By Tyler Hoyt, Green Table Farm
No matter where they live, one of the biggest barriers that young farmers face is access to good quality land. In the West, good land for agriculture is usually tied to good water rights, which is a big factor in the price of land. When we started our search for a piece of land that we could call our own, we stuck to one of the emerging organic produce economic models: we needed to be close enough to a well-to-do city in order to fetch a good price on our products, but far enough away that we could afford land.
We looked at properties in the Animas Valley for about a week before realizing that we were kidding ourselves even thinking about affording land that close to Durango (the well-to-do city). In the Animas Valley there are plenty of beautiful acres and one of the last free-flowing rivers, but encroaching development and numerous media accolades from the likes of Outdoor, Forbes, and National Geographic have made that land out of reach for beginning farmers. We refocused our search on the Mancos Valley, which is largely undeveloped thanks to being a 30-minute drive from Durango over two minor mountain passes and one county line. The piece of land that we settled on would never have been within our reach in the Animas Valley.
Even after we found a piece of land that was within our price range, getting a mortgage on 72 acres proved to be very difficult. No conventional bank or credit union would touch that much land, and the USDA programs that loan money to beginning farmers are slow and cumbersome. After going to almost every lender in town, we finally found a bank that actually read our business proposal and had recently decided to go after more “sustainable or green investments.” We were a good fit for this new chapter in their portfolio, and they kept our loan in-house instead of trading it in the open market like most mortgages (think financial meltdown in 2008), which we really liked. We knew what we wanted and we plugged away until we got it, but we had to be incredibly determined and flexible to put all of the pieces together.
I personally believe that getting more willing hands onto rural land to produce local food on a small scale should be an aim for this country. Revitalizing rural communities could help to manage parcels of land better, keep open spaces from being developed, bring back rural economies, and provide more access to good quality food.
There are plenty of willing, young farmers, but unless they have the ability to own the land they work, their desire to make longterm improvements to the land diminishes. We need more land ownership—not just land tenancy—but their are immense barriers to ownership and incredible responsibilities after the dotted line is signed.
I have long been an advocate for contemporary agrarianism and some form of a New Homestead Act, which could use the populist movement in this country to repopulate rural areas and make farming an easier investment for young and beginning farmers. I was discussing this topic with a friend the other day who is currently looking to buy land and running into all of the same problems that we did. When I brought this idea up, he agreed with me, but then immediately asked how people would qualify for such a radical land grant.
The first Homestead Act put a lot of people on land for the first time, but it also led to the displacement of millions of native peoples, widespread land speculation, price manipulation, commercial and industrial development, and events like the Oklahoma Land Rush and the dust bowl.
Should anyone with a pipedream of farming be given almost-free land to do with as they please? I think definitely not, yet there should be an easier and cheaper way to get young people back onto good quality rural acreage. Whether it comes from government agencies, land link programs like these, or through word of mouth, young people are already being encouraged to take on land responsibly, but I can’t help but hope for something a little more progressive and radical to help expedite the process.
Editor’s note: For information on NYFC’s approach to helping young farmers find affordable farmland, visit our land access campaign page.
By Holly Rippon-Butler, Land Access Program Director
My last post described the range of challenges farmers are facing when it comes to land access, and I suggested broad solutions, like working with a land trust and fostering community support. In this post, I want to show you how those solutions can look on the ground by telling you the story of the Temple-Wilton Community Farm Project.
Temple-Wilton Community Farm in Wilton, New Hampshire is one of the first Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farms in the United States. CSAs are more than a marketing structure, they reflect a shared vision and risk and a joining together of resources and skills to provide food for a community. Many CSA farms offer shares at a fixed price that community members can purchase at the beginning of the season, affording them access to a share of the farm’s harvest on a regular basis. At Temple-Wilton, this community effort is taken one step further by estimating their expenses, sharing their budget with their members, and asking them to pledge what they can afford.
For 20 years, Temple-Wilton has been operating on these principles of transparency and trust, as well as a strong commitment to the triple bottom line of farmer financial viability, sustainable land use, and strong local food systems that feed communities. It is no surprise that they brought all of these ideas to the table when confronting their land access needs.
