60+ Financial & Educational Resources for Kicking Off Your Farming Career
With organic produce popping up everywhere and small, artisanal farming becoming a growing trend, the time is ripe for new farmers to begin building a business. Although the Bureau of Labor Statistics expects a small one percent decline in farming jobs by 2026, the global population is also steadily rising and so is the demand for fresh, good quality, and sustainable food.
Plus, the average age of the American farmer is currently 58.3 and climbing, leaving ample space open for beginning farmers to cultivate their own place in the agribusiness world.
But, starting your own farm requires more than just a green thumb. You’ll need to find capital to get started, develop business skills, and learn how to navigate a lot of complicated laws that regulate the farming industry. You’ll also need to decide what type of farm you want to have, what scale you want your operation to be, and how you’re going to distribute your products. It turns out just getting your farm off the ground can be a challenge in and of itself.
Luckily, many people are beginning to recognize the need to recruit and train new farmers which means there are lots of resources available for people who are just getting started in the industry. That’s why we’ve put together this guide of over 60 of the best resources currently available for new farmers. Check them out!
Government resources for beginner farmers
Farming is a crucial part of every facet of our lives. That’s why federal, state, and local governments have great resources to help you find more information and get funding to start your operation.
- Beginning Farmers and Ranchers Development Program. The USDA offers grants to public or private entities to create programs that assist farmers and ranchers who are just starting out. Although you can’t apply for grants from them, you can check out a listing of recipients here to see if you might be able to benefit from these programs.
- Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). The National Resources Conservation Services offers financial assistance and one-on-one help to farmers who want to plan or implement conservation practices on their farms.
- Farm Service Agencies (FSA). Each state has its own FSA office and you can find your local office here. FSAs offer services including helping you apply for grants and loans, offering disaster assistance, and providing information on laws and regulations. The FSA website also has tons of useful resources that you’ll want to check out.
- Farm subsidies. The US government gives out $20 billion annually in subsidies to farmers. It’s important to note that most of that money goes to large farm operations and that it’s primarily for major crops like soybeans, corn, wheat, cotton, and rice. This primer on EWG is a great place to learn more.
- Organic Certification Cost Share Program (OCCSP). If you’re planning on running an organic farm, you can get assistance to cover up to 75 percent of your certification under the National Organic Program. Check with your local FSA office to learn more.
- Small Business Association (SBA). Running a farm requires entrepreneurial skills just as much as it requires agricultural skills. SBA chapters exist around the country to help small businesses get started, find funding, and seek out local resources.
Beginning farmer resources and nonprofits
These online resources and nonprofits are a great place to get answers to your questions:
- BeginningFarmers.org. This site is an invaluable resource for new farmers. They’ve got tons of advice on how to start your farm, job and internship listings, and information on various different types of farming.
- Cornell Small Farms Program. Hosted by Cornell University, this site has an array of resources, listings, and readings to guide you through starting up your farm. Check out the Plan Your Farm hub for a useful series of tutorials for beginning farmers.
- Farm Aid. Farm Aid started as a music festival to raise money and awareness around struggling family farms, and today it’s a massive nonprofit with tons of resources for farmers. Check out their site for listings of helpful resources, schedules of upcoming events, and stories about other farmers. You can also call them or request assistance to speak directly with farmer advocates.
- Farm Answers. Funded by the USDA’s grant program for beginning farmers and ranchers, this nonprofit site has thousands of articles on agricultural topics and a bunch of different toolboxes where you’ll find sets of documents, legal paperwork, and other vital information on important farming subjects.
- Farm Commons. Farm Commons is a great resource for all your legal questions related to farming. In addition to explainers, they have interactive tutorials and quizzes that can help you be certain you’re on the right side of farming laws.
- Farmer Veteran Coalition. This nonprofit helps veterans get started in a career in agriculture. Their site offers a bunch of business and agriculture resources. You can also apply for one of their small grants through their Fellowship Fund.
- Greenhorns. Greenhorns is a nonprofit organization dedicated to recruiting and supporting young farmers. They mainly create educational and useful media for young farmers including podcasts, films, guidebooks, and more.
- National Farmers Union. In addition to advocating for farmers, NFU offers educational resources, a training institute for beginning farmers, and conferences and events to bring farmers together. They have a beginning farmer forum where you can find resources and connect with other new farmers. Members of the NFU get discounts on insurance, travel, hotels, and more.
- National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service. Also called ATTRA, this organization provides tutorials, media, and events for farmers. They’ve got a selection of publications and resources dedicated to beginning farmers. You’ll also want to check out this resource on places you can find funding.
- National Young Farmers Coalition. This organization is dedicated to advocating for, training, and offering resources for young farmers. They host training events at chapters across the country, and their website has a bunch of useful guidebooks. Members of the coalition can also get discounts at several farming and apparel retailers.
