A new grant at UOG is cultivating the next generation of farmers
A first-time grant for the University of Guam is helping to support and give hands-on training to individuals in Guam who are just starting out in farming or other areas of agriculture.
Through its Western Pacific Tropical Research Center at the College of Natural & Applied Sciences, UOG competed for and received a grant in September 2020 from the Beginning Farmer & Rancher Development Program under the U.S. Department of Agriculture — a program with an approximately 20% application acceptance rate.
The three-year, $450,000 grant aligns with the University’s land-grant mission of delivering practical knowledge to the community-at-large and — through various partnerships — has so far funded community agriculture workshops, six-month internships, and supplies and technical assistance for beginning farmers.
“We’ve supported more than 200 participants to date and are seeing increasing interest from more farmers as well organizations wanting to partner to support the farming community on island,” said Adrian Ares, interim associate dean for research at CNAS, who secured the grant through the Research Corporation of the University of Guam.
The USDA’s Beginner Farmer & Rancher Development Program came about in response to an increasing number of people across the nation entering agricultural production for the first time — whether in traditional farming, aquaculture, beekeeping, or production of other types of agricultural commodities. The program is the only federal initiative at present assisting new farmers, Ares said.
Ares said the trend into agriculture in Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands seems to mirror that in the U.S. mainland, in particular with residents who have inherited land or want to follow in their ancestor’s footsteps and work the land.
“They tend to be interested in niche markets, high-value products, specialty products, and they care about the environment,” he said. “They have the enthusiasm and the commitment, but they need financial, legal, and technical assistance.”
Specific to Guam, Ares said costs especially tend to be a challenge in agricultural production. “Labor, inputs, and water for farmers are expensive,” he said. “And networking, branding, and marketing of produce present challenges as well.”
One of the first activities of the Beginner Farmer & Rancher project was an internal survey, with assistance from the Northern and Southern Guam Soil & Water Conservation Districts, of 110 farmers to get better idea of their challenges, limitations, and expectations. This informed the specific services the program now provides.
Community workshops have been offered on the topics of breadfruit, mango, and banana cultivation, raising baby chicks, and beekeeping and beehive assembly as well as soil testing, composting, and plant propagation methods. Interest and participation in the workshops have been strong, Ares said, with more than 200 individual participants.
The beekeeping workshops, in partnership with the Guam Beekeepers Association, have produced 20 beginner beekeepers, who are now managing their own hives with regular check-ins from the GBA and UOG.
“I never thought I would be as invested as I am in beekeeping, and now I can’t stop,” said Katherine Perez, an agriculture major at UOG and one of the program’s beginner beekeepers.
UOG is partnering with the Guam Beekeepers Association, led by UOG alumnus Chris Rosario, ’21 M.S. Environmental Science, to conduct the workshops and to meet and mentor the new beekeepers regularly to ensure their bee colonies are healthy. Rosario said honey is in large demand — with Americans consuming three times as much as is produced in the nation leading to imported and often adulterated products on the market. And honey is just one product beekeepers can harvest and sell — others being creamed honey, mead, infused honey, and beeswax.
Workshop participants learn how to cultivate bananas at a workshop in February 2022 under the Beginning Farmer & Rancher Development Program.
The grant has also allowed seven individuals so far to gain hands-on experience through six-month internships. The internships are intended for anyone of any age with an interest in farming and learning practical skills.
Depending on their specific internship, the interns get placed at Triton Farm, the Guam Aquaculture & Training Center, the Valley of the Latte, and Farm to Table Guam Corp. to gain experience in how to plant, weed, irrigate, and fertilize crops; manage poultry, fish, or shrimp; maintain aquaponics systems; identify and manage pests; create and utilize compost; and harvest, package, and market produce.
The program is hoping to open a second round of internships soon.
The grant has also funded supplies for beginner farmers, including compost, manure, seedlings, canopies and poles, as well as two greenhouses, one of which will be specifically used by farmers who are veterans.
For more information on opportunities through the Beginning Farmer & Rancher Development program, follow University of Guam and the College of Natural & Applied Sciences for upcoming workshops, and contact program coordinator Rita Barcinas at firstname.lastname@example.org to be added to the Beginning Farmer mailing list.