Texas investing in future of farming with young farmer grant

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BASTROP, Texas (Nexstar) — Rebecca Hume is known as a “spreadsheet farmer.”

“I definitely have a reputation,” Hume said. “I think traditionally farmers can shy away from technology, but I have always been a very technology-forward farmer.”

After working for other Central Texas farmers over the last few years, she spent nearly all of her savings to buy farmland of her own outside Bastrop, about 45 minutes southeast of Austin. Her business is called VRDNT Farms, an abbreviation for “verdant”— meaning green and lush, and her goal is to connect people with where their food comes from.

“One of my missions is to be a lot more tech-savvy,” she explained. “I’m using a digital web interface for chefs to be able to order seamlessly. I am utilizing social media a lot to try and capture direct sales markets. So technology is really just one of the places that I’m starting to try to help bring agriculture into the modern age. It’s really about community too— a lot of folks, if they are not engaged in agriculture, it seems like something that is other than, but I really want to try and engage people, and help them understand where their food is coming from, and hopefully inspire some next-generation farmers who want to come do this work.”

Hume applied for funding through the Texas Department of Agriculture’s Young Farmer grant program. She ended up with nearly $20,000 in grant money and matching funds. Farmers between 18-46 are eligible to apply and applicants must be “young agricultural producers that are engaged or will be engaged in creating or expanding an agricultural business in Texas.”

“The future of agriculture depends on our young farmers,” Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller said in a statement. “By supporting our young producers today, we are ensuring that they’ll contribute to Texas agriculture’s success in the future. It is an honor to provide the tools necessary for these young producers to launch and thrive.”

Hume is spending the money on equipment, seeds, and aims to be more efficient.

“To be able to really dial in my systems and get the field in good conditions… this grant with TDA is incredibly helpful,” she said. “I felt like I was already giving it my all I needed was just like a push to really help get me up for these first few years which are just inherently more time and capital intensive. I definitely feel like this is going to go a huge way to just accelerating my growth.”

Hume runs a diversified vegetable farm, meaning she grows a wide range of vegetables. She grows specialty vegetables too, like the Asian long bean, something she was exposed to growing up in China and Thailand.

Rebecca Hume, of VRDNT Farms, harvests an Asian long bean at her Bastrop, Texas, farm on Oct. 4, 2019. Hume is a recipient of the Texas Department of Agriculture’s Young Farmer program, which aims to inspire the next generation of agriculture producers in the state. (Nexstar Photo/Wes Rapaport)

“Most folks in Texas have probably never seen a long been before. They are actually related to cowpeas which grow great in this climate, so I’ve been growing these long beans and there’s just been such demand from chefs and local folks to get really excited about eating these new foods,” Hume said.

Hume teaches about tech tools for farming at national and state conferences, where she works with farmers from around Texas and the country on getting comfortable with adding technology to their operations.

She also leads a meal-prep club in Central Texas called Club Home Made. She and her business partner source the ingredients and demonstrate a recipe, while customers prepare the ingredients to take home four or five servings for the week.

“We all have to eat and it’s like a cornerstone of community. I think it strengthens the community for us to be producing our own food and sharing it with each other, preparing it together and sharing it with each other, I think it’s a huge point of connection and something that can bring us all together, especially as Texans,” Hume said.

“I love hard work and I love feeding people,” she explained. “So trying to be a good farmer and treat the land well and treat my community well, it’s just a job that I feel good about— every single day when I go to bed I have no qualms about what I’m doing.”

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