Monday, February 2, 2015

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Meeting the Capital Needs of Beginning Farmers

One of the greatest barriers for next generation farmers is the enormous investment required for starting a farm operation. Not only can the cost of farmland be prohibitively high, but acquiring the necessary equipment and improvements can also be a significant financial challenge. Many next generation farmers have not had the opportunity to develop a financial track record that allows them to qualify for conventional loans. Such hurdles can be showstoppers for many seeking to follow their farm aspirations, but they don’t have to be.

Colorado Land Link has recently been exploring what opportunities exist in Colorado for next generation farmers to not only lease land but to purchase if they are so interested. Many excellent loan options exist out there to do exactly that, and Guidestone is developing resources that help Colorado Land Link applicants in reviewing and determining which federal or state loan program would best meet their start-up needs.

One such loaning agency is the Colorado chapter of the Farm Service Agency (FSA). Beginning farmer loans are available for real estate, livestock, inventory, and operations at very low interest rates. New producers who are looking to expand their operations may also qualify. Interested individuals may learn more about FSA Beginning Farmer loan programs by clicking here or find their local FSA county office here.

Other options that can help applicants navigate are offered through the Colorado Agriculture Development Authority (CADA), which has a Beginning Farmer Program that provides low interest loans to new farmers. The Colorado Rural Rehabilitation Corporation offers excellent loan opportunities to help beginning farmers get started as well. If qualified, there are real estate and livestock loans available for the full amount with no down payment.

Contact David Lynch, Colorado Land Link Director at or 719.966.2237 if you are a beginning farmer with 10 years or less experience in farming and are interested in opportunities that will help you grow your farm dream. 

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Farmhands 2014 Summer Programs Lead Instructors

This summer Guidestone has three lead instructors for our Farmhands Youth Education programs held at the Salida School Gardens on Holman Ave., the Hutchinson Homestead Ranch & Learning Center in Salida, The Morgan Center for Earth Literacy in Poncha Springs, and The Meadows Farms in Buena Vista. Here they are! Say hi if you see them around town and ask them what their favorite part of Farmhands is. They're pretty friendly, if you can't tell.

Ann Colbert 
Growing up in Colorado, Ann spent lots of time in the wilderness and in the garden developing a passion for the natural world, which inspired her to pursue a career in environmental studies. Ann has a BS in Natural Resources from Colorado State University and a MA in Teaching from Colorado College. Ann has worked as director and program instructor for a variety of land management agencies and non-profits in Colorado. Ann is currently Guidestone’s Education & Interpretation Specialist.

Karen Fortier

Karen combines two great loves in her life – teaching children and growing food – in her position as Education Specialist for Guidestone’s Farm to School Program. After spending 19 years in Alaska working as a Resource Education Park Ranger, she and her family moved to the Upper Arkansas Valley with the dream of growing more of their own food.

Suzanne Ward

Suzanne Ward is a Colorado native and a fourth generation farmer in the Arkansas River Valley. She and her husband Dave own and operate The Morgan Center in Poncha Springs, Colorado, where they do the Sacred Work of agriculture and Earth Literacy Education. Suzanne has a degree in Psychology from the University of Colorado, a teacher's certificate from the University of Alaska and a Masters in Education from Regis University in Denver. She taught grades preschool to sixth in the public schools for 25 years. Suzanne spent a year on an organic farm in New Jersey in 2004, where she interned teaching Earth Literacy. She has certificates in Master Gardener, Master Food Safety and Food Preservation, and Permaculture. Suzanne and her husband, Dave, co-founded and serve on the board of the Central Colorado Foodshed Alliance. Earth Education and reviving local foods are her passions. 

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Colorado Farm Succession Coordinators Certified

Representatives from a number of agricultural organizations gathered in Denver on May 28th to learn of a new service being offered in Colorado - Farm and Ranch Succession Coordination. This meeting was convened by Guidestone and Colorado State University’s Building Farmers in the West team to announce the team of Farm and Ranch Succession Coordinators that were recently certified through the International Farm Transition Network (IFTN), an organization that has been spearheading farm succession efforts since 1990. John Baker, founder and current president of IFTN, made a presentation about farm succession planning as a service to help retiring farmers and ranchers across Colorado design a transition plan to meet their family and financial goals.

