Resource Guide for Vermont's New and Aspiring Farmers
Access to Production Knowledge, Skills and Technical Assistance
By Allen Matthews, UVM Center for Sustainable Agriculture and Anne Hilliard, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service
One of the most diverse issues you face as a new farmer is gaining access to production skills, knowledge and technical assistance. While finding access to land, capital and markets can be daunting, developing the skills to actually produce a sustainable income is critical to success. Gaining practical, on-the-farm experience may often be one of your best investments to a productive future in farming.
For new and aspiring farmers, access to production skills, knowledge, and technical assistance starts with developing an awareness of the various agricultural outreach and educational programs available in the state and region. You’ll also want to develop an understanding of appropriate state and federal regulations that will affect your farm business; commodity and farmer associations that provide support and professional development; and relevant internships and applied degree programs available.
Agricultural Outreach Programs
There are numerous organizations in Vermont that assist farmers with production and marketing practices; help farmers conserve their soil, water, and other natural resources; and provide technical assistance to farmers as they plan and operate their businesses. The following are some of these organizations. More information on all of these organizations can be found in the second section of this guide.
Growing New Farmers, a Northeast project to assist new farmers in the region, is another resource. The website, www.northeastnewfarmer.org, has an extensive list of organizations throughout the Northeast that may be helpful in identifying ways to get the knowledge and skills you need. The program is developing curricula and tools for on-farm skills development. Using an occupational profile framework, twenty competency-based learning guides are to be produced. They also have an on-line service where you can “chat” with other new farmers about your challenges.
Internships and Degree Programs
“Learning by doing” may be one of the best ways for you to gain the skills you need. Become familiar with local farmers in your area. Most farmers are always in need of more help, and may be willing to have you volunteer on their farm to gain experience. Some may even be able to provide you with a modest income as you learn from them. NOFA-Vermont coordinates an apprenticeship program with organic farmers across the state. You may also want to check out the ATTRA website at attra.ncat.org for a listing of internships and apprenticeships across the country and even in Europe.
UVM’s F.A.R.M.S. 2+2 program prepares young people to become professional farm managers/owners for Vermont and the Northeast. All students first earn an Associates Degree in Dairy Management, Agricultural Business Management or Landscape Design from Vermont Technical College. More information about the program can be found in Section II of the Resource Guide.
There are also some very exciting internship and applied degree programs available throughout Vermont colleges, including Vermont Technical College, www.vtc.edu; Sterling College, www.sterling.edu; University of Vermont, www.uvm.edu; and Green Mountain College, www. greenmtn.edu; among others.
Commodity-based associations can be a resource for gaining production knowledge. Whether you are just starting out, thinking of transitioning to a new crop, or developing a new market for your farm products, it may be helpful to get directly in touch with the appropriate “commodity” or farmer association. A list can be found at: www.vermontagriculture.com/agorgs.htm. You may also want to check out the listing of individual farm vendors, commodity associations and retail outlets who sell Vermont agricultural products at
There are numerous state and federal regulations that govern many aspects of farming. While they may sometimes be seen as a burden, it is extremely important to become familiar with regulations related to the crops, livestock and products you intend to produce. “An ounce of prevention”, in this case, “is worth a pound of cure.” The Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food & Markets (VAAFM) is the primary regulatory agency of agriculture in the state. To find a listing of agriculture-related laws and regulations, check out the website at www.vermontagriculture.com/regulations.htm.
In addition, you might consider contacting someone within the different divisions at VAAFM, addressing animal health issues (802-828-2421), dairy (802-828-2433), plants, soil, water quality (802-828-2431) plus overall administrative, policy or permitting questions (802-828-5434). Farmers wishing to be certified organic should contact NOFA-Vermont (802-434-4122). As a new farmer, you need to work through the regulations and license requirements specific to the agricultural product(s) you plan to grow for sale and/or food/agricultural/horticulture products made for sale, wholesale or retail. If you have a question about whether or not a regulation applies or a license is needed, it is best to call ahead and ask.
Conservation and Cost-Share Programs
The USDA’s Natural Resource and Conservation Service (NRCS) at www.vt.nrcs.usda.gov works with landowners to conserve soil, water, and other natural resources. They provide technical assistance for conservation of natural resources; develop and deliver technical assistance and information on conservation practices; conduct natural resources surveys and analyses; and help land users develop conservation plans for their land. NRCS also offers several cost-share programs to encourage environmental stewardship.
One beneficial cost-share program of NRCS is the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). EQIP provides technical and financial assistance to producers to help solve natural resource problems such as transition to organic certification, grazing practices, dealing animal waste, and soil erosion issues. New farmers (those with under 10 years of farming) and limited resource farmers who are approved for EQIP contracts are eligible for 90% cost share assistance on all high priority practices established on the EQIP practice list. (All other farmers are eligible for 75% cost-share assistance.)
Other NRCS resources for new and beginning farmers include:
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