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.
- To assess the interest in farming among recent Latino and other immigrants to rural Iowa communities
- To learn why and how immigrants, particularly Latino immigrants, start farming in Iowa.
- To assess potential barriers for immigrant and Latinos becoming farmers such as access to land, credit and markets, and language issues.
- To create awareness about sustainable and entrepreneurial farming among Latino immigrants in Marshalltown.
5. To foster long-term relationships between stakeholders by linking them to a common interest in immigrant participation in entrepreneurial agriculture
6. To develop understanding of the role institutions can play to support Latino immigrant farmers and to create institutional capacity to respond to immigrant and Latino farmers
7. With other partners, to develop and implement strategies for encouraging immigrants and Latinos to become farmers, beginning with the development of a local food system (the Iowa Network on Community Agriculture will implement their grassroots local food project Growing Food and Profit) and training and experiential learning by engaging in organic agriculture (latter is a project of Marshalltown Community College).
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.
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):
- Farm on small acreage (10-20 acres), and raise vegetables, fruits and livestock for sale and home consumption.
- Combined social, physical, and human capital to access financial capital to buy land. The farmers in this study got bank loans to buy land by mobilizing social capital with friends and family members to raise enough money for a down payment, and, in one case, with Anglo residents in the local community who served as character references to a loan officer.
- Lived in the U.S. a number of years before trying a hand at farming. They started in the U.S. with low paying jobs (usually meat-packing), and bought farm after progression of small, wealth-accumulating steps (like house purchase).
- Utilize skills and knowledge gained in Mexico and often market specialty products to other Latino immigrants.
- Raising livestock has almost a spiritual quality for this small sample of Mexican farmers. Although farming must provide the family with added income or with food, farming provides other kinds of capital, particularly cultural and social.
- All four farmers experimented with owning and selling animals before building larger herds. None has made large capital investments in machinery, buildings, or inputs; some have mobilized family social capital to gain financial capital to make improvements (built capital). Grazing livestock also allowed farmers to make use of marginal land, which is less expensive than prime cropland.
- Thus, tending livestock is a low-risk way to enter farming because of: 1) past experience tending livestock, butchering meat, milking cows and making cheese; 2) niche markets among Latino immigrants for goats, pigs and other slaughter animals; and 3) low-overhead and quick turn-around in small-scale livestock production.
- Engage in pluriactivity (combining part-time farming with off-farm work), which helps households achieve economic and quality-of-life goals. None of the respondents had given up his day job.
Implications for institutions:
- More than nine of ten respondents want to farm today in Iowa, although most do not expect that they will be able to do so. Most want to farm both for income and home consumption Sudanese prefer the latter, while Latino respondents are more inclined to farm for income. The largest challenge to starting farming as perceived by Latinos is gaining access to capital and markets by Sudanese, gaining technical expertise.
- Ninety-six percent of Latino respondents had farming experience (in their country of origin) or as farm workers (country of origin or U.S.). They had experience with a diversity of crop types. Ninety-one percent have experience in grain production, 83% vegetable production, 83% livestock, and 63% fruit or nut tree production, and 51% dairy. A minority had experience also in flowers, grapes, coffee, cotton, and sugarcane production. Nearly half had experience that combined vegetable, grain and livestock production, reflecting production diversity in their past farming systems.
- Respondents with farming experience have a wide set of agricultural skills to draw upon as potential farmers in Iowa. The most common type of agricultural work experience was fieldwork (93%) from planting and harvesting to weeding and pruning. The second and third most common types of work experience are applying chemical inputs (80%) and taking care of livestock (75%). There is also ample experience among respondents with milking (58%), selling/marketing agricultural products (58%), and selecting and saving seeds (50%).
- The most common perceived barrier to farming among survey respondents was limited access to financial capital, followed by finding markets, getting insurance, acquiring technical skills, and gaining access to land (slightly more than half).
Impacts so far:
- Mexican immigrant farmers are not yet well connected with agricultural institutions, but could benefit from information presented in person in Spanish on regulations, production, and markets.
- Farmsteads with small acreage may be sufficient and even ideal. Men preferred an average of 52 acres; women only 12 acres.
- Aspiring farmers who own houses may be in a better position to get a loan to buy a farm.
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
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August 3, 2007
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