- New Entry Sustainable Farming Project (NESFP). NESFP is an initiative from Tufts University aimed at training the next generation of sustainable farmers. Check out their Farmer Resource Library where you’ll find answers to many of your questions.
- Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE). SARE offers grants, education programs, and professional development tools to farmers invested in creating sustainable farms. They have chapters in every state in the US where you can attend events and get resources specifically for your region. You’ll also want to check out their listing of grants available in each state.
- USDA’s New Farmers. The federal government’s agriculture agency created this site to provide information for new farmers on how to go about starting their own farm, including this useful First Steps hub. They’ll walk you through tricky things like making a business plan and navigating taxes and regulations.
Mentorship resources for beginner farmers
Finding a mentor is a great way to get support during your first months and years of running a farm. You’ll want to check with local agriculture agencies and nonprofits to see if they offer a mentorship program in your area. Here are a few cool programs:
- Farm Aid Advocates. Farm Aid has a mentoring program with farm advocates who are available to answer questions online and via phone and can offer support.
- Food Animal Concerns Trust (FACT). FACT offers mentorships for livestock and poultry farmers who want to learn how to run their business using humane, sustainable methods.
- Midwest Organic & Sustainable Education Service (MOSES). Midwestern organic farmers can get a year of one-on-one mentoring from a farming expert through MOSES. Apply here.
- Northeast Organic Farmers Association (NOFA). One of NOFA’s goals is to provide services and resources for beginning farmers. Many of the state and local chapters offer mentorship programs like this one in Massachusetts.
- Oregon Tilth. Offers mentoring for organic farmers in Oregon, Idaho, and Washington. You can apply here.
- Patriot Project. This mentorship program connects military veterans with experienced farmers in Texas, Arkansas, Indiana, and West Virginia to help them start a farm.
- SCORE. In partnership with the USDA, this nonprofit can help connect you with a mentor to walk you through the process of starting your farm. It’s free of charge, and they’ll also help you find workshops and other useful resources.
Farm link programs for new farmers
Because so much of the farming population is of retirement age, many folks have started creating programs to help retiring farmers sell their land to new farmers. A lot of these programs even include arrangements where the retiring farmer offers mentorship and advice as part of the exchange of land. These are some great farm link resources:
- AgriSeek. This is an online farming classifieds site where you can post that you’re seeking a land link connection.
- Beginning Farmers’ Land Link List. Beginning Farmers created this list which includes a state-by-state listing of farm link programs as well as some other useful resources for finding and purchasing land.
- Center For Rural Affairs’ Link List. CFRA’s list includes national linking programs, a state-by-state listing of local programs, and a bunch of other useful farmer resources.
- Farmland Info Center’s Farm Link List. This post includes listings of 40 different farm link programs with information about each of them.
- Lands of America. Although they don’t actually provide linking services, this site has thousands of farmland and realty listings across the country, some of which would be potential land link opportunities.
- International Farm Transition Network (IFTN). IFTN provides education on farm transitions, meaning the transition of ownership of a farm, as well as this listing of their farm transition member programs.
- Rodale’s Farmers Connect. Users can search and post farm classifieds on Rodale’s new site, plus they also have a forum where you can chat about farm questions and get advice.
- Shared Earth. It’s not exactly a farm link program, but Shared Earth connects farmers and gardeners with folks who have spare land and/or tools who are willing to let them grow on their property. This is a great option if you’re just getting started, don’t have much capital, or want to test drive the farming life to see if it’s a good fit.
- The Land Connection Classifieds. Farmers and farm seekers can make posts on The Land Connection looking to link with one another.
Funding resources for starting a farm
Funding is one of the trickiest parts of getting your start as a beginning farmer, but there are plenty of options available for crowdfunding and getting loans and grants to help you get things in motion. Check these out:
- Local banks. Many banks in rural areas and agricultural communities offer specific loan programs for farmers, some of which are specifically for beginning farmers. Check with your bank to see if they have a farmer loan program.
- USDA Beginning Farmer and Rancher Loans. The USDA offers several direct and guaranteed loans to help new farmers get their operations off the ground. They also set aside a certain amount of funding that’s guaranteed to go to socially disadvantaged applicants including women and people of color.
- FSA Microloans. In addition to other funding opportunities, the FSA offers microloans that are specifically suited to helping small, niche, beginning, and non-traditional farmers purchase land, make improvements on their facilities, or fund operations.
- Aggie Bonds. Sixteen states now offer bonds to lenders which help them provide lower interest rates on loans for beginning farmers to purchase land and equipment. Essentially, the interest on these loans is tax-free for the lender who then passes the savings from not paying those taxes on to the new farmer. You can find out if your state participates here.
- USDA Rural Development Grants. The USDA doesn’t offer many grants to smaller farmers, but if you’re in a rural area they have several grants and specific loan programs available that would definitely be useful for beginning farmers. Check out the list here.