The Temple-Wilton Community Farm operates on 200+ acres of land spread across a cluster of parcels in Wilton, NH. Over the past two decades, farmers Lincoln Geiger and Anthony and Glynn Graham took on personal debt to purchase parcels of farmland in the Abbot Hill area of Wilton, NH as the land came up for sale. The land then became part of the Temple-Wilton Community Farm and the farm community raised funds to help pay down debt. Additionally the farmers worked with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service and Town of Wilton to place a conservation easement on the land that protects it for farming. To achieve their goal of bringing the land into common ownership and ensuring that sustainable biodynamic agriculture will continue to take place on the property beyond the life of any one person, the farmers partnered with the Russell Foundation to donate the land to the Yggdrasil Land Foundation. In exchange, they received a 99-year renewable lease on the land.
The farmers have built and operated their agricultural community successfully for many years. Despite all this, the 68-acre Four Corners Farm—where all of the Temple-Wilton Community Farm’s infrastructure is located—remains under a separate lease arrangement that does not provide security or equity to the farm. The landowners retain the ability to terminate the lease with little notice or cause. Given the insecurity of this arrangement and inability for the farm to build equity in this piece of land, the community has now reached a point where ownership is the security they need. (more…)
By Holly Rippon-Butler, Land Access Program Director
Forgive me if we’ve met in the past three months and I don’t remember your name—I’ve been on a bit of a whirlwind tour, talking about land access, hosting workshops, and listening to concerns from young farmers and ranchers. At the end of February I made my way from upstate New York to La Crosse, Wisconsin for the annual MOSES conference. In March, I had the opportunity to spend a week in Colorado. And at the end of March I hopped on a plane to Iowa.
Although I may not remember the name of every individual I met, I remember their stories. There were stories of heartbreak—a third farm move in three years, off-farm jobs that don’t leave time for farming, organic certification negated by spray drift—as well as stories of success: land made available by benevolent neighbors, successful family partnership, invaluable mentorship, and support from dedicated non-profits.
Although acquiring a ranch with adequate water rights in Colorado may seem like an altogether different undertaking than finding a place to farm in the fertile dairyland of Wisconsin or amidst the uniformly plowed fields of Iowa, I was struck by the similar themes emerging in young farmers’ search for land:
1) Access to land is within reach; access to secure land is hard.
Most farmers I heard from seemed to agree – with some hard work and strategic networking (through Craigslist ads, friends of friends, or letters to landowners) finding land on which to farm was usually not too difficult. Sometimes, bartering for produce could be enough to secure a year’s lease. While none of these opportunities went unappreciated, they often did not provide the security needed to establish and grow a business. Farmers commonly struggled with the inability to invest in infrastructure and build soil quality; burnout from moving their business; and frustration from trying to maintain tenuous relationships with landowners. (more…)
By Caitlin Arnold, Furrow Horse Farm
As we head into our second year as a farm, I am amazed at what we accomplished in just one short year. I remember back to our first few weeks on the farm, when our main field was just a cow pasture; we had yet to put up a deer fence, hoophouse, or wash station; and were thick in the process of starting up a business.
When we got started in January 2015, I was often overwhelmed by the amount of work we needed to put in to turn our leased property into a production farm. The list of tasks seemed endless, and I was dubious of our ability to get it all done, especially on top of working our off-farm jobs. But with the help of our friends and family, we created a productive 1.5-acre plot that successfully provided for a 15-member CSA, two farmers’ markets, and multiple wholesale accounts.
Looking forward through 2016, I am thrilled to not be putting up a deer fence and buying all of our tools— instead I can put more energy toward planning, advertising, and fostering business relationships and new possibilities. We can also focus on our relationship with our team of horses; our goal is to not have to rent our landlord’s tractor for any field work this year. (more…)
By Hannah Becker, Willow Springs Farm
A neighboring farmer likes to joke, “You know how you make a million dollars as a farmer? Start out with two million!” While my comedic neighbor’s joke isn’t accurate, farming does take a LOT of money just to get the ball rolling. Start-up costs for a small-scale agriculture operation can quickly get into six or seven figures. Land, equipment, operating capitol, property improvement, livestock, seeds—it all adds up.
