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Minnesota farmers host USDA Beginning Farmer grant announcement

Agriculture.com Staff 11/05/2009 @ 2:56pm

It's not going to be easy.

That's one of the first things Lisa and Eric Klein tell young people who want to farm when they come to their workshop on direct marketing.

More than a decade ago, the Kleins were among the first students of the Land Stewardship Project's Farm Beginnings program in Minnesota. Today, they run Hidden Stream Farm LLC, selling chicken, beef and pork from their grass-based farm not far from the bluffs of the Mississippi River. And, in a program that was designed to help young people with advice from a group of mentors, the Kleins have now become a source of ideas and advice for a succeeding generation.

"We're just starting, after 11 years, to feel that maybe we're a little bit successful," Lisa told Agriculture Online.

And this week, the Kleins' hard work got some recognition, when Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Kathleen Merrigan paid a visit on Tuesday.

Merrigan came to announce the first $17 million in grants from a new $75-million five-year effort in the 2008 farm bill called the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program. The Land Stewardship Project got a $413,000 grant from that program that will be used to help spread its approach to training beginning farmers to nine other groups in Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, New York, North and South Dakota and Wisconsin.

"The Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program is there to make sure beginning farmers and ranchers have access to the resources they need to succeed," Merrigan said after touring the farm. "A lot of this is following in the footsteps of the Land Stewardship Project's Farm Beginnings program."

Rising demand for locally grown foods has helped many young people get a toehold in agriculture. Merrigan, a strong advocate of local food production, got a chance to visit one of the epicenters of creating opportunity for young farmers and growing food for local markets.

The idea for the LSP Farm Beginnings started in this southeast Minnesota community and Lisa's dairy farmer father, Everett Koenig, was one of the instigators.

"They called themselves the 'Wabasha County Give A Damn,'" Lisa recalled. "They were a bunch of farmers sitting around a table trying to figure out how to get more young people into farming."

The farmers contacted LSP and by the winter of 1997-98, the first classes of the Farm Beginnings program started.

Classes start in late October and run through March, usually meeting twice a month. Local farmers and other experts are the teachers. The program also offers an on-farm component in the spring and summer months. (This year's LSP Farm Beginnings classes, in River Falls, Wisconsin and St. Joseph, Minnesota, are already full).

Lisa and Eric went through the second set of classes in 1998-99. Eric grew up on a hobby farm in New Jersey and had worked on a South Dakota cattle ranch. With the business planning they learned in Farm Beginnings, they knew that Lisa's father's dairy farm wasn't big enough for that business to support the next generation farming the same way as in the past.

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