From The Grand Traverse Insider by Kristine Morris

The ISLAND (Institute for Sustainable Living, Art and Natural Design) Farmer Residency Program is looking for smart, talented journeymen farmers to participate in a farm incubator project at the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy’s Maple Bay Farm, located just south of Elk Rapids.

Applications for the 2015 growing season are being accepted on a rolling basis, with preference given to applications received on or before Oct. 1. Successful applications received before Sept. 15 will be offered a seed garlic bonus.

The program is not a farmer education nor an internship program, but an opportunity for new, but experienced landless farmers to establish and manage their own successful businesses. The goal of the Farmer Residency Program is to minimize the barriers to entry for new farmers by providing many of the resources and services that are difficult for start-up farmers to access on their own.

ISLAND offers access to organically-managed farmland (projected to be certified organic in 2016); access to shared equipment and tools, including tractors, implements and hand tools; access to the infrastructure for growing and marketing crops including irrigation, a wash station and a walk-in cooler; one-on-one technical assistance including connections to local farmer mentors and free or reduced costs to ISLAND’s farming-related workshops; assistance with identifying and establishing markets; one-on-one farm business consultation with experienced professionals; Q&A sessions with diverse stakeholders including business planning professionals, restaurateurs, lenders/loan officers, real estate brokers and more; and assistance with connections to capital and land for the transition to a farm of one’s own.

Under the current program, three resident farmers will each be provided with three years’ access to a portion of land to launch their own farm business.

Addressing threats to area agriculture

According to organizers, the program hopes to help resolve a few of the problems facing farmers today.

It helps new farmers develop business and marketing plans so that they grow what they know they can market. It also hopes to give younger people access to farming – an important issue as the state’s population of farmers is aging and there are not enough young people going into agriculture, partly due to the high cost of getting started.

Amanda Kik, co-director of ISLAND, said the program will give those considering farming as a career the opportunity to know for certain if this is their path in life without having to first make a big investment in land. The program also makes it possible for new farmers to qualify for USDA funding, which can only be obtained by those who can demonstrate farm management experience.

“Along with having access to land, farmers will be mentored by area farms, and can tap into their expertise,” said Kik. “They will work on a business plan for their farm with a business counselor. And, the program will hopefully have a public face. The marketing is already done for them. They’ll be able to say that they were an ISLAND farmer, and people will recognize the program.

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