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.
Election season is in full swing, and Congress is in recess, which means that instead of hanging out in D.C., most Senators and Representatives are in their home states, listening to voters. Agriculture hasn’t gotten much discussion at the national level, which makes it even more critical that candidates hear from farmers.
Young farmers are important constituents, and candidates need to understand that agricultural issues matter. Many candidates and elected officials don’t know very much about farming and even less about growing and marketing methods that many young farmers care about, like organic farming and CSAs. When you take the time to educate policymakers, you are doing them a favor. You’re also helping to inform policy that could impact farmers nationwide.
But before we talk about how to engage, you are registered to vote, right? If you aren’t sure, you can register here.
Now that that is taken care of, it’s time to make your voice heard. There are many ways to engage candidates, whether they are running for president or town council. Try one of these five actions:
- Attend a town hall or candidate forum. While there is no universal format for town halls or forums, anyone who attends can ask questions or make a statement. Candidates use these events to share their beliefs and get feedback on the issues and positions that matter to constituents. Attending one of these events gives you the opportunity to talk about farming and publicly ask the candidate for support.
- Ask a question at a local debate. Debates often provide the opportunity for the audience to ask questions. By attending and asking about agriculture, you can challenge both candidates to take on the issue.
- Get a group of local farmers together to request an on-farm meeting with the candidate. What better way is there to show the importance of farming than to get the candidate out onto a local farm! If you get a couple local farmers together, you can show your impact on the local community and demonstrate your challenges and successes first-hand.
Are you sensing a theme here? Meeting with a candidate, face-to-face, is a great way to share your experience and concerns. But there are other ways to speak up as well:
- Engage the candidates on social media. If you only have a few minutes or cannot make it to an event, you can still reach out to a candidate online. Campaign staffers are carefully watching Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. If you share a position with the candidate online, the staff will take note.
- Bring your friends into the conversation. Candidates will pay attention to the positions they hear the loudest and most often. So bring other constituents with you to amplify your impact, either online or in person.
One last reminder: We all have personal politics and preferred candidates. However, elected officials are charged with representing all their constituents, not just the ones who voted for them. You do not need to agree with your officials’ politics in order to invite them out to the farm, attend an event, or make the case for them to support good agriculture policy. Farmers need champions from both sides of the aisle, and lawmakers need your help understanding the issues!
By Tyler Hoyt, Green Table Farm
When I began thinking about this blog post, it made me want to check inat the source of our water. Three miles of highway and another 15 of variable dirt roads, and my brother and I were within striking distance of patches of snow clinging to windloaded north faces. A little ski boots-on-talus action and we were making some legit ski turns. The grins on our faces at the bottom of this thin patch of snow (it was mid-June after all) are the reason I first came to Southwest Colorado and a big part of why we chose to settle here.
One of my biggest stipulations when we were looking to purchase land was that we would not leave the mountains. I spent a disproportionate amount of my time skiing the mountains of the Western U.S., and there was no way I was going to sacrifice that way of life entirely for farming. Little did I know that my time on the slopes would give me a foundation of knowledge about watersheds that would serve me well as a farmer.
The sliver of snow where my brother and I “inspected future water availability” is situated in the La Plata Mountains, which are a microrange that drains water into the Animas, La Plata, Dolores, and Mancos Rivers. This is a tall order for a small set of peaks, but they are mighty, rising over 13,000 feet. Among the tallest (there is active debate about the highest peak in the range) is Mt. Hesperus, which is regarded by local native tribes as the Northern Holy Peak, with Mt. Blanca, Mt. Taylor, and the San Francisco Peaks rounding out the other three cardinal directions.
Every drop of rain, every snowflake or hailstone that falls on Hesperus eventually flows into the West Mancos River. Part of the water that is tied to our property comes from Jackson Lake (a reservoir), which fills off of the West Mancos River. When we realized this connection between Hesperus, our property, and the Mancos Valley in general, we were all the more sold on our place. Living close to the mountains has advantages, like being able to physically see the source of our water and look after it. It also has drawbacks for farming, such as long winters and deep snow. Theoretically, since we are close to the source we should be free of most contaminants that one would find further downstream, such as petroleum products, chemicals, and agricultural runoff, but there are still threats to water quality. This was witnessed last summer during the Gold King Mine spill into the Animas River, which is only thirty miles from Mancos. That kind of threat is a reality anywhere mining takes place, and Colorado was settled because of mining. (more…)
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…)
Young farmers and ranchers in the arid West contend with all of the challenges faced by farmers in other regions—high land prices, access to capital, and often student loan debt—but they also face an additional barrier: water access. In many parts of the country, all farmers have to do to “access” water is turn to the sky, but in the arid West, farmers and ranchers often depend on irrigation water from rivers, ditches and other bodies of water for at least part of the growing season. Accessing water, therefore, means accessing land with water rights, and those water rights are subject to a myriad of different laws and traditions as well as competition from residential communities, other industries, and wildlife.
