Winter 2017

Growing New Farmers and Ranchers

New Entry program takes the lead in creating a nationwide network of apprenticeship programs.

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Forty percent of American farmland is expected to change hands in the next 20 years, so it's important to have better coordinated apprenticeship programs, said Jennifer Hashley. Photo: Alonso Nichols

For aspiring farmers and ranchers, hands-on fieldwork through an apprenticeship is a big part of learning the ropes.

“This is the number one way that people learn to farm, other than growing up on a farm,” said Jennifer Hashley, director the New Entry Sustainable Farming Project at Tufts.

New Entry has long been a pioneer in educating and mentoring food growers. Now New Entry will take the lead in creating a nationwide network of apprenticeship programs that will share best practices, set guidelines and serve as a resource for beginning farmers and ranchers everywhere. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture is providing a three-year, $600,000 grant to support the network.

New Entry is collaborating with programs in Oregon, New Mexico, Wisconsin, Maine and Montana along with establishing an advisory committee of more than 30 farm organizations.

With more than 40 percent of American farmland expected to change hands in the next two decades, the diverse apprenticeship programs across the country need to develop a more coordinated approach, Hashley said.

One of the key goals is to develop a toolkit to help farms and ranches develop legal apprenticeship programs that pay workers fairly and provide safe working conditions, while providing businesses with the labor they need.

“Unfortunately, right now we estimate up to 90 percent of all on-farm apprenticeships or internships are not actually meeting Department of Labor requirements,” said Hashley, noting that more farms are being fined for lack of compliance. “So this is a big sustainability issue for agriculture, when so much of small-scale sustainable agriculture relies on this work-learning exchange mechanism for their labor source.”

Among many goals, the network wants to develop post-apprenticeship support services for newly trained farmers and ranchers to help them find land and obtain financing.

“Hopefully, it will help producers avoid some of the legal pitfalls and improve the quality of on-farm education for the next generation of farmers and ranchers,” Hashley said.

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