Minnesota wants to bring new, minority farmers to the field
ST. CLOUD, Minn. (AP) — Rachel Sannerud of Pluck Flower Farm sees agriculture as more than a profession.
“You are tending to something that is larger than yourself,” Sannerud said at a gathering in St. Cloud on a recent Wednesday about emerging farmers.
She’s the president of the Central Minnesota Young Farmers Coalition.
Young people are entering agriculture, but they face many barriers to making it their livelihood or a portion of their livelihood, Sannerud said. Her husband Eric Sannerud is CEO of Mighty Axe Hops and grows hops in Foley.
“If you want to farm, you pursue it to no end,” she said. “For someone who clicks with farming, it is hard to give it up.”
But the challenges are many for farmers, from bad weather to low crop prices. And new farmers face additional barriers from lack of capital and expertise to racism. Racism may impact whether new farmers of color or immigrant farmers can access banking resources and limit who can envision themselves as a farmer, the St. Cloud Times reported.
The Minnesota Department of Agriculture is laying the ground for a task force on emerging farmers and working to bring more people into the field, with a particular emphasis on native communities, immigrants and people of color. Assistant Commissioner Patrice Bailey hosted the Wednesday session in St. Cloud and other sessions around the state to gather input for a report due to the Legislature in February.
These early meetings provide good networking for people interested in agriculture and can show them they’re not alone, Bailey said.
A specialist on rural mental health and others from University of Minnesota Extension and the Department of Labor and Industry were on hand to talk about aid they can provide to farmers.
As baby boomers retire, their children might not want to take over family farms, Bailey said. It opens up opportunities for other people, including minorities, and that might require a change in ideas of what a farm looks like.
The emerging farmers project asks people from different backgrounds to find “a common vision of what agriculture could be, not what it used to be,” Baily said.
Bailey asked people at Wednesday’s session: “What is an emerging farmer?”.
It could be an industrial hemp farmer or a hop farmer like Eric Sannerud, Bailey said.
Eric Sannerud spoke to the group and urged up-and-comers to know their goals, whether it’s to farm for sustenance, community or for a livelihood.
He told fellow farmers that they’re worth more than their paychecks let on.
“It’s really hard because farmers’ work is not valued by our society,” he said. “We are not paid enough and that’s a societal decision.”
Despite all the challenges, newcomers still want to become farmers.
John Garceau, 50, has a hobby farm with beef cattle and 80 acres for hay near Gilman, north of Foley. He wants to make farming his job when he retires from another full-time gig.
He would like to expand operations and grow more hay and raise more cattle. He likes the freedom of a life in agriculture, he said. “Doing your own thing, setting goals for yourself.”
His farm doesn’t pay for itself.
“It’s a labor of love right now,” Garceau said. “I think money is always the biggest issue.”