Access to land is a critical issue for beginning farmers. A National Young Farmers Coalition survey of more than 3,500 young farmers and ranchers found that, regardless of geography or whether they had grown up on a farm, land access was their number one challenge.
New Roots Farm Incubator Cooperative was designed to provide support for beginning farmers by offering a lease to farmland, the shared use of equipment & facilities and training that provide support for launching fresh vegetable production.
The original idea for this program can be attributed to conversations between Jack Wood, one of the founders/organizers for Growing Together (local non-profit managing a series of F/M gardens) and Verna Kragnes during the fall of 2015. Jack expressed a wish for an “economic development component” to be added to the gardens that were farmed communally by F/M area residents including many who had come to Fargo/Moorhead from other countries as refugees. After further researching the local need, Verna found that local families owning ethnic groceries were traveling weekly to the Twin Cities to purchase produce because specific things they desired were not available currently from local markets. Verna wrote a USDA grant that provided Farm Beginnings© trainings to area beginning farmers, including many of the founding members of New Roots. When Verna started working with Northern Plains Sustainable Agriculture Society in the fall of 2018, she asked the NPSAS board if they would consider being the non-profit fiscal sponsor of New Roots. New Roots has now been embraced by NPSAS as a key educational program for beginning farmers.
HOPES FOR THE FUTURE:
Plans are being developed with partnering organizations in ND and SD to replicate New Roots in other communities. Key to the program is support for maintaining good records which can lead to filing a Schedule F on IRS income tax returns. This step, plus creating a business plan, are prerequisite for access to many USDA loan programs designed to support beginning farmers.
ONE PERSON'S STORY:
Simeon Bakunda arrived in the region from the Congo in the middle of a snowy November. Back home, he grew his own food. Looking around at his new, snow-covered home, he wondered how he was going to feed himself. He went to a local market and found a vegetable with a familiar shape. He bought it, carefully preserved its seeds until spring, and planted them in a community garden. Now, eight years later, the seeds from that original vegetable have grown into what is known locally as Simeon’s Eggplant. It’s grown in community gardens all over the Fargo-Moorhead area and seed is also sold through a local seed company. Bakunda’s plans sound like those of many farmers: “My dream with regards to farming is to own a small piece of land where I can grow some vegetables,… supply myself with healthy fresh food, and sell it to other people at a fair and reasonable price, bringing an additional income to support my family,” he said.
New small-scale niche farmers and vegetable growers face a challenge in gaining access to affordable and suitable land for farming. Farm incubators such as New Roots remove the land access barrier and connect growers to shared use of equipment, training, and markets as they develop skills to launch a business.
New Roots Farm Incubator, which is located near Dilworth, Minn., supports farmers with fewer than 10 years of experience, including New Americans, Native Americans, people of color, veterans, or women. New Roots is a critical stepping stone for beginning farmers to work toward operating a farm business. By having good records and showing some income, growers will have the opportunity to apply for loans toward a business start-up.