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We got a chance to sit down with Sophie Ackoff of NYFC and ask a few questions about the amazing work that they do!
Sophie is the National Field Director for NYFC, and helps farmers across the country launch and grow NYFC chapters. She leads their grassroots campaign work and manages ther corporate partnership and membership program. While a Biology and Environmental Studies student at Wesleyan University, Sophie founded a campus food politics organization to source local produce and meat in cooperation with dining services and local Connecticut farmers. She has worked for Food & Water Watch in education and outreach and has farmed on several CSA farms in the beautiful Hudson Valley of New York.
1. What is NYFC and how do you all support local and sustainable agriculture?
We are farmers, ranchers and consumers fighting to create opportunity for young people in sustainable agriculture in the United States. Through grassroots advocacy, we work to reform policy to make land, capital and training accessible for beginning, diversified and organic farmers. We have a network of 28 chapters in 28 states across the country — these social and business networks are entirely young farmer-led and forge collective success for new farmers through communication and collaboration.
We’re currently working to add farmers to the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program which offers loan forgiveness after 10 years of income-based payments to doctors, teachers, government employees and non-profit workers. Student loans are preventing young people from finding success in agriculture– and with only 6% of US farmers under the age of 35– its critical that our government incentivizes this important work.
2. How long has NYFC been active, and where did it get its start?
NYFC got its start back in 2010 when three young farmers in the Hudson Valley of New York were struggling to grow their farm businesses on rented land. Land in the Hudson Valley can be prohibitively expensive and when they looked around for organizations focused on land access and the success of the next generation they found no one. At that time, young farmers were beginning to organize in Washington state, Michigan and Connecticut. Together, we decided to create a national coalition to leverage our voices to make change at the national scale.
In order to make farm policy more supportive of young farmers, we knew we needed a voice in the Farm Bill process. NYFC partnered with the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition to write the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act. Through calls, emails and meetings with young farmers and their members of Congress across the country, the act won bi-partisan support in Congress and many of its provisions were included in the final Farm Bill in 2014. We won full funding for beginning farmer training programs, a permanent micro-loan program, and decreased experience requirements on Farm Service Agency farm ownership loans. In between Farm Bill cycles, we have been working directly with USDA to make its programs more accessible to beginning, diversified and organic farmers.
3. How can people get involved with NYFC in their community?
If you’re a young farmer interested in starting a chapter in your region, check out our organizing handbook and videos at youngfarmers.org/organize. There you’ll learn what other chapters are up to across the country and learn the steps to getting one started in your community.
You should also consider becoming a member of NYFC! In addition to gaining representation in DC and supporting our work, NYFC members enjoy discounts at agricultural companies such as Johnny’s, High Mowing, FarmTek, Chelsea Green Publishing, Growing for Market and more.
4. What’s your favorite part of our film, Growing Cities, and why?
I love how optimistic Growing Cities is. It tells the stories of people who saw a need in their communities and did something bold to address it. There is no shortage of young people passionate about sustainable agriculture (both in our cities and in rural areas), our work is to make sure they have what they need to succeed. If young people are able to grow food for their communities, the future of food in America is bright.
5. What’s one issue in the food movement you wish people were more aware of?
The next generation of farmers are increasingly coming from non-farming families. In a survey of 1000 young farmers, we found 78% did not grow up on a farm. These young people face incredible hurdles in getting started including a lack of access to land and capital, and often tens of thousands of dollars of student loan debt. It’s almost impossible to learn how to farm and start a farm business while making monthly loan payments. We’re seeing an entire generation of farmers trapped by their student loan debt. Fortunately, the Higher Education Act is up for reauthorization and with it, the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program (PSLF) which forgives student loan debt after 10 years of income-based payments for professionals in public service careers. Our legislation, the Young Farmer Success Act, would add farmers to the PSLF Program. It was introduced into the House on June 1st with bi-partisan support. But to get the bill included in the Higher Education Act, we need you to reach out to your member of Congress and encourage them to co-sponsor the bill. To take action, check out farmingispublicservice.org.
Thank you Sophie!