New farmers assembled the Arts Block in Greenfield, Massachusetts, on Dec. 12 from all over New England, New York state, and even Canada for the Northeast New Farmer Winter Gathering. Roughly 150 attendees arrived with enthusiasm and energy to participate in an anti-oppression training facilitated by representatives of Springfield-based Gardening the Community.

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Liz Wills-O’Gilvie (left) listens to an attendee report back from a small-group exercise.

Liz Wills-O’Gilvie and Tory Field encouraged attendees to think about institutional racism and its relationship to a just food system. “Dismantling racism isn’t optional,” Willis-O’Gilvie said. The group participated in several exercises and agreed to continue the conversation on race inequality in the food system.

Organizing the event were New England Farmers Union, Young Farmer Network, Beginning Farmer Network, National Young Farmers Coalition (NYFC), New Connecticut Farmer Alliance, and the Harvard Food Literacy Project.

Following a lunch break, participants broke into two groups. The NYFC’s Eric Hansen, policy analyst, and Sophie Ackoff, national field director, discussed policy advocacy. The workshop included background information on contacting one’s legislator, Farm Bill programs that benefit beginning farmers, current issues facing beginning farmers — including student loan forgiveness — and tools for advocates. That took box kit includes: telling your story, making an ask, building a relationship with decision maker, and following up. Reaching out to the media through an op-ed, blog post, or on social media is also a good way to influence policy. Roughly 75 people attended this workshop.

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A standing-room-only crowd listens to a workshop on farmer co-ops.

It was standing room only when 75 sat in on a panel on agricultural co-operatives, held simultaneously with the advocacy workshop. Participants were Faith Gilbert from the Letterbox Farm Collective, Warren Facey of Our Family Farms, and Roger Noonan of the New England Farmers Union.

Attendees heard about the structure of a co-operative venture, about two manuals on farmer co-operatives, one from Gilbert, Co-operative Farming, and one from New England Farmers Union, Growing a Food System for the Future: A Manual on Co-operative Development. Noonan noted that the three legs of sustainability, economic, environmental, and social justice, are all included in the co-operative model. Co-operative farms also allow farmers with common interests and values to share work and community, he said.

Gilbert described the patchwork quilt of financing she and her partners faced when the land they were leasing suddenly was up for sale. Through a combination of a grant from Scenic Hudson, a conventional mortgage from Farm Credit East, gifts and loans from friends and family, and a benefit dinner at one of the restaurants the farm supplies, they were able to cobble together the $610,000 to buy the land. “This is not a replicable model,” joked Gilbert, illustrating the difficulty many beginning farmers face when they want to buy land.

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Between structured offerings, farmers network.

Land Access was one of several discussion groups that followed the two workshops. Others were Sustainability and Scaling up, Distribution, Race and Justice, Regional Farmer Organizing, Queer Community, and Grower Affinity Groups. After a long and fulfilling day of networking, organizing and learning, new farmers got to kick back and listen to musicians Daniel Hales and Dan Mickus and eat pizza donated by Guiding Star Grange #1.

New England Farmers Union held a raffle, with prizes donated by members Real Pickles and Artisan Beverage Co-op, and the NYFC. Thanks to all who took part in this successful event!

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