Community Philosphy Blog and Library

Why We Farm: The FSA Beginning Farmer’s Loan

I’ve found that a distinguishing attribute of a young farmer’s life is the perpetual state of flux. Internships, seasonal work, searching for opportunities to farm on your own–it often leads young farmers not only into various, questionable living arrangements, but we also find ourselves traveling around the country, just to work on farms with the hope of finding something permanent. All this movement is ironic considering what a landed job farming actually is. Many of us got into farming because we wanted to find a place and stay there.

It’s that kind of uncertainty that makes any hint of stability almost irresistible to a young farmer. I know, because last week Travis and I learned that our local Farm Service Agency would consider us for a beginning farmer loan! The beginning farmer loan is specifically designed to help farmers start up a new operation and purchase land. The loan will fund up to $300,000 for a piece of land.

On paper, the FSA loan says that to qualify, you must show that you have been running a farm for three years (you have to show your receipts). So it was a surprise to us when the loan officer told us she would take our experience managing farms (making someone else’s receipts) as sufficient. I guess it goes to show you never know until you ask.

So Travis and I have begun our first online searches for land. Once we get a good list going, we’ll narrow it down and then start paying visits to sites. How will we narrow it down? Well, there’s a range of factors that make a piece of land a good piece of land:

1. Water, as always. The state of the well on the property, or the potential to dig one, is THE make or break issue for a piece of land. Learning about well structure, depth, and pumping capability is never something I thought I’d be doing. But there you have it. Texas farming.

2. Infrastructure. Fencing, barns, sheds…anything that’s standing and usable is something we don’t have to spend money to build later. How about a house? Travis and I have lived in barns and barn-like structures before. Hopefully we can leave that behind us now.

3. Distance from the city. It would be great to get something right in the city, but we’re more likely to get more bang for our buck if we head an hour or so out. Still, we can’t go too far out, no matter how tempting $1,500/acre is.

4. History of the Land and Soil Type. What the land was used for before is going to determine our first moves. Hay fields will need a lot of work getting rid of the hay before it’s ready to plant. Otherwise, we may plant cucumbers but we’ll be growing hay. Also, most soil in Texas is not the lush, life-filled loam I remember from New York. So its a whole new ballgame looking up soil types and figuring out what would be good for vegetables. According to quick searches online, if Travis and I only wanted to grow wheat and sorghum, we’d be in farm heaven.

We’re looking at anything over 10 acres. We don’t plan on doing more than 5 or so in vegetables; instead, we would like to diversify our operation in the future–and farm animals need space. Travis, ever organized, has put all of the properties with potential into an excel sheet with their respective pros and cons. What would I do without him? I’d probably just scribble random ideas on sundry pieces of paper. Which I would then proceed to lose.

How long will this process take? A year? Two or three? We don’t know right now. But it is nice to have something concrete to work with.  Is anyone else looking for farmalnd? What resources do you have to purchase or lease it? How about urban farming – how is the process different when you’re looking for a small plot within the city center?

Neysa King and her husband Travis Czerw have been farming for three years. You can read more about their journey at Dissertation to Dirt.

9 Responses to “Why We Farm: The FSA Beginning Farmer’s Loan”

  1. Good luck with this loan. Are you certain you are ready to get into bed with ‘big brother’… I have looked into this program available in South Carolina as well, there is a load of control and submission issues, you open yourselves up to become a willing partner of the state to be carefully watched and dissected along the way. My point is not meant to be pessimistic just to encourage you to understand your new appointment as a state funded farmer. I’m sure you picked up a copy of your state’s ‘Ag Watch’… Green blessings and well wishes in your farm future.

  2. Robert Whitelaw Says:

    Hello. Think your on the VERY right path.Suggest small R.v for living arrangements.(Some are very plush and inexspensive).Also not to rain on your parade but Aqua ponics is a very green self sustaining Fish vegatable production system.Reserch yu tube 1 million pounds of food on 3 acres.Can be done in city limits but check codes for more info.I want to follow your path but haven’t done the work volinteer aspect.Hope you don’t stop ,march on and never let people nay say you into submission .Good fortune and hard work always pays off.RGW

  3. Good luck Neysa and Travis! I know you’re off to do some pretty amazing things. Check out Farm Aid’s Farmer Resource Network (http://www.farmaid.org/site/c.qlI5IhNVJsE/b.4375765/k.71EA/Farmer_Resource_Network.htm) if you need some other types of assistance. Let us know how it goes with the FSA!

  4. Thanks all! Ariel, I totally understand the sentiment. For instance, Travis and I wouldn’t want to be organic certified for many of the reasons you’ve stated. However, I also think ideals need to be tempered with practicality, and if there is a government funded program meant to encourage and proliferate young and beginning farmers, then I think it’s a good thing. Plus, I don’t see us ever having enough funds to buy a substantial farm outright, so it’s either be beholden to a land bank, or be beholden to the Farm Service Agency (barring a situation where we are owner financed, which I think we can both agree would be the first choice). I’d prefer to work with people who specifically deal with farmers.

  5. is that an “Eat More Kale” shirt he is wearing in that pic?? I meat the guy who makes those at a Sustainable living festival a few years back (Bo I think his name was) real nice guy:)

  6. Ha, yes it does say Eat More Kale! Travis’ mother found those shirts in a shop and bought each of us one back when we were farming in New York. You’ll have to send Bo the link :)

  7. […] And finally, some good news – Last week Travis and I learned that our local Farm Service Agency would consider us for a beginning farmer loan! The beginning farmer loan is specifically designed to help farmers start up a new operation and purchase land. The loan will fund up to $300,000 for a piece of land. […]

  8. Rachelle Clark Says:

    Good luck to you both on this journey, Glad that we are along for the ride with you. I am sure it will be an amazing one, one that you will make lots of memories along the way.

  9. Good luck to you both! My husband are working with FSA for a beginning farmer loan also. We are in PA, and we are going to dairy farm. We have our facility and our herd already found we are just waiting to hear if we are approved! I understand that there will be a lot of hoops to jump through in the future because it is a government based loan. The way I look at it is, I would not be able to get that money anywhere else, and the end result is we will be living our dream day in and day out, so that is a price I am willing to pay :)

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