Every month Farm Aid features farmers in the Farmer Hero column. And rightfully so: farmers work hard to provide the rest of us with food and fiber. Now the Farmer Resource Network is highlighting organizations that tirelessly, and often silently, bolster up farmers across the country. These groups work to provide farmers with the resources they need to make their businesses thrive, and ultimately get fresh food to eaters. These service provider heroes are truly growing change.
One such organization is NY FarmNet. It offers support—be it informational, financial, or emotional—to farmers across the state of New York. This extensive combination of services makes NY FarmNet particularly unique. According to Ed Staehr, the organization’s executive director, NY FarmNet is one of the only “organizations that looks at both the financial and the personal side” of the business. Their holistic approach supports farmers in moments of crisis and vulnerability, as well as farmers seeking new opportunities.
FarmNet’s forty-seven consultants range from those with backgrounds in financial services to those who have a master’s degree in social work. Many of them are retired farmers or extension agents who are dedicated to lending a hand to other farmers. They work on an as-needed basis and aren’t paid big bucks to take calls and visit farms, but as Staehr says, “They don’t do this work because they have to, they do it because they love it. And that really shows in our results.”
While much of what Farm Aid is about is celebrating family farmers, one of the hard facts of our work to keep farmers on the land is that a farmer’s livelihood, and sometimes a farmer’s life, depends on the resources we can provide. Partners who have experience helping farmers through crisis are essential. NY FarmNet is one of those partners we call on in times of immediate need. As Staehr explains, “One incident that sticks in my mind is when a farmer called in and our program coordinator took the call from the answering service at two in the morning. This individual was very distraught and appeared to be suicidal.” Rachael Bothwell, NY FarmNet’s Program Coordinator stayed on the phone with the farmer through the night. The following day a FarmNet consultant arrived at the farm to provide additional emotional assistance and help the farmer sort out his business options.
Two really important pieces of FarmNet’s success are that the program is free for farmers and that all communication is strictly confidential. This program wouldn’t work any other way, as many farmers are reluctant to admit that they have a financial or emotional problem. FarmNet has worked really hard to earn this trust from farmers—and as is the case in a patient-doctor relationship, FarmNet consultants avoid acknowledging a person they’ve counseled if they happen to see them in the community.
Farmers find out about NY FarmNet through the organization’s own outreach and also through referrals from Farm Aid’s Farmer Resource Network—an online tool that connects farmers to organizations, services, and guides that help them run a smooth and efficient business.
Lately NY FarmNet has seen an influx of cases associated with weather variations. From flooded fields to parched crops, it’s been a summer of climatic extremes. But even with these challenges, Staehr sees a lot of opportunities for farmers, especially in local markets. “There’s always opportunity for farmers who are aware of consumer demand…I see that increasing with the movement toward local food,” he explains. NY FarmNet consultants help farmers get their produce into these markets, and devise value-added schemes to keep businesses viable.
Despite the many challenges that come along with farming, there are many opportunities, and NY FarmNet can assist with both. “Many times when people are confronted with multiple challenges it’s difficult to see these opportunities, and that’s where NY FarmNet can help” says Staehr. Together by referring farmers to opportunities and ultimately assisting them in a hands-on way, the Farmer Resource Network and NY FarmNet create a working partnership to help farmers thrive.
- Click here to learn more about New York FarmNet’s work and to see profiles of the organization’s consultants.
- Visit the Farmer Resource Network to find resource providers in your area.
- Email us with additional organizations to include in the Farmer Resource Network.
Photo above provided courtesy of NY FarmNet.