How do we build our networks and help grow the potential for success in the future food economy? By bringing together farmers and service providers to meet each other, ask questions, listen and discuss.
On February 19th, the New CT Farmer Alliance (NCTFA) did just this, in collaboration with several organizations and agencies: UConn Extension, Farm Service Agency, Natural Resource Conservation Service, and the Community Farm of Simsbury (our state’s only incubator farm). Funded by USDA’s Risk Management Agency, the day brought together two very distinct communities – farmers and service providers.
We are fortunate that Connecticut is a small state and therefore it is relatively easy to assemble a critical mass and a “who’s who” from the provider community. The day began with a brief visit and comments by Steve Reviczky, Connecticut’s Commissioner of Agriculture, who has been and continues to be a supporter of NCTFA. A fun agricultural bingo ice breaker got folks out of their seats to mix and mingle while they tried to complete their bingo card. It was a great way to meet people when you had to find someone who “makes their own jam”, “dresses down for work”, or “visits a farmers market weekly.” Donated prizes went to the first three bingo winners.
We were very fortunate to have Wes Hannah join us for a presentation on the goals of NYFC, the challenges facing young farmers, and how our new Farm Bill impacts this generation of farmers. The service providers really benefited from hearing directly from NYFC. Now they are now armed with more knowledge that they can bring back to their offices as they discuss the services that they provide to the young and beginning farmer community.
Several small-group breakout sessions completed the morning and were designed specifically to be discussion-based, so that participants could both ask questions and learn from other farmers as well as providers. Providers were identified as to the type of service they provide and grouped accordingly into one of five groups: Finances (FSA, Farm Credit, UConn Extension), Conservation and Technical Assistance (NRCS, UConn Extension, CT Agriculture Experiment Station, CT NOFA), Marketing and Sales (Buy CT Grown), Legal Aspects (CT Farm Bureau Assoc. and FSA), and Land Access (Land for Good, AFT, CT Dept. of Ag, NRCS). Farmers had the opportunity to move around to three different breakout groups of their choosing, thus providing a more intimate setting to have meaningful discussion.
The provider community was extraordinarily generous in also providing time to meet individually with farmers one-on-one later that afternoon or at a mutually agreed upon date/time. We know that we all benefit the most from direct personal contact and it was our goal to make this a focus of this event.
Everyone person left the event with a greater sense of community, more information, new contacts and a bigger network, which we hope can help to grow and sustain a vibrant agricultural community. More information about the event can still be found on NCTFA’s website.
NCTFA Steering Committee Member