For many beginning farmers and ranchers, the challenges are numerous—what to farm, where to farm, how to farm—and where to find the capital, support and resources to help them make it.
In 2004, Amanda and Matt Gajdzik began farming in rural Kentucky, and while Amanda belonged to a family that had been farming for many years, Matt had only been at it one year. Young (still in college) and with limited income, they were eager, but also apprehensive. “We were excited, nervous and naïve,” said Matt.
The couple says they feel very fortunate to have had the support of Amanda’s parents to give them guidance. “Amanda’s mom and dad were huge mentors to us. There’s not an idea we’ve had that we didn’t run by them,” said Matt. The two went to college less than an hour from where they lived and in the early days went back and forth to Amanda’s family’s farm, where in exchange for taking care of the land, they were allowed to have cattle on a piece of land her parents weren’t using. “We had someone who would watch the herd during the week, and we would come home on the weekends,” said Amanda.
After graduation, the two faced the same plight as many other beginning farmers—how to find the money to pay start-up costs when you have no capital. “Capital is always the big hurdle,” said Amanda. The Gajdziks, who were both working outside of farming to pay bills, sought help from a loan officer at Farm Credit, who had been with the company a long time and had seen a lot happen in farming. “She was great. She wasn’t afraid to tellus no, or that’s not a good idea, but she would say, ‘what if we did it this way,’” Matt recalled. The loan officer also helped them find grants through beginning farmer programs and proposed other creative ideas to help them overcome the challenges of expanding their business strategically.
While accessing capital is one of the main challenges, beginning farmers face other obstacles as well: overcoming land access and other barriers to entry, developing succession strategies, changing markets, labor, social disadvantages, finding programs and initiatives. The Gajdziks, now owners of Gajdzik Farms & Mulberry Orchard in Shelbyville, KY, were lucky enough to find the help they needed at the local extension office, the Farm Bureau and the USDA Farm Service Agency, as well as in their community. They also turned to the state horticulture society, which they joined after they began growing apples and peaches. “It’s so important to have those connections around the state and the community,” said Matt. He pointed out that while there are more programs for beginning farmers now, that growth needs to continue. “Things are progressing in the right direction, but we need to keep working to help people who want to farm to be able to do that,” he said.
With the number of farms decreasing and beginning farmers and ranchers facing myriad obstacles, particularly during this difficult time in agriculture, the U.S. must find solutions to help them succeed. In order to continue to support farmers like the Gajdziks, Farm Foundation and other organizations across the U.S. have developed beginning farmer and rancher resources—but there is still a need to grow the number of programs and to communicate the availability of those resources to beginning farmers and ranchers. It is imperative that U.S. organizations continue to collaborate and build resources for beginning farmers and ranchers, for the future of our farms, society and our world.
Shari Rogge-Fiddler is President & CEO of Farm Foundation, an accelerator of practical solutions for agriculture, including the Beginning Farmers and Ranchersproject, the Young Farmer Accelerator Programand the Young Agri-Food Leaders Network. Farm Foundation’s mission is to build trust and understanding at the intersections of agriculture and society. We accomplish this by leveraging non-partisan objective dialogue, information and training, catalyzing solutions and creating multi-stakeholder collaboration. Our vision is to build a future for farmers, our communities and our world.
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