Stories from the Field

New Entry Sustainable Farming Project

Farmers for the Future

Interest in locally grown food is expanding across the country, as more consumers value its health, environmental and economic benefits. Yet just when the local movement is booming, the number of farmers to meet this demand is shrinking. Where is the next batch of farmers who will take over?

It’s not easy being a farmer today. Although people still have the desire to grow food, many small-scale farmers barely earn enough to survive. Lack of access to land and capital are the two greatest challenges new growers face.

Enter the New Entry Sustainable Farming Project, a farmer pipeline for the future. A project of Tufts University’s Friedman School and Community Teamwork, a non-profit based in Lowell, MA, New Entry offers farm training programs and services that cover the full spectrum of needs of a beginner farmer.

“All of the farmers come from different points in their lives,” explains Eero Ruuttila, New Entry’s technical assistant and incubator farms coordinator. “They come from different locations, cultures, backgrounds, experiences, and they all come for different reasons.”

New Entry’s resources make farming careers possible for people like JoAnn Robichaud.

After years of gardening, JoAnn’s frequent trips to farmers markets and her passion for healthy cooking guided her back to the farm. For JoAnn, growing vegetables would help reintegrate the importance of fresh, nutritious food into the lives of her friends and family. “I love experimenting in the kitchen,” she says. “I am always sharing new recipes because healthy eating is important.”

 

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However, JoAnn lacked formal training and the resources to become a full-time farmer.  After attending New Entry’s Annual Open Farms Tour, JoAnn enrolled in New Entry’s Farm Business Planning course; the eight-class curriculum teaches farmers how to write a comprehensive business plan, a critical piece in securing funds from financial institutions and government agencies.

“Farmers use New Entry as a training ground and a reality check to see if they can make a living off this. People aren’t just going to quit their jobs and become a farmer,” Eero says. “New Entry is a way to start farming gradually.”

Following the business program, students are eligible to receive a temporary quarter-acre plot. New Entry’s farm managers then hold biweekly field workshops where growers learn how to maintain the highest quality produce. “Startup growers are usually isolated. Here, everyone shares costs of infrastructure by virtue of being together,” says Eero. With the support from the Henry P. Kendall Foundation, New Entry was able to expand and upgrade its farm equipment to meet increasing demand for farm training programs.

In her third season of farming, JoAnn operates a one-acre plot at New Entry’s Ogonowski Memorial Fields, runs her own Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), and has hired additional help. Next year, New Entry will help her relocate to a two-acre plot so she can expand her business. JoAnn contributes 50 percent of her harvest to New Entry’s World PEAS Food Hub, which was created to help connect new farmers to local markets. 

Educating and training the next generation of farmers is a critical element in building a thriving regional food system. Over 170 new farmers have graduated from New Entry’s business program. In addition, World PEAS has grown to provide local food to more than 500 families in the Greater Boston area.

By providing the support and resources necessary for new farmers to succeed, New Entry makes farming career opportunities a reality. “The next wave of farmers is modeling a new way to farm: part-time farming while also making some income elsewhere,” says Eero. “They start with positive but tiny steps, and then build off that and eventually shift to a full-time career. This is the new paradigm of what a farm can be.”

Learn more: New Entry Sustainable Farming Project