USDA to Provide $332 Million to Protect and Restore Agricultural Working Lands, Grasslands and Wetlands

WASHINGTON – Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack  announced that U.S. Department of Agriculture is making available $332 million in financial and technical assistance through the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP) on March 31.  USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) will accept ACEP applications to help productive farm and ranch lands remain in agriculture and to protect the nation’s critical wetlands and grasslands, home to diverse wildlife and plant species.

“USDA helps farmers, ranchers, private forest landowners and partners to achieve their conservation goals using our technical expertise, Farm Bill funding and sound conservation planning,” Vilsack said. “Conservation easements are an important tool to help these landowners and partners voluntarily provide long-term protection of our nation’s farmland, ranchland, wetlands and grasslands for future generations.”

The 2014 Farm Bill consolidated three previous conservation easement programs into ACEP to make it easier for diverse agricultural landowners to fully benefit from conservation initiatives. NRCS easement programs have been a critical tool in recent years for advancing landscape-scale private lands conservation. In FY 2014, NRCS used $328 million in ACEP funding to enroll an estimated 145,000 acres of farmland, grassland, and wetlands through 485 new easements.

In Florida, NRCS used ACEP funds to enroll an additional 6,700 acres in the Northern Everglades Watershed, supporting the restoration and protection of habitat for a variety of listed species, including the Wood Stork, Crested caracara, and Eastern Indigo Snake. The Nebraska Land Trust plans to use ACEP to enroll more than 1,400 acres of native grazing lands that also include grasslands and woodlands that provide critical habitat for Nebraska’s bighorn sheep and elk.

ACEP’s agricultural land easements not only protect the long-term viability of the nation’s food supply by preventing conversion of productive working lands to non-agricultural uses, but they also support environmental quality, historic preservation, wildlife habitat and protection of open space. American Indian tribes, state and local governments and non-governmental organizations that have farmland or grassland protection programs are eligible to partner with NRCS to purchase conservation easements. A key change under the new agricultural land easement component is the new “grasslands of special environmental significance” that will protect high-quality grasslands that are under threat of conversion to cropping, urban development and other non-grazing uses.

Wetland reserve easements allow landowners to successfully enhance and protect habitat for wildlife on their lands, reduce impacts from flooding, recharge groundwater and provide outdoor recreational and educational opportunities. NRCS provides technical and financial assistance directly to private and tribal landowners to restore, protect and enhance wetlands through the purchase of these easements, and Eligible landowners can choose to enroll in a permanent or 30-year easement; tribal landowners also have the option of enrolling in 30-year contracts.

ACEP applications may be submitted at any time to NRCS; however, applications for the current funding round must be submitted on or before May 15, 2015.

To learn about ACEP and other technical and financial assistance available through NRCS conservation programs, visit www.nrcs.usda.gov/GetStarted or your local USDA Service Center.

Organizing a New Grange

By: Emily and Matt Shoop, New York State Grange Youth

When we hear about organizing a Grange, it is often a re-organization, or in an area where there once was a Grange or other rural organization. Starting anything new can be hard, but when you’re under 30 and in a city, the idea of starting a new Grange can be daunting. However, that’s just what we did.

For about a year or so we had been thinking “wouldn’t that be great if… I wish we had….” along with many other thoughts. We would tell friends about the wonderful things the Grange has to offer and their responses would often be “I can’t drive that far to do that” or “I don’t have a car, I can’t get there” or even “I don’t want to be the youngest person there.” So, we finally decided to get moving on starting a Grange in this area – Albany, N.Y.

It started with just some conversations, throwing around the idea. We made a Facebook page and invited people to like it. We held an interest meeting where people could come and learn about the benefits of being a member along with the great opportunities that you would have, and what do you know, by the end of the night we had 13 people sign our charter list; and Capital City Grange #1606 started.

Most Granges have their own building, so that was a big thing we had to address. We decided since we wanted to truly embrace our community, we would “library hop” and therefore we reserve a space in a meeting room in one of the six libraries in our city. We meet twice a month and we have members between the ages of 20 – 55. Our members are students, teachers, factory workers, stay at home moms, nurses, secretaries…you name it. It’s interesting to be the “know alls” in our group, as we are on the younger end of the spectrum. We spend our meetings learning about Grange ritual and history, as we teach those who do not have the experiences we have. We even brought three members to our Pomona meeting this month to continue to introduce more knowledge of the Grange and what we do as an organization.

Editor’s note: Emily serves as the Lecturer at Capital City Grange #1606, Lecturer and youth committee of Albany Pomona #4, youth committee, Ceres and Co-Director of Camp of New York State Grange. Matthew serves as the Master of Capital City Grange #1606, Steward of Bethlehem Grange #137, Steward of Albany Pomona #4 and Co-Director of Camp for New York State Grange.

