The Rodale Institute announced a new fund earlier this month to facilitate direct support to young and beginning farmers. Rather than supporting institutional operations, the Next Generation Scholarship Fund will provide interns with housing, food, education, and a weekly stipend.
“We get asked every day from individuals and corporations what they can do to help organic farmers other than just donating to the Institute,” Annie Brown, director of development at the Rodale Institute told AgFunderNews. “They want to reach a direct hand out to a future organic farmer or future organic researcher [directly].”
The new fund, which took root in late 2017, will provide material support for the interns that come to the farm to learn the nuts and bolts of organic agriculture. In early 2018 the Rodale Institute announced the first corporate partner for the fund, Wedderspoon Manuka Honey. By expanding the Institute’s capacity to provide a stipend and housing allowance, Brown hopes the fund will help the programs reach a wider audience and train more new farmers.
The demand for more farmers and more organic agriculture outpaces the supply, says Brown. The market for organics is booming, but only 1% of arable land in the United States is certified organic. And in the next five years, 93 million acres of farmland will change hands. “There is a big economic opportunity to transition from conventional to organic,” Brown said, “but we see this dire need for new farmers.”
Lyndsey Antanitis has seen the opportunities the fund could afford hands-on – she coordinates the Rodale Institute’s Veteran Farmer Training Program. Antanitis served in the Air Force for five years, after which she turned towards organic farming. She worked on farms after leaving the military, eventually finding her way to the Rodale Institute.
The program she runs is three years old and has worked with about twenty veterans, a number that she hopes to see grow in the coming years. The fund will help to ease the financial burden of learning to farm organically for veterans and their families, by making it easier for veterans to go through the training program and not endure any financial hardship while learning a new skill and trade, she told AgFunderNews.
Antanitis draws certain parallels between farming and the military. “Being in the military, it was very much a lifestyle,” she said. “[Farming] really highlights on those points of community, on working outside, on working with your hands, on having a job that has a bigger mission than just yourself.” Finding veterans who are enthusiastic or curious about organic agriculture isn’t easy, but she hopes having the resources to more fully support their education and transition into a new line of work and life will streamline the process.
Many of the interns in any of the seven training programs that the Rodale Institute runs go on to careers in organic farming. But upon leaving Kutztown, Pennsylvania they face a host of hurdles: between the costs of land and on-farm infrastructure and equipment, the overhead in agriculture is high. Brown would like to grow the fund into a mechanism to support such transitions.
“If we can say there is a chance that not only will we be able to put you up, train you, give you a stipend but maybe at some point grow this fund big enough to give out loans for a tractor, a lease on land? I’d love that,” she said. “After training, those are the biggest hurdles.”