. Their proposal for a Northeast New Farmer Network (NENFN) was funded, and the first regional project to focus on new farmers was launched in 1999. NENFN was a two-year project designed to improve resources, programs and referrals for new and prospective Northeast farmers and to create a network of service providers.

NENFN developed a conceptual framework for understanding who new farmers are and what they need to succeed.. This work deepened our understanding of the diversity of new farmers and their broad range of assets and requirements. NENFN also produced an inventory of programs and services for new farmers in the 12 Northeast states, a process which pointed out the significant gaps in the existing service landscape. From this work, the NENFN partner organizations saw a clear need to strengthen the regional service infrastructure for new farmers of all types.

 The Grant

In 2000, the New England Small Farm Institute (NESFI) collaborated with PA Farm Link, Cornell University, University of Massachusetts, and other key partners on a proposal to the Initiative for Future Agriculture and Food Systems, a USDA/CSREES competitive grant program. A four-year grant for $1.7m was awarded to NESFI. NESFI served as host, fiscal sponsor and administrator for the project.


The Project

As stated in the original USDA Grant proposal, the goal of the Growing New Farmers Project was "to establish an effective, responsive and enduring service infrastructure that, through creative integration of research, extension and education provides future generations of Northeast farmers with the support and farming expertise they need to succeed."

The project's objectives were:

  • To establish an ongoing Northeast service provider consortium and create a network of services, programs and activities that provide new farmers with the tools they need for success.
  • To enhance professional capacity of consortium members and expand participation.
  • To produce science-based knowledge that will advance understanding of issues critical to the future success of new farmers.
  • To educate policy makers and other stakeholders about policy issues that affect new farmers.
  • To develop programs, products and tools that directly benefit new farmers.

Nearly fifty collaborating organizations and individuals implemented GNF Project activities. These included:

  • Program and Resource Development
  • New Research
  • Policy Education
  • Professional Development