Here’s a run down on the financing options and big ticket purchases I’ve invested in at Willow Springs:
Getting land was a “biggie.” It’s kind of hard to feel much like a farmer until you actually have some land to your name. Due to my student loans, I wasn’t able to qualify for traditional land financing; thankfully, I found a property owner willing to “owner finance” an undeveloped piece of land. While my property may not look like much to most people, it’s a come a LONG way since we purchased it a year ago. We cleared more than 200 bodock trees (by hand), built a barn, installed a driveway, fenced and cross-fenced, and put in a catch pen.
There’s a lot of equipment we’re in need of at Willow Springs. A couple of weeks ago, I was giving a little farm tour to a local homeschool group. While I was showing them my catch-pen-in-progress (hand cut cedar posts and two-foot post holes) one of the mom’s asked, “Where’s your post hole digger?” I rolled up my sleeve, pointed to my scrawny upper arm, and said, “Right here!” She gasped; it was pretty funny. I think it’s easy for folks to forget just how much equipment modern farming requires, and that beginning farmers rarely have access to such “help.” Sometimes you just have to work with what you have. (more…)
By Holly Rippon-Butler, NYFC Land Access Program Director
Last month I took a break from the steadily-dropping temperatures of Upstate New York and headed west. Fellow NYFC staffer Kate Greenberg and I spent two weeks traveling around California, meeting with farmers and funders, presenting at the annual Land Trust Alliance Rally, and hosting two workshops – one for farmers and one for land trusts.
Farmland in the United States is at a critical moment of transition—millions of acres will be changing hands in the next two decades. At the same time, land access is one of the biggest obstacles for young farmers. NYFC believes that land trusts have the potential to be powerful partners in ensuring this farmland remains available for farming and accessible to farmers for generations to come. For the past few years, the National Young Farmers Coalition has been working to bridge the gap between farmers and land trusts – providing education on the tools and strategies that are available to address the challenges of farmland protection and access.
In California, we partnered with CA FarmLink and Equity Trust to present a four-hour workshop for farmers on the process of working with a land trust to access land. A few days later, we brought together over 45 land trust staff members, funders, and other individuals involved in farmland conservation for a full-day workshop in Sacramento. This was the second annual Land Access Innovations Training convened by the National Young Farmers Coalition and Equity Trust to bring together staff from some of the top agricultural land trusts in the country.
Since most of you weren’t able to attend the events in California, we wanted to share a little of the information with you here. Here are the top three things farmers need to know about partnering with a land trust:
1. What are land trusts?
Land trusts are non-profit 501(c)(3) organizations, often started by community members to protect specific resources, such as wildlife habitat, farmland, water quality, viewsheds, or habitat corridors that are at risk from development or damage. They range in size and capacity from all-volunteer, local groups to national organizations with offices in multiple states. (more…)
By Caitlin Arnold, Furrow Horse Farm
Before I dive into this post, the farm has a big announcement:
We now have our first team of draft horses! Lady and Abby, two Belgian mares from Sandpoint, Idaho, were delivered to us a few weeks ago. So far they are doing great, and we have already used them in the garden to harrow in our cover crop. We are so excited to finally have them here and realize our dream of owning our own team. Now we can truly start making our way to becoming draft horse-powered. I can’t fully describe just how good it feels!
As for our next big plans, we have a lot in the works for the 2016 season. In September, Brandon spent a week helping our landlords take out an old, unproductive orchard at the lower end of the property. This month we will be tilling up an additional acre where the orchard was, then planting a cover crop so it will be ready to put into production next season. We hope to use it as our potato and winter squash field, to free up space in our main garden for more labor-intensive crops.
By adding the additional acre, we will have about 2.5 acres in production next year. Our hope is to double the size of our CSA to 24 members and begin selling at the Olympia Farmers Market, which is much bigger than the Saturday market we were at this year. We also want to expand our restaurant sales. Between these three areas, our goal is to double our gross income next year. (more…)
Friends and supporters of local farming gathered earlier this month in Hinsdale, New Hampshire to celebrate the permanent protection of Wingate Farm.
