Faso bill would extend grant program for veteran, young farmers get started producing

Local veterans and farmers advocates support federal legislation that will reauthorize funding to help veterans and young aspiring farmers to start up in the field as the large portion of the farming population ages out.

The bill introduced by U.S. Rep. John Faso, R-19, will extend the Appropriate Technology Transfer for Rural Areas program, that provides grants for budding farmers and veterans looking to enter farming, which is set to expire next year.


“The average age of a farmer is almost 60 years old while the post-9/11 veteran unemployment rate is at more than 4.5 percent,” Faso said. “This common-sense piece of legislation addresses these two problems and ensures that this program continues to serve our veterans and farmers. A veteran returning from service, a young farmer breaking into the industry, and those who wish to farm more sustainably should have reliable resources at their fingertips.”


According to a report released in 2013 compiling data about economics in Columbia County, in 2007 the average age of a farm operator was 58, with 181 farmers older than 65, 293 farmers who were 45 to 65 and 80 farmers under the age of 45.


Command Sgt. Maj. Gary Flaherty, executive director of the Columbia County Veterans Services Department, said he supports the legislation.


“We definitely need younger farmers to come up through the ranks,” Flaherty said. “If the legislation passes, my office would be happy to promote the program.”


Flaherty, who works with veterans in Columbia County as legal advisers and to claim their Veterans Affairs benefits, said he works with one disabled veteran, from Chatham, who is now going to agricultural school at SUNY Cobleskill, using his education benefits.


“He is really excited about going to school to learn how to farm,” Flaherty said. “He and his wife farm privately over in Cobleskill now.”


The Farm On Foundation is an organization based in Copake that works to educate youth about farming in the hopes to one day connect young farmers with multi-generation farms to keep local agriculture industries moving.


“I think any technical or financial assistance to help farmers rebuild local farming is vital legislation,” said Farm On Founder Tessa Edick. “It is important to help new people start farming to make sure farming continues.”


Edick said that her concern is that multi-generation family farms will disappear and be replaced by mass production.


“These family farms that have waded the storm will be taken over by big business. You start a family farm because you want to create a legacy,” Edick said. “We are at a crossroads because there is a resurgence of young farmers.”


Edick said one of the biggest barriers to young farmers starting out is land and other capital.


“Land and capital needs are prohibitive to young farmers. Farming is hard enough as it is,” Edick said. “We get funding from grant programs such as the [Appropriate Technology Transfer for Rural Areas] to help young farmers get started and connecting them to the land or other resources. Because without the local food that is in demand we will be slaves to the supermarket.”