Shepherding A New Ag Movement From The Hudson Valley
BY JODI LA MARCO
In 2010, Lindsey Lusher Shute cofounded the National Young Farmers Coalition. Through policy and training, the group strives to help new farmers overcome common challenges, such as acquiring affordable farmland. Lindsey says that the decision to start the organization grew out of her own personal experience as a young person trying to make a living through agriculture. “I cofounded the coalition with two other Hudson Valley farmers because of the challenges I was facing in launching and growing Hearty Roots Community Farm,” she says. After six years of farming on rented land, it became apparent that in order to succeed, Lindsey and her partner would need to own the land they worked. “To be farmers for a lifetime, we needed a place that we could invest in. We needed that long-term security and stability.”
Shute decided to seek out purchasable land, but what she found was daunting. “We went out into the market and looked for a farm in Red Hook, and everything was over $1 million. The issue of land access was the primary obstacle that we faced in getting our farm from a starting phase to where it was going to support our family for a lifetime,” she adds.
Shute’s challenges in finding affordable land was exacerbated by a lack of support. “We realized that there was no organization locally, regionally, or nationally that was really representing the needs of young people in agriculture, who oftentimes are starting from scratch and aren’t necessarily inheriting land and equipment—or sometimes, even knowledge of what it takes to run a successful farm business,” says Shute. “We decided that we would form a national coalition of young farmers like ourselves to represent our interests and needs in the agricultural field.”
Now a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, the National Young Farmers Coalition’s work has three aspects: policy change, networking, and education. “We work on policy in Washington, DC and, increasingly, on the state and local levels,” Shute says. One such initiative seeks to add farmers to the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program (PSLF). If passed, the new bill would add farmers to the list of professionals eligible to have the remainder of their student loans forgiven. Farmers would need to successfully complete 10 years of income-driven loan payments while farming to be relieved of their debt. Originally sponsored by Chris Gibson in 2015, the legislation was recently reintroduced to Congress, and is currently co-sponsored by John Faso, along with six others. “This very much came out of the Hudson Valley Young Farmers, and was led by Hudson Valley lawmakers,” says Shute. The legislation is still pending.
The group also teaches farmers how to access affordable credit from public lenders and government agencies. “The coalition provides business services to farmers. We’re doing training on credit and working with the Farm Service Agency to receive loans,” explains Shute.
NYFC also has a grassroots business network of chapters throughout the country. Since beginning less than a decade ago, the Young Farmers Coalition now boasts 36 chapters in 26 states, including three chapters in New York: the Hudson Valley, the Catskills, and the Adirondacks.
Locally, hundreds of farmers are now participating in the Hudson Valley chapter of the organization. According to Shute, young people interested in farming are coming to our area from all over the United States. “The success of Hudson Valley Young Farmers Coalition has helped to increase the number of young people who are coming to the Hudson Valley looking to farm. After they have spent a few years working for other farmers, or in training programs, quite a few farmers have decided to stay. The presence of the Hudson Valley Young Farmers Coalition has been a big part of that, because the farmers have a social hub and a social network that they can lean on as they’re starting new communities and new businesses here in the region,” says Shute.
Besides helping individual farmers to thrive, it’s inarguable that the organization’s work is invaluable to the vitality of agriculture as a whole. “The human capital aspect of farming is incredibly important, and has been identified as a national need. Between 2007 and 2012, the country lost 90,000 farmers,” Shute notes. “It’s incredibly important that we encourage a new generation to farm. What Young Farmers Coalition does is essentially pick up farmers looking to get into the field, help them overcome the obstacles they face, and give them a community that they can feel part of and supported by.”
NYFC also works with the land trust community toward putting easements in place to help farmland remain affordable for the next generation. “It’s potentially a conservation easement that also addresses the issue of farmland affordability,” Shute explains. “We’ve been working with many of the land trusts in the Hudson Valley, thinking about how they can help a legacy farm if there isn’t a new generation in place to take over, how to ensure that some of those farms will sell to another farmer, and that these next farmers will be able to afford that land. We’ve seen some of these agreements put in place on farms in the Hudson Valley, which to us is a great success.”