F.A.R.M.S. Initiative

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 An initiative of ISC‐Audubon aimed at saving American farms and soil, and fostering the use of Best Management Practices while advocating consumption of locally produced food.

USDA Secretary Vilsack Awards $17.8 Million to Cultivate the Next Generation of Farmers and Ranchers, Sets Stage for Continued New Farmer and Rancher Support


AMES, Iowa, Aug. 17, 2016 – In a meeting with new and beginning farmers at Iowa State University today, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced a new investment of $17.8 million for 37 projects to help educate, mentor, and enhance the sustainability of the next generation of farmers. The investment is made through the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP). Since 2009, USDA has invested more than $126 million into projects targeting new and beginning farmers and ranchers through BFRDP.

In order to build upon the strong foundation of programs available too new and beginning producers, Vilsack also announced a series of Fall Forums herothat USDA will host in the coming months to highlight the progress made on the top issues facing the future of agriculture and set the stage for the next Administration to continue to support a strong future for American agriculture. The series of USDA Fall Forums will be hosted in partnership with leading universities across the country. Each forum will focus on a pressing agricultural issue, including land tenure and the next generation of agriculture, climate change, export markets, local and regional food systems, and groundbreaking agricultural research. High-ranking USDA officials will lead the forums and facilitate discussions with regional stakeholders to lay the groundwork for the next Administration to build on the progress USDA has made over the past seven years.

"Looking back on the past seven years, I am extremely proud of what USDA has accomplished for rural America. Even as this Administration ends, the important work of USDA will continue for the next generation and beyond," said Vilsack. "We see new and beginning farmers and ranchers as a critical force in sustaining food security, food safety, and many other aspects of agriculture that will become even more challenging as our global population grows. The Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program, and the forums that we are planning, will be important steps in helping young people, returning veterans and others access the tremendous opportunities in the agriculture sector."

With the average age of the American farmer exceeding 58 years, USDA recognizes the need to bring more people into agriculture. Over the course of this Administration, USDA has engaged its resources to provide greater support to the farmers of the future by improving access to land and capital; building new markets and market opportunities; extending new conservation opportunities; offering appropriate risk management tools; and increasing outreach, education, and technical support.

Through lending assistance programs, like the Farm Service Agency's new microloan program, USDA prioritized support for new farmers, providing improved access to credit, land, and equipment. USDA has also provided greater access to quality crop insurance coverage to over 13,500 new and beginning farmers and ranchers with special crop insurance benefits designed just for them. Thanks to this program, beginning farmers and ranchers have saved more than $14 million in premiums and administrative fees. More information on USDA's assistance for beginning farmers and ranchers can be found at

BFRDP, administered through USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), has been a key part of this effort and supports educational programs to assist beginner farmers and ranchers who have less than 10 years of experience in the industry, including veterans and socially disadvantaged farmers. The program supports workshops, educational teams, training, and technical assistance throughout the United States.

This year's awards will be made in 27 states and the District of Columbia to help fund a range of projects by partner organizations, like the Iowa-based National Farmers Organization (NFO) that will use $588,948 in funding to assist 900 beginning organic dairy and grain producers over the next three years. NFO will provide workshops, mentoring and other assistance in 11 states, including Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio, South Dakota and Wisconsin.

New Mexico State University and the Institute of American Indian Arts will partner to use $598,030 to provide education, mentoring and one-on-one technical assistance to American Indian Pueblo beginning farmers. The Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy, based in North Carolina, will use $513,959 in funding for Farm Pathways, a program to deliver whole farm training, farmer-to-farmer networking and farmland access.

2016 grants include:

•             Calypso Farm and Ecology Center, Fairbanks, Alaska, $369,500

•             Arkansas Land and Community Development Corporation, Brinkley, Ark., $481,080

•             ALBA Organics, Salinas, Calif., $600,000

•             Colorado Economic Development Office, Denver, Colo., $239,970

•             University of Connecticut, Storrs, Conn., $597,598

•             National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, Washington, D.C., $150,000

•             North-South Institute, Inc., Davie, Fla., $330,828

•             The Kohala Center, Inc., Waimea, Hawaii, $564,000

•             Jannus Inc., Boise, Idaho, $597,867

•             Angelic Organics Learning Center, Caledonia, Ill., $600,000

•             National Farmers Organization, Ames, Iowa, $588,948

•             Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas, Overland Park, Kan., $380,433

•             Wolfe`s Neck Farm Foundation, Inc., Freeport, Maine, $573,256

•             Third Sector New England, Inc., Boston, Mass., $249,657

•             Tufts University, Medford, Mass., $599,796

•             Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture, South Deerfield, Mass., $595,533

•             Future Harvest Inc., Cockeysville, Md., $597,599

•             ECO City Farms, Edmonston, Md., $352,095

•             Minnesota Food Association, Marine St. Croix, Minn., $159,626

•             Land Stewardship Project, Minneapolis, Minn., $384,649

•             Stone Child College, Box Elder, Mont., $265,179

•             National Center for Appropriate Technology, Butte, Mont., $238,441

•             National Center for Appropriate Technology, Butte, Mont., $231,679

•             Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy, Asheville, N.C., $600,000

•             Foundation for Agricultural and Resources Management, Medina, N.D., $513,959

•             New Mexico State University, Las Cruces, N.M., $598,030

•             National Young Farmers Coalition, Hudson, N.Y., $574,150

•             Just Food, New York, N.Y., $593,930

•             Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association, Columbus, Ohio, $566,141