- Crowdfunding. These days many startups and small businesses are using crowdfunding to supplement loans or even to fully fund their startup costs. Check out these crowdfunding sites:
- Barnraiser. This site is focused on crowdfunding for farms producing healthy, artisanal foods. You can create a profile and start earning money for free.
- GoFundMe. GoFundMe is a popular free crowdfunding site where you can raise money to start your farm.
- Kickstarter. Another popular crowdfunding website.
- Investments. There are also a number of sites that offer a model where you can essentially crowdfund your farm, but the donors are also investors. That means they help you front the capital and then earn a percentage of the profits once you’re up and running. Here are a few great examples:
- AgFunder. AgFunder is an online venture capital firm that makes investments in folks who are revolutionizing the food and agriculture industries.
- Harvest Returns. This company lets folks invest in farms as limited partners, which means you’ll have full control over how you operate your business and your passive investors will receive a portion of your profits.
- Steward. Although this program is not yet available, Steward will allow people to make investments in small and midsize farm operations to share in profits through what they call Crowdfarming. You can submit your project here.
- American Farm Mortgage. This company is an FSA-preferred lender and offers loans to folks across the country. They’ve got a specific program for beginning farmers which you can find here.
- Farm Credit. Farm Credit has branches throughout the US and provides loans to young, beginning, and small farm operations. You can find your local branch here.
- Farm Credit East. This program is specifically for folks in the Northeast. In addition to traditional loans, their Farm Start program offers capital investments of up to $75,000 for new farmers in addition to direct support from an advisor. They also offer discounts and incentives on some of their services for young, beginning, small, and veteran farmers.
- Slow Money Institute. Slow Money operates through self-organized local groups where people come together to raise money, encourage investment, and set up loans for local food enterprises. To date, over $66 million has flown into 697 different startups via Slow Money groups.
Online farming classes and webinars for beginner farmers
There’s so much to learn when it comes to growing produce, raising livestock, and operating a successful business. These classes, webinars, and certificate programs can help you build your knowledge base:
- Acquiring Your Farm Tutorial. Land for Good presents this free online tutorial with seven different lessons to help you learn the basics of acquiring land and other resources to start your new farm.
- ATTRA Tutorials. ATTRA offers free tutorials on a handful of farming topics, including two specifically for beginning farmers. They’re available in both English and Spanish. You can also check out their free webinar series on farm financing here.
- Beginning Farmer’s Farmer Training Program List. Learning online is a flexible option, but getting real, hands-on training is invaluable. This list from Beginning Farmer’s can help you find a training program in your area.
- Cornell’s Small Farms Program. Cornell University offers several interactive online courses ranging from five to eight weeks that can take you from the basics of farming to developing your own farming enterprise. Most courses are $250, but you can get a $25 early registration discount and save $50 when you register for a three-course bundle. They’re also piloting a tiered pricing program this year based on your income and household size.
- FSA Webinar Series. The USDA offers regular free webinars as well as an archive of their past webinars on topics related to new farmers and how they can best utilize FSA’s resources.
- New Farmer Project. The University of Vermont offers an archive of free webinars specifically made to assist new farmers through this project.
- Penn State Extension. Offers several affordable online courses on a variety of farming topics including budgeting, making a manure management plan, and learning the ins and outs of selling at farmers markets.
- Practical Farmer’s Farminars. Practical Farmer offers free 90-minute “farminars” every Tuesday during the fall and winter months. Most have an experienced farmer answering questions that are relevant to beginning farmers.
- Washington State University. You can earn a certificate or an undergraduate or graduate degree in Organic and Sustainable Agriculture online from WSU. They also have free webinars and non-degree online learning opportunities in their Digital Academy.
- Rodale Institute. Offers a free online course on transitioning your farm to organic as well as occasional free webinars on organic farming. If you’re able to go to them in person, they also have several internships available that could be a great hands-on way to learn the ins and outs of farming.
- SARE. Through their National Continuing Education program, you can take several free self-directed courses on sustainable agriculture basics. You can also check out their Learning Center to get free books and other useful resources.
- Stockbridge School of Agriculture. Part of the UMass Amherst school system, Stockbridge offers bachelor’s, associate’s, and certificate programs in Sustainable Food and Farming. Classes can also be taken individually. Returning veterans can use their benefits towards this program as well.
- Upstart University. Upstart is a subscription-based online course service with a bunch of courses on farming and agribusiness basics. You can get a free 7-day trial from them to start, plus you can get two months for free when you sign up for their annual plan.
- Vermont New Farmers Project. They offer regular free webinars for new farmers on a bunch of different topics like farm safety, marketing, and regulations.
If you’re ready to set off on your own agricultural adventure, these resources are a great place to help you get started. With some perseverance and the support of these educational materials, funding sources, and organizations, you’ll be well on your way to building the agribusiness of your dreams.
While you’re here, be sure to check out the other guides we’ve got here to help you budget and save money while you build your farming business. You can also head over to the Knoji homepage where we’ve answered thousands of questions about how you can save money at all of your favorite retailers.