Program Teaches Business Skills To Young Farmers

Sep 1, 2014

Dan Brassard, 19, is already well versed in many skills. He raises beef, sells firewood and produces maple syrup in the new East Randolph sugarhouse he’s standing in.

“All the lumber here I cut and logged off my parents’ land. It was my senior project at the tech center. I sawed it all out,” he says.

In the past year, Brassard has gained some business know-how to go along with his hands-on experience. He’s a graduate of a new program run by University of Vermont Center for Sustainable Agriculture.

It’s called the Youth Agricultural Individual Development Account (IDA) program. While there are agricultural IDAs in other parts of the country, this is the first to focus in young farmers, ages 14 to 21.

The program is a year-long classroom and online course that teaches financial literacy and business basics like debt management, pricing, labor costs and marketing.  

Brassard says it helped him understand how to make his business financially sustainable.

"The important thing is really to get young folks set up and off on the right foot from the very beginning" - Ali Zipparo, Youth Ag IDA

“Before, I was worried about getting a loan through a bank. Taking the program, they teach about business management and saving money, building your credit, using your credit to your advantage and being able to pay stuff off,” he says.

The Youth Ag IDA program also gives students like Brassard access to experts and farming mentors.

Ali Zipparo developed and runs the program, which graduated its first class of 15 students in mid-August. Zipparo says some, but not all of the students had a farming background.

She says they won’t necessarily go on to college, so it’s important they learn business basics before they get too far down the path they plan to follow.

“The important thing is really to get young folks set up and off on the right foot from the very beginning.  It’s hard to teach an old dog new tricks,” says Zipparo.

To complete the program, participants write a business plan. The program also offers a 2-for-1 match for students who save $500. They receive an additional $1000 to invest in their business.   

Zipparo says students have purchased breeding stock, bee equipment, and farm vehicles. Brassard used his money to put a roof on the sugarhouse.

Brassard seems sure he wants to continue to sugar, raise beef and cut firewood, but not everyone his age can be certain of their future plans. 

Zipparo says that’s another purpose of the program: To help young people discover if farming is really what they want to do.

“If someone goes through this program and they decide they never want to farm again, it might sound like a failure but we see that as a success.” She says. “It means down the road they won’t be making expensive mistakes.”

Zipparo says the Youth Ag IDA is still in the experimental stage. 

The second class underway now is much smaller and funding for future classes remains uncertain, but she feels the program fills an important need.