Attendees at the meeting learned about Guidestone’s Colorado Land Link program and the role of farm succession planning in transitioning Colorado’s agricultural resources and heritage into the hands of next generation farmers and ranchers. The need for this service is stark in Colorado where the average age of principal farm and ranch operators across the state has risen to 58.3, as reported by the 2012 USDA Census of Agriculture. This also amidst a population growth boom in Colorado that is three times the national average, which places intense development pressures on our agricultural resources and the families that manage them. Farm succession coordinators can be instrumental in facilitating farm and ranch families through the step-by-step process of creating a succession plan that will keep Colorado’s agricultural lands vibrant and in production.

The newly certified Colorado Farm Succession Coordinators will engage in continuing education programs with Colorado State University to ensure they can effectively help Colorado’s farm and ranch families through this process. Additionally a list of professionals, who have expertise in working with Colorado farmers and ranchers  and developing the legal and financial instruments crucial to a succession plan, is being organized for referral.

A published list of Certified Farm Succession Coordinators will be soon available on the Guidestone website.

For more information or to seek out a Farm and Ranch Succession Coordinator who fits your needs, please contact David Lynch, Colorado Land Link Director at or 719.966.2237

Friday, May 30, 2014

Farmhands and the Art of Growing Food

Guidestone’s Farmhands Youth Education programs have one overarching goal that guides every one of our programs: to teach kids the art of growing food. ‘Art,’ derived from the Latin ars, can refer to “a skill at doing a specified thing, typically one acquired through practice.” The art of growing food incorporates many different elements - like learning a sport or a musical instrument - yet when combined creates a skill that is a comprehensive whole that can be honed over time through practice, dedication, and joy. The art of growing food can be developed everyday - whether we’re in the garden, at a restaurant, in the kitchen, or at the market.

Guidestone’s Farmhands Youth Education programs get kids started down the path towards the art of growing food by first introducing them to the sheer sensory joy of beingconnected to the earth and its systems that allow us to grow food. You just can’t stop kids from having a good time when it comes to this stuff, whether they’re welcoming chickens to their new coop at the Hutchinson Homestead Ranch and Learning Center by preparing roosts and nesting boxes, or helping plant, weed, and harvest vegetables from the Salida School Garden that will eventually be served in local school cafeterias.

We hope that our Farmhands participants always continue to revel in the wonderful intersection of nature and culture that is agriculture, and bring this interest forward with them in life. As adults, no matter what their professions and interests become, we hope their Farmhands experiences in the art of growing food will help them to be thoughtful consumers and instill a lifelong respect for food and the people that produce it.

If you have little ones, please join us this summer for an exciting lineup of programs in Salida at the Hutchinson Homestead Ranch and Learning Center, the Morgan Center for Earth Literacy in Poncha Springs, and the Salida School Gardens. From gardens, to pigs, chickens, sheep, and goats, and historic homesteaders, we’ve got it all! 

Click HERE for more info on all our offerings this summer and to sign-up. And if you believe in what we do, consider helping Guidestone reach its “Spring for Guidestone!” campaign fundraising goal of $10,000 before July 9th by making a donation here so we can continue providing great programming like this for years to come. Thank you so much!

*written by Guidestone's OSM/VISTA member Gunnar Paulsen

Thursday, March 13, 2014

The Farm Bill for Beginning Farmers and Ranchers

The Agricultural Act of 2014 - otherwise known as the Farm Bill - contains news for beginning farmers and ranchers across the country. In total, it invests $444 million into beginning farmer initiatives over the next decade - a 154 percent increase from the 2008 farm bill. These initiatives generally fall under three categories:

1.    Beginning farmer and rancher training programs
2.    Financial assistance
3.   Conservation access and incentives

The following is a brief description of some of the specific initiatives in the Agricultural Act of 2014 that support beginning farmers and ranchers.

