UConn Extension program receives USDA-NIFA grant to help beginning farmers prosper

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University of Connecticut Extension, which is part of the College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources (CAHNR), will begin issuing the grant Solid Ground 2: Weaving Together Expert Training and Peer Networks for Sustained Beginner and Advanced-Beginner Farmer Success in Connecticut, this winter.  

Solid Ground 2 builds off the Solid Ground Training Program, which aims to close the skill gaps with beginner farmers through training. The project is three years and funded at $525,000.  

Stacey Stearns, program specialist, said beginning farmers and ranchers have unique needs for education, training and technical assistance. For those within their first 10 years of operation, it is vital they have access to capital, land and knowledge to help improve their operations’ profitability and sustainability.  

Early-stage and advanced-level beginners are seen as the two groups of beginning farmers. Around 52% of beginner farmers have been running a farm from six to 10 years, making them advanced-level beginners. The rest, having five years or less of experience, would be considered early-stage.  

“The new grant leverages the capacity, talent and integrity of partner organizations to meet the needs of beginning farmers that were unmet through our Solid Ground training in previous years,” said Jiff Martin, the Extension Educator leading the project. “We also intend to help address the very real barrier of finding farmland for new and beginning farmers, including the unique challenges created by structural racism when farmers of color seek farmland.”   

The plan for the next few years involves networking, continued education in agriculture and entrepreneurship and infrastructure projects farmers can adopt, saving them money at a stage where all income earned on the farm is crucial.  

Cost-saving techniques are valuable to beginner farmers, as they bring in $97 million in product sales, yet only 32% can farm full time—79% depend on off farm-income at varying levels. 

The UConn Extension program understands the obstacles facing the Connecticut farming community. The large majority of farming is part-time and seasonal, but are typically not at a scale to support multiple employees with fair wages and benefits.  

In the future, UConn Extension will partner with other programs and serve largely as a communications role, providing support to initiatives. Agriculture mechanic training, grassroots organizing led by people of color providing urban farming training in Bridgeport, Hartford and New Haven and events connecting farmers to land are some of these intended initiatives.  

There is an emphasis on amplifying the voices of people of color, who have historically lacked opportunities and representation within agriculture.  

For more information on UConn Extension, go to their website. 

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