Last week officials from the Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Farm Service Agency and Iowa State gathered about 20 small farmers and supporters at the extension office in Cedar County. We were there to network and to learn more about programs available to beginning small farmers. By “small farmer” I mean fruit and vegetable growers. These farmers face an entirely different set of challenges, especially if they want to sell their products at a premium for being chemical free. In the land of Corn and Soybeans and 3,000-acre farms, where the Farm Bureau has been working hard to skew policies toward industrial ag, programs for these folks are hard to find, but they’re out there –
- The Iowa Food Systems Council, recently created to help these kinds of efforts
- cost share for hoop houses, water management and fencing from the EQIP program
- vegetable growing from ISU
- marketing support from USDA office of Rural Development
- the drift registry for organic producers
- Practical Farmers of Iowa “farminars” and conferences
- MOSES – Midwest Organics conference
- the national sustainable agriculture information service (ATTRA
These are just a few. It was energizing to see people representing the Tipton Farmers Market and local school districts looking for more producers. The opportunities are here, the government support is as good as it’s going to get for a while (we all await the final disposition of the Farm Bill), and people are stepping up to take the chance to grow local food for sale.
The group plans a Facebook page and another meeting in three months.
Local folks interested in more should contact Mike Boyle, who pulled the meeting together but was sick that night and couldn’t make it.