•             The Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio, $599,715

•             Southside Community Land Trust, Providence, R.I., $596,517

•             Clemson University, Clemson, S.C., $595,133

•             Tennessee State University, Nashville, Tenn., $470,083

•             Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas, $600,000

•             National Immigrant Farming Initiative, El Paso, Texas, $541,950

•             Greenbank Farm Management Group/Organic Farm School, Greenbank, Wash., $598,850

•             Viva Farms, Mount Vernon, Wash., $599,999

USDA Invests $25 Million in High-Priority Watersheds to Improve Water Quality

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced an investment of $25 million targeted to help Spavinaw Creekagriculture producers improve water quality in high-priority streams and rivers across the country. Through the National Water Quality Initiative (NWQI), USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) will help agricultural producers in 187 priority watersheds apply conservation measures that contribute to cleaner water downstream.

"Clean water is in everyone's interest, and the National Water Quality Initiative has been successful because it brings together multiple partners in strategic areas to work towards a common goal," said Vilsack. "Restoring health to waterways benefits not just farmers and ranchers, but it also gives their communities safe drinking water and provides healthy habitat for fish and wildlife."

The goal of NWQI is to implement conservation practices in sufficient quantity within a concentrated area so that agriculture no longer contributes to the impairment of water bodies within these priority watersheds. NRCS and partners work with producers and landowners to implement voluntary conservation practices, such as nutrient management, cover crops, conservation cropping systems, filter strips, terraces and buffers, that improve water quality in high-priority watersheds while maintaining agricultural productivity. Water quality-related conservation practices enhance agricultural profitability through reduced input and enhanced soil health, which results in higher soil organic matter, increased infiltration and water-holding capacity and nutrient cycling.

USDA's targeted approach to improve water quality is working across the country. In Arkansas, conservation efforts improved the water quality to the point that portions of the St. Francis River and the Illinois River are no longer considered impaired streams by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. In coastal Mississippi, focused efforts led to Orphan Creek's removal from the list of impaired streams, and in Louisiana, two watersheds, Big Creek and East Fork Big Creek, are on track for delisting.

This year, NRCS added 17 new watersheds to NWQI, and because of marked progress in some watersheds, "graduated" 13 watersheds from the initiative.

Since 2012, conservation systems have been place on almost 500,000 acres in priority watersheds through NWQI, supported by $100 million in USDA investments. Now in its fifth year, NWQI has expanded to include more small watersheds across the nation, and it builds on efforts to deliver high-impact conservation in areas such as the Mississippi River basin, Gulf of Mexico, Chesapeake Bay and Great Lakes.

In 2016, NRCS will bolster its water quality efforts by introducing a new evaluation tool in selected NWQI watersheds. The tool will help producers assess how their farm or ranch is operating, the value of conservation already in place, and to identify areas they may want to improve and practices they may want to implement to get them there.

Known as a resource stewardship evaluation, this new tool integrates many of NRCS' planning tools, and looks holistically at an agricultural operation's current management and conservation activities across five natural resource concerns: soil management, water quality, water quantity, air quality and wildlife habitat. With a resource stewardship evaluation, NRCS helps producers develop a conservation plan that best meets their goals and prescribes the right conservation practices.

NRCS worked with state water quality agencies and other partners to select NWQI watersheds. State water quality agencies and local partners also provide assistance with watershed planning, additional dollars and assistance for conservation, along with outreach to farmers and ranchers. Through NWQI, these partnerships are growing and offering a model for collaborative work in other watersheds.

Deadlines for application vary by state. Contact your local USDA Service Center for more information.

Since 2009, USDA has invested more than $29 billion to help producers make conservation improvements, working with as many as 500,000 farmers, ranchers and landowners to protect over 400 million acres nationwide, boosting soil and air quality, cleaning and conserving water and enhancing wildlife habitat. For an interactive look at USDA's work in conservation and forestry over the course of this Administration, visit

The F.A.R.M.S. Initiative

F.A.R.M.S is an initiative of ISC-Audubon aimed at saving family farms and soil, advocating consumption of locally produced food and fostering the use of Farm Best Management Practices.


  • Foster the protection of prime farm production areas. 
  • Advocate protection and enhancement of soil as the foundation of sustainability, and through partnerships establish educational programs to encourage greater understanding of the importance of soil, local food production and the use of sustainable best management practices. 
  • Support and promote local farmers, local food products and implement a marketing campaign to foster greater awareness on the part of consumers of the need to support local farmers through their purchasing decisions.
  • Advocate improved efficiency of low input farming methods and improved irrigation and drainage systems. 
  • Advocate integrated livestock management with food crop and vegetative management to improve soil fertility.
  • Encourage the use of integrated pest management (IPM) practices at all farms and agriculture facilities, and limit or eliminate the use of toxic materials.


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A Coalition for Good - Spreading the Seeds of Sustainability

ISC-Audubon is a coalition of non-profit organizations and initiatives that include The International Sustainability Council (ISC), Audubon Lifestyles, Audubon Outdoors, Planit Green, Broadcast Audubon, and the Audubon Network for Sustainability. 

Funds generated through memberships and donations are used to provide fruit & vegetable seeds, wildflower seed mix, and wildlife feed & birdseed to urban and suburban communities around the world. These seeds are used by communities to establish fruit and vegetable gardens, bird and wildlife sanctuaries, and for the beautification of urban and suburban landscapes by creating flower and native plant gardens.

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