Supporting Beginning Latino/immigrant Farmers

Jan L. Flora, Professor, and Hannah Lewis, Graduate Assistant, Sociology Department


Latinos are fastest growing group of farmers in the U.S. In Iowa, the Latino population increased by 234 percent from 1990 to 2005, and Latinos are the most numerous and only increasing group of minority farmers, besides women. The number of farmers with Latino principal operators grew by more than 50 percent between 1997 and 2002.  According to the 2002 Census of Agriculture, 499 farms in Iowa had operators of Latino origin.  Latino farmers rarely seek contact with Extension, Farm Service Agencies, the Natural Resource Conservation Service, or other governmental and educational institutions.


Short-term goals:

    1. To assess the interest in farming among recent Latino and other immigrants to rural Iowa communities
    2. To learn why and how immigrants, particularly Latino immigrants, start farming in Iowa.
    3. To assess potential barriers for immigrant and Latinos becoming farmers such as access to land, credit and markets, and language issues.
    4. To create awareness about sustainable and entrepreneurial farming among Latino immigrants in Marshalltown.

Intermediate goals:


A.     Completed survey of 9 Latino-owned food businesses in Marshalltown to assess knowledge about and experience and interest in buying organic, and/or locally produced foods

B.      Completed survey of 62 Latino and Sudanese immigrants in Marshalltown and 61 Latino immigrants in Denison regarding their previous experiences in agriculture and interest in farming in Iowa, and perceptions of barriers to starting farming

C.      Completed two bilingual focus group sessions which addressed potential barriers to farming, as well as resources available within the immigrant communities and from agricultural organizations. Focus groups were held with aspiring farmers and outreach-oriented representatives from ISU Extension, EDA-MCC, NRCS, and Iowa Network for Community Agriculture

D.      Conducted five in-depth interviews with established immigrant farmers to learn how and why they started farming in Iowa

E.      Reported results of the survey and interviews to community in a public forum in Marshalltown
F.      With colleagues from Kansas State University, we obtained funding for Professional Development program from North Central SARE, jointly carried out planning process in the two states in three face-to-face meetings in Kansas (February 2007), Iowa (October 2006), and Kansas City (August 2007).  In Iowa, the target professionals are Extension Field Specialists and CEEDS, NRCS and RC&D professionals, and others.  Multicultural training will begin in Sept. 2007, and training in local food systems, marketing, and small-scale, diversified production will be initiated in November 2007.

G.      Submitted following grants related to Latino farmer initiative: 
a.      Gerad Middendorf (P.I.) and Jan Flora (Co-PI), Building Capacity to Engage Latinos in Local Food Systems in the Heartland, presented to the North Central Sustainable Agriculture Research and Extension (NC-SARE) by Kansas State University, October 2006, $100,000 (ISU subcontract = $37,330; for two years beginning January 2007). FUNDED.

b.     Flora, J. L. Entrepreneurial Agriculture Education and Outreach to Latino and Immigrant Farmers: Graduate Students in Sustainable Agriculture, Entrepreneurship Grant Program for Iowa State Faculty and Staff,  Pappajohn Center for Entrepreneurship, ISU, and Kauffman Foundation, submitted November 2006, 1 year,  $33,000. NOT FUNDED.

c.     Linda Barnes, Marshalltown Community College, P.I.;  Jan Flora, ISU, Co-P.I. Using Multiple Systems and Traditional Foods to Improve Health among Latino Immigrants, submitted to Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, April 2007, 3 years, $300,000, ISU Sub-Contract = $118,000. NOT FUNDED.

d.     Jan L. Flora, P. I., Training Latino Farmers and Planning a Local Food System, Pre-proposal Submitted to Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture Marketing and Food Systems, submitted August 2007, two years, $41,805. PENDING.


Outcomes of the applied research include the following:

Latino farmer respondents (from Hannah Lewis Masters thesis):
For survey respondents (those who are not yet farmers; funded by Leopold Center and by NC SARE grant to Hannah Lewis and Jan Flora; work carried out by Hannah Lewis):
Implications for institutions:
Impacts so far:
The project has already cemented relationships in the Marshalltown area between farmers, aspiring farmers, community activists, and Marshalltown Community College staff interested in supporting beginning farmers through their Entrepreneurial and Diversified Agriculture program.  Focus group participants were informed of land available through the community college, and have inquired about participating in beginning farmer training with EDA.  Grant proposals for a statewide approach to supporting immigrant farmers have and will utilize the research results; if successful, the grants would serve as a foundation for ensuing initiatives.  One grant application is pending.  A written summary (in English, Spanish and Arabic) of research findings, soon to be written, will be distributed to aspiring farmers in Marshalltown and elsewhere in Iowa through churches and other community access points, should raise awareness among immigrants of opportunities to farm.

Hannah Kathryn Lewis, Hacia el ranchito:  Mexican immigrants, farming and Sustainable Rural Livelihoods in Iowa, unpublished M.Sc. thesis in Sustainable Agriculture and Sociology, ISU, Ames, Iowa, May 2007.

184  Rural Sociology


Page last updated: August 3, 2007
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