Does it sound complicated? It is. For the next six months, four young farmers/ranchers in the arid West will be blogging about their experiences with water access and explaining everything from what it feels like to clean a 400-year-old acequia to how they’ve learned to make the most of the water they have through conservation and crop selection. To help you understand the terminology around water access, we’ve also put together a short glossary at the end of this post.
So without further ado, we’re excited to introduce our 2016 bloggers:
- Harrison Topp of Topp Fruit in Paonia, Colorado and Fields Livestock in Montrose, Colorado
- Tyler Hoyt of Green Table Farm in Mancos, Colorado
- Nery Martinez of Santa Cruz Farm & Greenhouses in Espanola, New Mexico
- Casey Holland of Red Tractor Farm in Albuquerque, New Mexico
By Lauren Manning
Many people think you have to plant your feet firmly in one location to sew roots. For some folks, however, the exact opposite is true. Last year, Joneve Murphy embarked on a 10-month journey that snaked 29,000 miles across the globe through 13 countries.
“The idea for this project started a long time ago,” says Murphy, who grew up living abroad and traveling with her family from a young age. “My career in agriculture left me with time to gallivant in the off season, and at first I would just go backpacking for a month or two each year.”
Murphy has an impressive resume as an organic farmer, with 10 years of experience under her belt including a prestigious gig as the farmer-in-residence at Virginia’s The Inn at Little Washington
As Murphy became more involved with farming, her off-season sojourns involved fewer ruins and beaches and more farm visits and explorations of local food systems.
Soon, the idea for her yearlong agricultural safari was born. Murphy left her post at the Inn at Little Washington and set sail.
The carefully planned route allowed her to meet over 145 food producers around the world, whom she photographed and blogged about for her recent project, Farmer Seeking Roots.
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 Maggie Bowling, Old Homeplace Farm
One of my absolute favorite pastimes is cooking. I recently realized that one of the reasons I like spending time in the kitchen is the continual experimentation and learning, as well as the satisfaction when I finally get a certain dish “just right.” I have become a much better cook than I was in my college days, and I often tell Will that my goal is to be an exceptional cook by the time I’m an older lady. Since it is a task I enjoy, I spend a lot of time thinking about it, looking up tips, trying new recipes, memorizing recipes I love, and learning patterns and methods so that I don’t always need a recipe to prepare a meal.
While washing the dishes the other night (and thinking fondly back to supper), it dawned on me that I love cooking for some of the same reasons I love farming. They both start out with trial and error and challenges that I can work through myself, at my own pace. I can gather information from experts, but then I get to try things on my own. I’ve become a better farmer over the past two years, and I know that I will do even better on the farm over time, just as I have become much better in the kitchen over the last ten years. Both activities also reward me with good food at the end! (more…)
On April 10, a group of farmers will take the stage at BAM in Brooklyn. Or rather, well-known actors will portray real farmers from the Hudson Valley, a circumstance even more improbable in the life of most farmers, who don’t usually experience fame beyond their own farmers market tables.
The production, called GOOD DIRT, was created by Mary Stuart Masterson (At Close Range,Fried Green Tomatoes) and Jeremy Davidson (Tickling Leo, The Americans). They’re also the founders of Storyhorse Documentary Theater, which they started so they would have a platform to tell the stories of their neighbors in the Hudson Valley and elevate ideas and voices that are often marginalized.
For GOOD DIRT they interviewed farmers from Soul Fire Farm, Green Goats Farm, Northwind Farm, Tello’s Green Farm, Denison Family Farm and Hudson Valley Seed Library. The April 10 premiere is a benefit for the National Young Farmers Coalition, and all tickets include admission to an afterparty at BAM where guests can meet some of the farmers and their actor counterparts.
By Hannah Becker, Willow Springs Farm
Preparing for this final Bootstrap Blogger post, I went back through my earlier posts and was immediately reminded of just how far we’ve come in a matter of months. The first few posts were all about digging fence postholes and scrounging for cash, and now we’re on to funny piglet stories and taking orders for grass-fed beef. When you’re down in the “day to day trenches,” it’s easy to get lost in the overwhelming list of farm chores and forget to celebrate the mini-successes along the way.
I encountered a few “oh god” moments over the past year:
- A barn-building back injury turned into lots and lots of doctors visits and physical therapy.
- Juggling off-farm professional opportunities (income producing) with farm responsibilities (not yet income producing).
- Budget cuts meant the loss of a contract employment opportunity that had been covering my farm expenses (forcing us to dig deeper in our already empty pockets).
- It turns out piglets are Houdini-like escape artists.
And I made some wonderful memories:
- Sharing our farming story with half-a-dozen community groups and agriculture publications.
- Feeling the pride of owning a self-funded (and debt FREE!) farm for a full year.
- Joining Kansas Farm Bureau’s Ag Advocacy SPEAK team.
- Sleeping in the barn when the piglets arrived (I’m pretty pumped about my piggies!).