Headwaters Farm Incubator Program: Cultivating the Next Generation of Farm Stewards

Author: Rowan Steele, Farm Incubator Manager, East Multnomah Soil and Water Conservation District - rowan@emswcd.org

Publish Date: Winter 2013

We’ve all heard the stats: Oregon’s farmers average 57.5 years old; only a quarter of Oregon’s primary farm operators are under the age of 50; up to half the nation’s farmland is expected to change hands over the next ten years. The numbers go on and on, but the bottom line is clear—new farmers are needed to assist the generational transition in agriculture and to ensure responsible farmland management now and into the future.

The East Multnomah Soil and Water Conservation District (EMSWCD) is addressing this problem head-on. In the spring of 2013, they will be launching Headwaters Farm Incubator Program on their 60-acre property in East Gresham. This program is designed to assist the development of new farmers by removing several common barriers—access to land, agricultural equipment, farm and business training, and farmer isolation. More specifically, this program will involve leasing out sections of the property to motivated, experienced individuals who will use it as a launching pad for their own farm endeavors. The cost of land will begin well below market value, but will incrementally increase each year the farmer is on-site. To assist business development, farmers will also be able to rent tools, equipment, and have access to agricultural infrastructure. Farmers will grow at Headwaters Farm for up to four years, after which they will move off-site to make room for others.

In addition to cultivating successful new farm businesses, this program will seek to expose both incubator farmers and the general public to the benefits of Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs) and their connection to watershed health. By empowering the next generation of farmers with this knowledge, the program will result in more robust, resilient agricultural businesses, as well as the protection and improvement of Oregon’s natural resources.

The Headwaters Incubator Program is also intended to have positive effects on the local economy through the creation of jobs, sourcing of agricultural resources locally, and possibly fostering niche agricultural products and services. In addition, Headwaters Farm will serve as a demonstration and research site for streamside restoration, soil and water quality improvement, pollinator habitat, and other conservation practices.

The selection of incubator farmers will be through a competitive process and will require the submission of an application, farm/business plan, and resume. Please contact Rowan Steele, Farm Incubator Manager, for more information (rowan@ emswcd.org / 503.935.5355) or stay posted to EMSWCD.org for updates on when the application window will open.