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Center Brings Retiring and Young Upstart Farmers Together | Summer 2014 Out Here Magazine

By David Frey

What does a farm do when it's looking for someone new to love it, care for it, and spend quiet evenings together in the barn? In Iowa, the Beginning Farmer Center acts as matchmaker between retiring farmers hoping to pass on the farm and aspiring farmers seeking a life on the land.

"The majority of young people I match up aren't necessarily from a farm," says David Baker, farm transition specialist at the Iowa State University center. "Normally, there's something in their history, their background, that is pulling them to be an independent farmer. To raise their families on a farm in small, rural towns. To work with livestock. To work the soil. To take care of things."

The center started in 1994 as Iowa farmers struggled to stay in production as their children lost interest. "That generation has come through some rough times and really has a strong sense of farm legacy," Baker says. Meanwhile, other young people are longing to start farming, but they often lack the land, capital, and know-how to start out on their own.

The center's AgLink program brings the two together. Baker likes to work with farmers for several years before they retire, giving them time to work side-by-side with young farmers before handing over the farm, either by selling or leasing it to them. For every farmer ready to hand over his farm, some 50 aspiring farmers are eager to take over. "There are always young people who are willing to work hard," Baker says, "and make it work."

David Frey writes in Gaithersburg, Md.