Last Tuesday, more than 30 people gathered at the American Prawn Cooperative Building for one of RAFI’s Resource Rodeos. Located in Walstonburg, a town of about 200 in Eastern North Carolina, the American Prawn Cooperative received funding from RAFI’s Tobacco Communities Reinvestment Fund (TCRF) to organize former tobacco and catfish growers to raise chemical-free prawn. Members of the cooperative were joined by other farmers for an evening workshop with representatives from government agencies, credit unions, CDFI’s, and non-profits that provide financial and legal support to family farmers. The event was organized by RAFI and funded through a generous grant from the Southern Risk Management Education Center.
Scott Marlow, Executive Director of RAFI and facilitator of the workshop, explained the purpose of the resource rodeo: “Farmers make hundreds, even thousands, of decisions about everything from varieties to plant to people to hire. Some of those decisions are a lot more likely to put them out of business than others. In our experience, decisions about legal and financial issues are a lot more likely to threaten the farm than bugs and weeds. These meetings give farmers a chance to learn who’s out there to help them develop the best legal and financial strategies for managing risk, ideally before something bad happens on their farm.”
Over the course of its 20 years, RAFI has encountered many family farmers who have yet to fully access the programs and services available to them. Some have never met with their local NRCS officer to learn about conservation programs for their land, and others have hesitated to apply for loans because of legacies of racial and gender discrimination. The RAFI Resource Rodeo, funded by the Southern Risk Management Education Center, helps farmers connect with the folks whose job it is to support them. For the first part of the meeting, resource providers from the Farm Service Agency (FSA), Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), AgCarolina Credit, The Support Center, The Landloss Prevention Project, and Carolina Farm Stewardship Association explained their services.
When Scott asked presenters to describe the most common challenges farmers have in managing financial and legal risk, a theme quickly emerged: unless farmers can have open, honest communication with resource providers, the relationship won’t work. One AgCarolina Credit officer explained that he does his best work out in the field or in a farmers’ kitchen. Once lenders or lawyers know the full story of your farm – even if that means bad credit or poor financial decisions – they’re better equipped to help farmers find the most appropriate solution.
With the goal of facilitating this kind of communication, RAFI’s Resource Rodeo ended with an hour of one-on-one “speed-dating” for farmers and resource providers. Farmers circulated through the building discussing their farm’s eligibility for loans, getting contact information of attorneys for estate planning, and learning about funds to help them transition into organic farming.
Farmers left the meeting with business cards, new ideas, and some positive feedback. Natalie Reyeas, a member of the cooperative, said this opportunity was “one-of-a-kind”. One farmer from Pitt County explained that he’s been contemplating selling his part of the farm to his siblings even though neither of them is interested in farming. After a conversation with AgCarolina, he learned that he may be able to get a loan to buy his sibling’s portion of the land and keep the farm intact.
If you would like more information about RAFI’s Resource Rodeos, contact [email protected]. RAFI will be hosting one in Chatham County on October 7th in cooperation with Debbie Roos of Chatham County Cooperative Extension.
Left: Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) officer Don Barker explains programs to Gene Jacobs, Chief of the Coharie Tribe, and another member of the American Prawn Cooperative.
Right: RAFI executive director Scott Marlow talks to a farmer from Pitt County.
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