Wingate Farm’s new owners are Olivia Pettengill and her brother James. In their second season growing, Olivia and her business partner, Susan Parke-Sutherland, raised 700 pastured laying hens, hundreds of broiler chickens, eight forest-raised pigs, and a variety of vegetables and flowers.
Until recently the 60-acre farm was jointly owned by sisters Carroll Pettengill and Alma Niemiller. In addition to transferring the land to the younger generation, the family conveyed an agricultural conservation easement to Mount Grace Land Conservation Trust. Language in the easement prevents the land from ever being split apart from the house and barns—protecting the whole farm.
An option to purchase at agricultural value (OPAV) has also been placed on the land. These options are increasingly used to guarantee that protected farms stay in agricultural production and in the hands of working farmers. The option allows Mount Grace to ensure that a sale of the farm would be to a farmer at agricultural value. This is the first time an OPAV has been used to protect farmland in New Hampshire. Without this tool, farmers will continue—as is happening across the country—to get outbid by non-farmers, taking irreplaceable land out of farm production. (more…)
The National Young Farmers Coalition and Equity Trust are convening our second-annual Land Access Innovation Training, aimed at helping land trusts utilize tools to protect farmland affordability. The training will take place on Sunday, October 11, 2015 in Sacramento, California from 8:30 a.m. – 4 p.m.
This one-day, in-person training is aimed at staff from land trusts with a high degree of commitment to protecting working farms and sufficient capacity to move forward in the implementation of farm protection projects that incorporate affordability innovations. You can read more about last year’s training here and see a list of this year’s presenters here.
Land trust participants will receive coaching on funding strategies; monitoring and enforcement; legal considerations; and easement enhancements and ground leases that preserve affordability and active farming. This year’s presenters include Equity Trust, The Vermont Land Trust, South of the Sound Community Farmland Trust, and others!
The training is free for attendees thanks to the generous support of the Cedar Tree Foundation, UNFI, and the Lydia B. Stokes Foundation. There are a limited number of slots, so those interested in attending must fill out an application. Applications are due Friday, August 21st, 2015.
NYFC will also host a workshop for farmers October 7 in Sacramento, California titled “Partnering with a Land Trust to Access Affordable Farmland.” This workshop will help teach farmers some of the innovative ways they can partner with a land trust to access land. The event will be presented by NYFC in collaboration with Equity Trust, CA FarmLink, and Farmers Guild. Details coming soon.
Finding affordable land continues to be one of the biggest barriers facing beginning farmers and ranchers. Land trusts, which have long preserved farmland from development, are in a unique position to help new farmers access land. As NYFC found in our 2013 report, Farmland Conservation 2.0, land trusts across the country are seeing the need to increase their efforts to keep farmland affordable and accessible to the next generation of farmers.
Over the past year, NYFC has been working with land trust partners across the country to scale up innovative conservation models that permanently protect America’s working farmland and keep the land in the hands of farmers. NYFC is pleased to have partnered with California FarmLink on their recent publication, Conservation and Affordability of Working Lands: Nine Case Studies of Land Trusts Working with Next-Generation Farmers.
The case studies highlight the innovative tools and strategies land trusts are using to partner with young farmers and secure the working land base. Most of the case studies are from California, with two examples from Massachusetts and Washington State. Some of the featured land trusts own land that they lease back to farmers, in some cases incorporating the innovative “ground lease” model through which the organization owns the land and the farmer has a lifetime lease along with ownership of the infrastructure. Other case studies demonstrate the use of easement tools such as affirmative language (which requires the land to be in agricultural production) and the option to purchase at agricultural value (which helps ensure the land stays in the hands of a farmer when it is sold.)
NYFC is excited to host our second annual Land Access Innovations Training in Sacramento, California this fall to educate land trusts on these tools. For more information, contact our land access campaign manager, Holly Rippon-Butler. Check out the Equity Trust website for sample easements and leases.