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Is a Farm Loan Right for You?

By Noreen Atkins & John Flocke

Nathaniel Thompson approached the Cortland NY FSA Credit Team in 2006 for loans to purchase a 5 acre parcel of land and build a barn in an attempt to expand his business.  Nathaniel is an organic vegetable farmer, specializing in salad greens and root crops.

The rows of greens are growing for Remembrance Farm’s CSA customers. Photo by Emily Thompson

He markets his produce as Remembrance Farm, to local restaurants, grocery stores, and through the Full Plate Collective CSA in the Ithaca NY area, and always is attempting to expand his customer base.

At the time of his initial FSA loan application Nathaniel had been in business for 3 years and had recently moved his operation from the Hudson Valley to Tompkins County.  At that point he was renting 10 acres of land South of Ithaca, NY. He had already established a solid customer base in the Ithaca, NY area and the business had a history of increasing sales. He planned to rent 15 acres of cropland and incorporate a sustainable cropping system to be the centerpiece of a biodynamic organic farm.  To ensure such a project worked Nathaniel decided to purchase land adjacent to the rented tract.

Nathaniel & Emily Thompson of Remembrance Farm. Photo by Emily Thompson

Nathaniel soon realized he would have little equity to purchase the real estate after closing costs and sought financial help to boost his business.  After he was unable to obtain commercial credit for the land purchase and to construct the barn, he turned his attention to the NY Farm Service Agency Farm Loan Programs available to him.  FSA was able to approve his request to purchase the 5 acres of land and build the cleaning/processing barn along with loans to refinance his equipment debt, purchase additional equipment and provide annual operating expenses.

Nathaniel’s vision of a truly biodynamic farm was first initiated by adding a powerful ally, chickens.  These birds play a crucial role on the farm by transforming the grain and pasture into fertilizer for the crops grown.  The chickens are set out to pasture and rotate around the farm to consume the grasses, cover crops, bugs, and organic grains while leaving their special brand of organic fertilizer.  The eggs are then sold locally and distributed through the farms CSA.  The addition of chickens has allowed the farm to become not only a certified biodynamic farm but a model of sustainability.

Chickens are a very important aspect to the biodynamic nature of Remembrance Farm. Photo by Emily Thompson

Since the first FSA loans were closed, Nathaniel’s business has continued to grow, with gross income tripling since 2006.  This boom has been assisted by additional FSA operating loans and a farm ownership loan. These loans and the overall success of the farm  has allowed him to purchase an additional 35 adjacent acres, add high tunnels to his operation, expand his barn and build a machine shed.  All of this expansion became a reality with the help of FSA and the dedication of a great New York State farmer.

For information on Remembrance Farm, visit http://remembrancefarm.org/. For more information on Farm Service Agency programs, visit your local (county) office. You can find their locations by visiting: www.fsa.usda.gov/ and search by state and then county.

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