1. Beginning farmer and rancher training programs, such as the Building Farmers Training Program offered through CSU Extension, including right here in Chaffee County, are essential to the success of beginning producers. Plenty of passionate and intelligent young farmers adept in growing food are eager to get started; training in business planning, marketing, and financial analysis ensures they have the tools they need to succeed in the long run.
Beginning Farmers and Ranchers Development Program – this program, established by the 2008 farm bill, will be funded at $20 million per year through fiscal year ’18 for a $100 million total, up from $75 million in the 2008 farm bill. This program is the only federal initiative dedicated exclusively to educating beginning, socially disadvantaged, and veteran farmers. This provision is being hailed as a major success by NSAC and NYFC.

2. Financial Assistance
FSA Microloans – the Farm Service Agency’s (FSA) Microloan program was codified. The Microloan program is designed to better serve “the unique financial operating needs of beginning, niche and the smallest of family farm operations” (USDA). It does this by making applications to credit more flexible. In its first year, the program made 3,000 loans.
Direct Farm Ownership Loans – access to this FSA program was made more flexible too, expanding the definition of the required 3 years of experience to better reflect current training structures and opportunities for beginning producers.
Down Payment Program – given the ever-increasing price of land, the FSA Down Payment Program raised the amount it will provide for a down payment on land from $500,000 to $667,000. Also, “Retiring farmers may use this program to transfer their land to future generations” (USDA).
o   The above three FSA loan programs aim to increase access to credit with minimal interest rates for beginning farmers who would otherwise have trouble procuring credit from a commercial lender.
      Federal Crop Insurance – changes in this bill will make it easier for beginning farmers to access crop insurance programs by giving them a 10 percent reduction on premiums. Monetarily, this accounts for the largest provision for beginning farmers in the bill at $261 million over ten years.
      Value-Added Producer Grant – the bill makes clear that beginning producers receive priority in this grant program, which allows producers to create new products and expand markets to increase income.

3. Conservation access and incentives – many changes have been made to Conservation programs in this farm bill, primarily to consolidate and streamline its programs.
Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP) – this new program, which incorporates the existing Farm and Ranchland Protection Program, makes specific previsions to ensure conserved farmland remains in agricultural production, rather than say, be sold to estate buyers. This is language directly from the bill:
The purposes of the program are to… protect the agricultural use and future viability, and related conservation values, of eligible land by limiting nonagricultural use of that land. (Sec. 2301)
      This is in response to the growing trend of land in conservation easement with an associated Agriculture priority being bought by nonagricultural landowners. For more on this trend, see the NYFC’s Conservation 2.0 report here.·      
      Conservation Reserve Program – Transition Incentive Program (CRP-TIP) – funding for this program has been increased from $25 to $33 million. The Conservation Reserve Program pays farmers and ranchers to remove land from production for the duration of a 10-15 year contract, providing a source of income to producers, protecting and restoring environmentally sensitive land, and increasing future productivity on that parcel. The CRP-TIP program provides two more years of CRP payments to farmers whose contracts are expiring if they sell or rent that CRP land to beginning or socially disadvantaged farmers or ranchers who will use sustainable grazing practices, resource-conserving cropping systems, or transition to organic production.
·         Environmental Quality and Incentives Program (EQIP) – the final bill upholds language in this NRCS-administered program that sets aside funds for beginning farmers and also increases the advanced payment amount from 30 to 50% of a project, such as those in the Seasonal High Tunnel Initiative

Click HERE for more information on the Farm Bill

      *written by Guidestone's OSM/VISTA, Gunnar Paulsen

Friday, February 28, 2014

Conservation Opportunities for Farmers, Ranchers, and Agricultural Landowners: An Interview with Andrew Mackie, Executive Director LTUA

*This is the 3rd and final in a series written by Guidestone's AmeriCorps OSM/VISTA member Gunnar Paulsen about Guidestone's Colorado Land Link events forthcoming in March - the 2nd Annual Land Link Forum and Certified Farm Succession Coordinator Training.