National Grange Youth Ambassadors Celebrate Ag Day

Barletta low res

Derek Snyder and Cassidy Cheddar with Rep. Lou Barletta, center.

WASHINGTON – The nation’s capital turned green for agriculture on March 18 for National Ag Day. National Grange Youth Ambassadors Cassidy Cheddar of Elizabethtown, Pa. and Derek Snyder of Boiling Springs, Pa. joined more than 100 college students to deliver a message for agriculture to their legislators.

Pitts low res

National Grange youth director Charlene Shupp Espenshade, National Youth Ambassador Cassidy Cheddar, Rep. Joe Pitts, National Youth Ambassador Derek Snyder, and National Legislative Director Burton Eller.

ag chair low res

Ag Committee Chair Mike Conaway with Cassidy Cheddar and Derek Snyder.

“There is a growing divide between the farm and the consumer. And, for most high school students, unless they are enrolled in a vocational agricultural program, their exposure to farming practices is limited,” said Cheddar. She is a senior studying agricultural education at Penn State with plans to teach after graduation.

 

Ag Day is another way to raise awareness to the value of agriculture. An Elizabethtown Area Grange #2076 member, Cheddar has organized several agriculture awareness programs through her local Grange including a June Dairy Month coloring contest and past local Ag Day programs.

This year’s celebration theme selected by the Agriculture Council of America is “Agriculture: Sustaining Future Generations.”

 

In addition to visiting with their congressmen and senators, Cheddar and Snyder participated in the Ag Day Mix and Mingle Luncheon at the capitol. The luncheon was emceed by agricultural broadcaster Orion Samuelson and featured the Outstanding Young Farmer honorees and members of Congress.

 

“Even if you do not farm, agriculture is important,” Snyder said. “He is a freshman at Penn State University, majoring in business and economics. He is a member of Valley Grange #1360. Food insecurity is a community service priority at his home Grange. They have organized food drives for local food banks. This past January, his Grange donated money for the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank’s “Fill a Glass of Hope” milk drive. The funds were used to provide fresh milk to needy families. “I am always touched how something as simple as the gift of milk can have such a profound impact to those in need,” Snyder said.

 

Cheddar and Snyder met with Rep. Joe Pitts (R-Pa. 16), Rep. Lou Barletta (R-Pa. 11) and senate staff for Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) and Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA). At the Mix and Mingle event, the ambassadors visited with House Agriculture Committee chair Rep. K. Michael Conaway of Texas.

National Ag Day was created to generate awareness to food and fiber production and the role agriculture plays in providing a safe, affordable food supply.

 

National Grange Legislative Director Burton Eller and National Grange Youth Director Charlene Shupp Espenshade joined the ambassadors for their visits to Capitol Hill and National Ag Day activities.

 

The National Grange’s youth department encourages its youth and young adults to explore different aspects of agriculture. The William Saunders Agricultural Achievement Award program asks Grangers to explore and participate in an agricultural experience. This year, the National Grange formed a partnership with the National Junior Horticultural Association to raise awareness to the horticulture industry. The Apathy Not Allowed program is a grassroots advocacy program. More information about the Grange Youth program is available at www.nationalgrangeyouth.org. Information about National Grange legislative policy is available at www.nationalgrange.org.

Grange shadowing

Young agriculturalists are often encouraged to seek internships or work for another farm before returning to the family farm. The object is to provide the aspiring farmer a chance to see how other farms operate. They learn practices they like or get hands on experience with a process or management practice they are considering implementing at home. They also learn how it is to work for others and gather some practical experience.

Aspiring farmers often pick up apprenticeships for some hands on experience.

How does this fit into our Grange experience? The question, “how to do we…” is one I often hear as Grangers are seeking ideas to create new programs, generate excitement among their members or building their local youth program. I am a big believer in hands-on learning, so spending time with a neighboring Grange to learn about one of their successful programs or how they create that excitement among their members could provide some tips and ideas to take home. Thus, “Grange shadowing.”

This does not mean your Grange or youth department has to morph into an exact replica of the Grange you are shadowing. Instead, like these young farmers, you see what practices, activities and ideas could work at your Grange and what ones might not. The goal is how to advance your Grange for future success.

Grange shadowing could be more than just attending meetings. It could include volunteering at an event they organize that you are interested in bringing to your home Grange. If your Grange does not participate in a visitation program, usually among Granges in a Pomona, create a hybrid of the idea. Find a “sister” Grange you could develop a relationship with. The ideas are limitless.