The goal of the project is for Latinos and refugees with agricultural backgrounds to start farm operations, and to assist Latino and refugee farmers in their first 1-5 years of farming to improve and enhance their farm businesses. The objectives of the project are <OL> <LI>Increase awareness of farm startup opportunities among Latinos and refugees with farm backgrounds per year<LI>Increase capacity of Latino and refugee beginning farmers through native language training and technical assistance on financial, production, and marketing topics<LI>Increase revenues of Latino and refugee farmers by connecting them to improved market opportunities<LI>Overcome obstacles to farm start-up by providing access to land to Latino and refugee beginning farmers<LI>Overcome obstacles to farm start-up by providing access to credit to Latino and refugee beginning farmers. </OL>From an outreach pool of 10,000, 105 aspiring farmers will be trained. 45 will start incubator farms, and 9-15 will "graduate" to start their own farms. 45 returning participants will participate in advanced trainings, and of these 35 will increase acreage or profitability by 25%. Fully 100% of project budget will serve participants who are limited resource, socially disadvantaged, and/or immigrant farm workers desiring to become farmers or ranchers.
Non-Technical Summary: The latest agricultural census report shows again that farming in the United States is in crisis. While the average age of farmers in increasing, insufficient numbers of new operators are entering agriculture. As the number of farms continues to decline, prime farmland is also being lost to increasing development pressures. "Between 1992 and 1997, the U.S. paved over more than 6 million acres of farmland, an area approximately equal to the size of Maryland." (American Farmland Trust, 2002). The result is a precarious national food system. How can we preserve our local farmland and maintain our regional food security when the number of farmers in this region is shrinking Part of the answer lies within our immigrant communities. However, these farmers face great challenges when attempting to establish farm businesses in this country: language and cultural barriers, lack of financial resources, limited access to credit, and an insufficient understanding of farm services. In addition, the soaring cost of land in this region makes finding affordable farmland extremely difficult, and few agricultural professionals in the area speak Spanish or have experience working with Hispanic or other immigrant populations. Nuestras Raices works with primarily with Puerto Rican Latinos. Language and cultural barriers make it difficult for Hispanic and refugee beginning farmers to access the existing programs and resources designed to support them. There are organizations serving beginning farmers in Western Massachusetts, including state programs, but courses are in English only and generally assume a high degree of literacy and internet access as well. While the Northeast does have a number of immigrant farming programs, Nuestras Raices and LSS are the only immigrant farming projects serving the distinct project area of Western Massachusetts, and featuring bilingual staff and training and resource materials in Spanish, Russian, and other languages. Nuestras Raices has years of experience working with Latino and Refugee populations, and is uniquely positioned to supporting this community lead a new generation of farmers. Therefore, for the purposes of this grant, Nuestras Raices and its partners will provide language-appropriate training, materials and resources, technical assistance, support finding farmland and markets, and access to credit opportunities to beginning Latino and refugee farmers in western Massachusetts. These activities match the objectives of the Standard BFRDP Project to enhance the sustainability of beginning farmers and ranchers by addressing farm risk associated with crop production and management, business management and financial viability, marketing, and legal constraints. The potential long-term impact of these activities is that beginning immigrant farmers are keeping local farmland in production, strengthening rural farming communities, and increasing the supply of local food available in city neighborhoods. <P> Approach: The Tierra de Oportunidades Project is highly innovative in its comprehensive support for Latino and refugee beginning farmers to start and grown commercial farms, addressing barriers in the continuum from land to markets. It will increase awareness of farm startup opportunities among Latinos and refugees with farm backgrounds per year. The collaborating organizations will conduct outreach to a total of 10,000 Latinos and refugees with agricultural backgrounds each year, raising awareness of farming opportunities, holding opportunity orientations, and recruiting program participants. New Farmer Training Courses: These seven-part courses for aspiring and beginning farmers will be offered annually in winter and will cover financial, marketing, and production planning and budgeting guidance. Participants will graduate with basic business and productions plans. The project will enroll 15 people per year in new farmer training courses for a total of 45 over the project period. Advanced trainings are a major focus of this project. These trainings will focus on record-keeping and refining the farm business plans for increased productivity. Fifteen farmers will participate in this training corse each year. Of those farmers, 75% will increase acreage or profits by 25%. Access to Markets: Nuestras Raices and Lutheran Social Services will connect project farmers with diverse direct, wholesale, and added-value marketing opportunities. Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture will advise the project on new market opportunities for participating farmers. Ten farmers per year will add new markets as a result of the project and participating farmers will have an increased capacity to engage with diverse market outlets. Access to Land: Nuestras Raices operates an incubator farm in Holyoke, Massachusetts and has begun to graduate out farmers to larger parcels. We will identify farmland for lease or sale in Massachusetts and Connecticut through our broad partner base, including established farmers, cooperative extension, state farmlink programs, FSA, land trusts, other preservation institutions, and local realtors. Access to Credit: Nuestras Raices operates a revolving loan funds for their participants. These loan opportunities are critical to beginning immigrant farmers who are often unable to get loans from traditional lenders. In addition to providing credit to farmers, the loan funds serve as a way for socially disadvantaged farmers to establish credit history and farm records. Evaluation: The project will be thoroughly evaluated to assess progress towards goals and objectives using both qualitative and quantitative tools. Progress will be tracked on achievement of specific outcomes as set out in the chart below. Both Nuestras Raices and LSS have farmer leadership committees who will have primary roles in evaluation data analysis, review, mid-project refinements and problem solving. Records of media advertising, press releases, and articles will be kept. Nuestras Raices will hire an evaluator to track progress on specific outcomes, as well as general achievement of goals, obstacles faced and overcome, and new learnings.