Farm Incubators are Growing Opportunities for Beginning Farmers in Michigan

A farm incubator is a multi-grower project that looks to reduce barriers of entry to beginning farmers by providing new farmers with land, technical assistance, and resources they need to establish their own successful farm business.

Photo courtesy Katy Joe DeSantis.

By Kathleen Reed and Jude Barry, MSU Center for Regional Food Systems.

A farm incubator is a multi-grower project that provides new farmers with land, technical assistance, and resources they need to establish their own successful farm business. Although farm incubators can vary between regions and organizations, at the heart of these projects is the need to reduce the barriers of entry for aspiring farmers. This includes capital resources, infrastructural needs, secure land tenure, and technical resources. In Michigan, there are a number of incubator projects that have taken root in the past few years.  

The MSU North Farm

The MSU North Farm is located in the Upper Peninsula in Chatham, MI. This farm is part of the MSU Upper Peninsula Research and Extension Center, and this year launched an Apprentice Farmer Program, a farm incubator project that provides participants with organically managed land, shared infrastructure, equipment, mentorship and technical assistance, and marketing and networking opportunities that will help their new farm businesses succeed. New farmers of this program have access to North Farm land for two years, and are assisted by staff to develop a plan for transition once they have completed the two year land tenure. Dr. Matt Raven of MSU Department of Community Sustainability says “What we [MSU] are doing with the MSU North incubator farm is very important especially in an area like the Upper Peninsula given the unique climate and the need for enhanced food security. By leveraging one of our AgBio research centers we are able to provide the most recent technical expertise to our new and beginning farmers in addition to land, infrastructure, equipment and most importantly markets.”

To learn more about The North Farm or to apply to their 2016 Apprentice Farmer Program, click here.

Tilian Farm Development Center

Tilian Farm Development Center, an Ann Arbor-based farm incubator project managed by Michigan Food and Farming Systems (MIFFS), is now in its fourth season. Tilian’s incubator program offers two options for aspiring farmers taking part in their program: a Traditional Incubator Program and a Quarter Acre Incubator Program. Both programs work to facilitate the development of new farm businesses in Michigan while reducing the risks associated with beginning to farm. The Traditional Incubator program is designed for those with prior farming experience, and plots start at one acre in size. Farmers taking part in this program have access to the land at Tilian for 1-5 years. The quarter acre plots are an option for those with less experience and for farmers who may have additional work off farm. In addition to access to land at the Tilian Farm Development Center, participants are provided with equipment, a market base, storage, business planning assistance, and the opportunity to collaborate with and have support from fellow growers.

More information on the Tilian Farm Development Center can be found at or on their Facebook page. 

The Women in Agriculture Farm Site

Triggered by the MIFFS-coordinated Women in Agriculture network, the 3 acre Women in Agriculture (WIA) Farm Site is a new incubator farm located in Grand Blanc, Genesee County. Genesys Health System is partnering with MIFFS to develop a facility that will become a community based, resource sharing and educational center for producers and consumers in the region. The incubator farm will function in a somewhat different way to other incubator farms, such as Tilian Farm Development Center, in that it will focus more on the demonstration of growing food. In addition to the demonstrative nature of this farm project, women beginner farmers will also be able to grow food on the site to learn and initiate their own businesses. Michelle Napier Dunnings, MIFFS Executive Director, explains, “We are seeking out different incubator models using shared land, equipment and learning opportunities and hope this site will give women opportunities to start new businesses through innovative and collaborative learning opportunities.”

For more information on the Women in Agriculture Network please click here

Lansing Roots Farm

Lansing Roots Farm is a 10-acre farm run through the Greater Lansing Food Bank (GLFB). It was established in 2013 in order to serve aspiring farmers who are underserved or who have limited resources. Farmers taking part in the program receive 1/4 acre plots to grow on, and also receive training, technical assistance, and marketing opportunities from GLFB. This program is designed for those who have prior agricultural training and experience who are looking to establish a small farm business and grow for market and sales. Tenure for these plots is 2-5 years for each of the new business ventures, with opportunities to scale up from their ¼ acre plots in the later years. The Lansing Roots farm offers a 20-week multi-grower CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) during the growing season, where all produce received by CSA members is grown cooperatively between many incubator program participants.

More information on Lansing Roots can be found here or on their Facebook page. 

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