There are many young people who want to be farmers but who lack the opportunity to get started. After all, farming is expensive and land is limited. The opportunity to learn alongside a successful farmer is also very limited. But the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation's Young Farmers Committee wants to change that situation.
"I'm lucky; I started with my father. He basically took over from my grandfather, and that was a very abrupt change, because granddaddy kept all the reins," says W.P. Johnson, a VFBF young farmer in Bedford County. "Dad has relinquished all but the financial side in our operation, but that's OK with me, because I'm learning all the decisions on when to and when not to do something. That's been a good mentoring situation for me."
The Virginia Farm Link program is designed to pair would be farmers with partners and mentors, but a decade after it was established the number of people it has succeeded with is limited. One problem is that potential mentors remain unaware of the program.
"This calls for someone with the willingness and openness to take on somebody to mentor to make a seamless transition to a new owner for their farm," Johnson says. "The young farmer could just be on the payroll at first and take on responsibilities gradually. This way they can actually learn the ins and outs of how to run the business.
"The one key aspect we are looking at is we're looking for somebody who will take the time to teach his successor over 10 or 12 years, and not just someone looking to sell out and move on with their lives."
Virginia Farm Link is sponsoring a series of farm transition workshops around the state, with the next one set for Feb. 11 at the Olde Dominion Agricultural Complex in Pittsylvania County. Another is planned for the Shenandoah Valley this summer.
Information about the program is available at www.vdacs.virginia.gov/preservation/program.shtml Additional information can be found at www.vtnews.vt.edu/articles/2011/01/011211-cals-beginningfarmer.html.