Home > Latino/Hispanic > Center for Rural Affairs Outreach Project for Latino farmers and ranchers

Center for Rural Affairs Outreach Project for Latino farmers and ranchers

Center for Rural Affairs Outreach Project for Latino farmers and ranchers

©by Leo Adam Biga

Originally published in El Perico


The Center for Rural Affairs (CFRA) in Lyons, Neb. is embarking on a collaborative aimed at getting independent Latino farmers and ranchers in Missouri and Nebraska to utilize United States Department of Agriculture aid programs.

The Latino Farmer and Rancher Outreach Project is funded by a $305,000 grant from the USDA’s Outreach Assistance to Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers Competitive Grants Program. The Center’s partnering with: the Cambio Center at the University of Missouri-Columbia; Alianzas, a program of the University of Missouri Extension and the University of Missouri-Kansas City Institute of Human Development; and the Latino Research Initiative at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

The geographic focus is Newton and Barry counties in southwest Missouri and Scotts Bluff and Lincoln counties in western Nebraska.

Rafael Martinez, CFRA outreach coordinator for the project, says census data fix the number of Latino ag growers-producers at 35 in the two Nebraska counties. He says the number of operators in the counties has either risen or remained constant compared with declining numbers statewide, The goal is to help existing farmers-ranchers retain, improve or expand operations and help aspiring ag owners enter the field.

He says USDA officials are puzzled why few Latinos participate in USDA programs designed to assist minority ag operators like them. Various loan and cost share programs — for things like terracing, transitioning to organic methods, adding wind turbines, improving efficiencies — are available to qualifying applicants through Farm Service Agency, the Natural Resource Conservation Service and Rural Development.

Underlying the new outreach effort are basic assumptions and questions. For example, Martinez says it’s assumed the reason Latinos don’t take advantage of programs is due to cultural barriers, adding that officials wish to understand what the barriers are in order to devise strategies for overcoming them.

“We are sure they’re not accessing the programs in most cases and we don’t know why not,” says Martinez. “That’s why we’re doing this effort — we want to know. You can list a lot of barriers they might face — certainly the language and the cultural barrier can be huge for recent immigrants.”

But as Martinez points out, not all Latinos are recent emigres with limited English language skills. In some instances, he says, Latino communities, like Scotts Bluff County, are “very well established over generations, so the barriers the farmers and ranchers might face over there could be completely different ones.”

Rodrigo Gamboa, a project consultant, says one barrier may be unfamiliarity with USDA programs and application procedures. Government rules, regulations, protocols and bureaucracy, he says, can be intimidating to the uninitiated. For Spanish speakers, it can be even more daunting. It’s possible some simply don’t know the programs exist. Now through May he’s conducting presentations for Latino stakeholders across the state on USDA programs to get the word out.

Martinez says project team members will canvass the focus counties and use everything from town hall meetings to social networking to knocking on doors to inform and educate farmers. He says UNL’s Latino Research Institute, headed by Miguel Carranza, is developing standardized surveys and interviews for use with subjects, thereby ensuring project members collect and analyze data in the same way.

Strategies for increasing access to USDA programs, Martinez notes, will be part of a document that team members produce and submit to the USDA by year’s end.

“The assumption,” he says, “is that if more Latino farmers and ranchers would access these programs and take the benefits of the programs then they would be more able to stay in their farm-ranch businesses.”

The strategies, says Martinez, will inform the creation of a mechanism for enhancing access and participation through community-based training and networks. He says building and maintaining community trust and links is a priority.

The project is one aspect of the CFRA, a private nonprofit that works to strengthen small businesses, family farms and ranches and rural communities by addressing social, economic and environmental issues. Entrepreneurial opportunities for Latinos can be found through the Hispanic Business Center, which operates under the Rural Enterprise Assistance Project or REAP, and the Siouxland Community Garden Project. Each offers information and education for Latinos already in or looking to get into farming-ranching. There’s also a CFRA program for beginning farmers and ranchers,

CFRA staffer Stephanie Kennedy says listening sessions conducted with rural Latino residents in late 2008 revealed many have ag backgrounds and currently work in ag jobs. She says many expressed a desire to be self-employed in farming-ranching but most did not access relevant USDA programs, an alarming finding in an era when small family farms and ranches keep disappearing.

The annual Nebraska Marketplace, just concluded last week in Kearney, offers another forum for established and aspiring Hispanic entrepreneurs in ag or non-ag businesses.

Categories: Latino/Hispanic
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