Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett today announced a transformative pilot project designed to expand the local economy by supporting agricultural entrepreneurs. The New Farmer Pilot Project is a unique approach to training and mentoring new farmers by placing them on individual, longer-term, leased sites. Ultimately, the program is designed to encourage new farmers to stay in Montgomery County rather than looking elsewhere for available land.
“The New Farmer Pilot Project is a first-of-its-kind, year-long ‘experiment’ that will train, mentor and support the land access needs of entrepreneurs who want to start new, sustainable farms in Montgomery County,” said Leggett. “The New Farmer Pilot Project will give new farmers a head start by matching them with private land owners and a support network that enables them to grow their businesses.
“Our region has an ever-increasing demand for sustainable, local food—food that nourishes our children, reclaims our environment and provides meaningful employment within the County. The New Farmer Pilot Program is a progressive program that puts Montgomery County ahead of the national small-farm curve, continuing our rich farming legacy.”
The New Farmer concept differs from other incubator programs across the country that typically start farmers on shared space for a limited amount of time, usually about three years. This limited time frame requires new farmers to almost immediately start making plans for their transition out of the incubator. The challenges of finding a new site, conditioning soil at the new site and planning new plots is magnified by the day-to-day responsibilities of running a new business.
“The premise of the New Farmer Pilot Project is that you only want a new business to endure the start-up phase once,” said Steve Silverman, director of the Montgomery County Department of Economic Development (DED). “We believe that if new farmers are able to start their businesses on private land, and not have to worry about finding new space right away, they will have a better chance at long-term success. We are using this pilot to see if the New Farmer program gives farmers the boost they need to be successful in the long run.”
The expansion of local, sustainable farms continues to be a shared goal in Montgomery County. Initiatives like the Green Economy Task Force, the Sustainability Working Group, the County Commission on Health, and the Montgomery County Food Policy Council all advocate for the increased production of local food.
With financial support from the U.S. Small Business Administration, the commitment of private land owners, and a training partnership with the University of Maryland Extension Program, the New Farmer Pilot Project is designed to attract farmers from the region who want to put down roots in Montgomery County.
Local land owners are an essential component of the New Farmer Pilot Project. Two private land owners have already agreed to lease a portion of their properties to new farm businesses for a minimum of five years, and other land owners are expected to shortly follow suit.
“Our land owners are critical to the pilot’s success,” said Jeremy Criss, manager, DED Division of Agricultural Services. “Access to land will make the difference between these entrepreneurs starting a business in Montgomery County or setting up shop somewhere else. We want them in Montgomery County.”
New farmers will be selected through an application process that opens today. Prospective farmers interested in the pilot program will be thoroughly vetted, culminating with the landowners choosing a new farm business partner. To help potential “agri-preneurs” prepare their new farms for the winter, the County and landowners hope to have the new farmers on their sites, with signed lease agreements, within the next eight to 10 weeks.
The application and more information about the New Farmer Program is available on the DED website.
Montgomery County’s Agricultural Reserve was created in 1980 to protect its agricultural heritage through special zoning that encourages agricultural uses. The Agricultural Reserve encompasses one-third of Montgomery County’s land -- 93,000 acres -- which is more than twice the size of Washington D.C. Since its inception, over 70,000 acres, or about 75 percent of the land area within the Agricultural Reserve, have been further protected through different types of permanent easements that restrict residential, industrial, and commercial development.
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