SENECA FALLS — The idea to start a program to help new farmers begin and grow their businesses came from some challenges state Agriculture Commissioner Richard Ball faced earlier in his life.

On Wednesday, Ball told the small crowd gathered at Empire Farm Days for the first leg of the Beginning Farm program listening tour about how he dreamed of owning his grandparents' dairy farm when he was a kid. However, they sold the farm when Ball was 10 years old. 

After high school, he began working on other people's farms, became a farm manager and then eventually went on to start his own farm, which he still owns 25 years later. 

"This is kind of a personal thing with me because before I was a farm owner, I was a beginner farmer and before I was a beginner farmer, I was a beginner farm worker," Ball said of the program.  

The Seneca Falls stop is the first of six stops on the state Department of Agriculture and Markets' tour. The rest of the stops will take place around the state throughout August and September. A full schedule can be found online at www.eventbrite.com

Ball said the Beginning Farm program is especially crucial at this time as the average age of a farmer in New York is 57.5 years old and many experienced farmers are beginning to retire and either pass down or sell their family farms. 

The goal of the tour, Department of Agriculture and Markets Director of Marketing and Outreach Kim Vallejo said, is to educate new farmers about the resources available to them through the state and other agencies. A new farmer is typically considered as someone with less than 10 years of farming experience. 

The department's website, www.agriculture.ny.gov, contains resources to help beginning farmers develop a business plan, access resources, navigate regulations and make networking connections. 

"Think about ways farms can make money and think about barriers to those," Vallejo advised new farmers.

Representatives from the Empire State Development Corporation, the state Department of Labor, the United States Department of Agriculture and the Cornell Small Farms Program also spoke about the respective programs their agencies have to aid farmers. Vallejo said links to these agencies' resources can also be found on the Department of Agriculture and Markets' website.

Josh Landis, a 23-year-old farmer from Fabius in Onondaga County, attended the event because he is hoping to one day take over his family's farm, Landis Organic, and wanted to learn about the available resources. 

"I learned some stuff," Landis said. "It's always nice to know what's out there and what programs are available." 

Staff writer Natalie Brophy can be reached at (315)282-2239 or natalie.brophy@lee.net. Follow her on Twitter @brophy_natalie. 

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