Learning the Farm Biz
Vermont program teaches business, agriculture to next-generation farmers.
By Clair McLafferty
What do aspiring maple sugar producers, livestock farmers and a vegetable CSA founder have in common? They’re graduates of the Vermont Youth Agriculture Individual Development Account Program [IDA].
Believed to be the first of its kind, the yearlong program helps kids “sharpen their focus, assess their resources and tighten their goals to match their resources with their ideas,” says Liz Kenton, 4-H youth agricultural project coordinator for University of Vermont Extension, which helps manage the program.
Combining agricultural and business education with funding, the program matches 2:1 a participant’s investment of up to $500. While the agricultural aspect is tailored to an individual’s interest, business education is more standardized. Each student has a mentor, takes online classes, attends specific seminars and writes a business plan.
“[The kids] are already passionate about the technical side of agriculture,” says Kenton. “We get them ready to manage their business and their enterprises.”
Henry Cammack, a 2014 University of Vermont and IDA graduate who developed a plan for raising heritage breed chickens and ducks, considers that business education essential. “I’ve known for a long time that I wanted to be a farmer, but [the program] helped me think practically about that,” he explains. During the program, Cammack says he learned how to articulate goals, budget for a business, and write loan and business proposals.
While Cammack hopes to start up such a breeding program soon, he says he keeps the lessons he learned in IDA in mind in his current job as the assistant herdsman and pasture manager for Shelburne Farms in Shelburne, Vt. “As they say, farming is a lifestyle, not a job,” he says.