The 2nd Annual Land Link Forum is coming up quick, March 7-8th to be precise! The theme of this year's Forum is Farm Succession Planning (see previous post for more on this topic) and one of the sessions we’re excited about is The Role of Conservation in Farm Succession Planning. I recently had a chance to sit down with Andrew Mackie, Executive Director of the Land Trust of the Upper Arkansas (LTUA), and ask him some questions about the session and panel he has assembled, the role of Colorado Land Link in meeting the conservation goals of LTUA, and about tools the conservation community offers for agricultural producers and farm succession planning.

Conservation has become an important tool for protecting and preserving farmland across America. Taking its inspiration from the founding of Earth Day in the 1970s, a movement of community land trusts started to take shape. Land trusts are non-profit, private organizations dedicated to protecting open space, which can include farmland, wildlife habitat and other sensitive landscapes. The primary tool for accomplishing this preservation has been the conservation easement. Conservation easements are agreements entered into between a landowner and a land trust that are mutually beneficial. In exchange for some limits on property rights, such as, say, where buildings can be placed, or where farming or grazing can occur, landowners receive tax incentives. When a parcel of land is put into easement, it is permanent; in the language of land trusts it is “protected in perpetuity.” To date, 2.7 million acres of farmland has been protected by conservation easement.

However, it is not always a sure thing that farmland protected by an easement will remain in agricultural production after that land is sold or the farmer retires (see an interesting report from the NYFC on this matter here). To this end, I asked Mr. Mackie what steps LTUA is taking to help beginning farmers and ranchers become conservation buyers. “We partner with Guidestone’s Colorado Land Link and have supported that program through its development” because, he said:

It is in the interest of the entire land conservation community to make sure that we have a strong, active community to take over these properties as the landowners decide to retire or move on to something else. It is in our interest to have educated, business-smart farmers and ranchers, and if we don’t, we’re going to have a hard time keeping that conservation value the way its intended to be maintained throughout time… Colorado Land Link helps connect us with those qualified buyers.

When it comes to helping farmers and ranchers succeed as conservation buyers, Mackie is frank that it is not just the work of one organization, but a network that includes NRCS, Cooperative Extension, and services like Colorado Land Link. “As an organization, we realize that agriculture has a very important role in both the preservation of open space and the economy of the United States. It’s only by working together that we’re going to keep that.”

I also asked what incentives exist in Colorado for non-agricultural landowners to rent their easement-protected land to farmers or ranchers and the first thing Andrew mentioned was the water rights principle of “use it or lose it.” This refers to the Colorado Water Law’s presumption that if a water right has not been exercised for a consecutive 10-year period it has been abandoned, at which point that right is placed on the abandonment list and can be given to another applicant. And if that happens, “they’ve just given up a private property right that they had that comes with a dollar value associated with it, sometimes a very high dollar value,” says Mackie. So, one way to keep your water right and to receive further tax breaks through Colorado’s statewide Agricultural Exemption Program is to rent your land for agricultural purposes, which of course will exercise a landowner’s water right. “Sometimes that can be enough for a landowner and they don’t need to recoup a lot from the lease because they’re making it up in tax savings.”

In looking forward to what attendees can expect to learn from the Land Link Forum’s conservation workshop on Friday March 7th – the panel of which includes Ginger Davidson of the Palmer Land Trust, John Stulp, Special Policy Advisor to the Governor on Water, Ben Guillon of WetlandsResearch Associates, Bill Gardiner of the NRCS, and Cindy Lair, StateConservation Program Manager – Mackie says “we’re really trying to give a broad perspective of all the conservation programs and services available to ag. producers.” This will include some of the traditional land trust programs, such as conservation easements, but also about “some of the more cutting edge stuff too, including the new water plan for the state of Colorado… and we’re going to look at other programs that provide economic benefit to landholders, such as wetland mitigation banking on agricultural land, programs such as EQIP (Environmental Quality Incentives Program), and Western SARE’s (Sustainable Agriculture and Research Education) programs. Our hope is that whether you’re new, or experienced you can become familiar with these programs and start plugging them into your overall plan for your operation.”

We’re excited to learn more about these innovative programs for farmers and ranchers and hope to see you there!  For information on other programming at the 2nd Annual Land Link Forum, and to register for the event (the registration deadline is March 3rd), click here.