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As Minnesota farmers age, bill would step up outreach to potential farmers of color

HF2298, sponsored by Rep. Samantha Vang (DFL-Brooklyn Center), would allocate $300,000 next biennium to establish an emerging farmer office within the Department of Agriculture. House Photography file photo

As Minnesota farmers get older, a new office could support beginning farmers, and state funding could be made available to support farmers of color, who are underrepresented in the field.

HF2298, sponsored by Rep. Samantha Vang (DFL-Brooklyn Center), would allocate $300,000 next biennium to establish an emerging farmer office within the Department of Agriculture and hire a full-time emerging farmer outreach coordinator. That person would be required to connect ethnic minority and immigrant farmers to farming opportunities and programs throughout the state.

The bill would also provide $500,000 in grants to the Hmong American Farmers Association and Latino Economic Development Center to support emerging farmers, and $400,000 to emerging farmers of color and people of color-led emerging-farmer organizations.

As amended, it would also appropriate $10 million for people of color-led urban-agriculture initiatives addressing fresh food access and food deserts.

On Wednesday, the bill was laid over for possible omnibus bill inclusion by the House Agriculture Finance and Policy Committee. Its companion, SF2228, is sponsored by Sen. Foung Hawj (DFL-St. Paul) and awaits action by the Senate Agriculture and Rural Development Finance and Policy Committee.

"We all know that emerging farmers tend to face structural inequities and barriers in the ag economy," Vang said. "This bill seeks to support emerging farmers in the long run."

In Minnesota, where the average age of a farmer is 56, the Department of Agriculture is worried about a shortage of new farmers threatening the state's multibillion dollar agriculture industry.

One way the potential shortage could be addressed is by increasing the number of farmers of color. People of color represent nearly 16% of Minnesota's population but less than 1% of its farmers.

While many people are interested, barriers such as lack of land access, training and financial assistance can stand in their way, advocates say.

"At a time when Minnesota needs more farmers, what a perfect way to address the issues our agricultural sector's facing," said Henry Jiménez, executive director of the Latino Economic Development Center.

The bill, which would also create a new state emerging farmer account and dedicate $100,000 to it, builds on recent state efforts to support farmers of color.

In 2019, the Department of Agriculture held listening sessions about barriers facing emerging farmers, and in 2020, the Legislature created the Emerging Farmers' Working Group, which recommends ways to support people underrepresented in the field.

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