Here’s a story you probably haven’t heard in the news: Family farmers are leading water conservation efforts in the West. Here are two examples.
- By building up the level of organic matter in the soil of their California farm, Paul and Elizabeth Kaiser (pictured above with their crew) have drastically cut their irrigation use while increasing their production seven fold compared to similar California farms.
- In Wyoming, ranchers Pat and Sharon O’Toole have always managed their land with conservation in mind. Along the way, they’ve built strong partnerships with Trout Unlimited, Audubon Wyoming, and The Nature Conservancy—organizations some ranchers once viewed as adversaries.
Our new report, Innovations in Agricultural Stewardship: Stories of Conservation & Drought Resilience in the Arid West, offers five case studies profiling producers across the Colorado River Basin (an area that spans seven Western states) and beyond who—with curiosity, creativity, and seasons of trial and error—are adapting and even thriving in the drought. This report was created in partnership with the Family Farm Alliance to highlight farmers who are building drought resilience, saving water, & growing good food for all of us.
The West is mobilizing in search of answers to a growing water gap between water supply and demand. Earlier this week the Bureau of Reclamation, the federal agency that manages much of the water infrastructure in the West, released a report that NYFC also collaborated on titled Moving Forward Phase I Report that identifies ways to reduce water stress in the Colorado River Basin.
Now with our latest publication, Innovations in Agricultural Stewardship, we hope to add to the list of solutions. In order to develop smart policy, it is critical to understand the creative ways farmers and ranchers—young and seasoned alike—manage their land. We call on our policymakers to engage farmers as allies in finding innovative solutions that support the health of our land, water, and Western communities.
This year drought has gripped the West to a new extreme. But both young and seasoned farmers are forging new and innovative solutions, growing more food with less water while enhancing biodiversity, soil health, and their local communities.
Yet despite this, too often young farmers are not engaged in shaping water policy. This means their values and their voices go unheard by policymakers.
NYFC is changing that. As part of our ongoing work on water in the West, we are developing a grassroots advocacy platform on western water. We just launched an online survey to hear what matters most to you on western water issues.
Are you a farmer or rancher? Complete our survey, and as a thank you, we will give you a year of free membership in NYFC. Existing members will have their membership renewed.
TAKE THE SURVEY: https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/TPP8H9Q
We have been hosting community gatherings on water across the West, but since we can’t make it everywhere we’d like, we’re hoping to get a broad response via the survey. We want to know: Is conservation important to you? How has drought impacted your operation? Can policy and funding be enhanced to support you in your success?
We know your time is packed with actual farming this time of year, so thank you for taking five minutes to lend your voice to this effort. For taking the survey, you will receive a FREE year-long membership with NYFC.
Membership is optional, but membership is also awesome. You decide.
Want to meet with your representative on an issue you care about? Email our western organizer, Kate Greenberg, and we’ll help you have your voice heard.
To learn more about issues farmers are facing in the arid West, watch our short film “RESILIENT.”
Guest post by Ann Larkin Hansen
When we bought our farm in the early ’90s, we were too ignorant about rural living to worry whether a large cattle feedlot, a stock car racetrack, or other incompatible neighbors might move in next door. We’re lucky: Our neighbors are still wetlands and lake cabins, and things will probably stay that way.
A lot of farmers aren’t so lucky. In my years of working as a farm reporter and serving on our township’s planning commission, I’ve seen a lot of problems connected with land-use issues, from atrazine contamination of wells due to heavy pesticide use, to odor issues caused by large swine and poultry operations, to noise and light issues from frac sand mining and trucking. And there are a lot more operations looking for places to build in the country: “adult” entertainment, prisons, landfills, industrial plants, and housing developments filled with folks who object when you spread manure or have to run machinery late in the evening to complete a harvest.
Fortunately, land-use regulations allow a county or township to protect itself, for the most part, from land uses that injure or offend the current residents. Unfortunately, many townships and counties haven’t put good regulations in place and are caught by surprise when this makes them a target for CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations) or other new neighbors who might not be a good fit for the neighborhood.
So, if you’re looking at land to buy, I highly recommend that you:
- Check out what land-use regulations are in place at both the county and township level, and also ask about what sort of changes might happen in the future. A lot of county and town websites now have their ordinances online; if not, call or stop by their office and ask to see them.
- Ask if there’s a Comprehensive Planning document for the area; this will tell you what’s expected to happen in the next twenty years or so in terms of road building and upgrades, power line corridors, residential development, and industrial development.
- Also look for other clues about your potential neighbors. Ask how many high-capacity wells have been drilled in recent years—these are used for large-scale agriculture. An increase in requests for driveway and building permits indicates a rise in residential development.
The land-use ordinances will also tell you what you will and won’t be allowed to do on the property you’re thinking of buying. If you’re planning on-farm sales or an agri-tourism enterprise, make sure that these activities are allowed. (I knew a couple who gradually built an on-farm greenhouse and nursery operation into a thriving business only to be told that they had exceeded what was allowed in their township. They had to shut down.)
It’s important to understand that there are three types of land-use regulation that are employed to regulate what and how landowners can use their land.
(1) Licensing and Nuisance Ordinances
The first type are called Licensing and Nuisance ordinances, and these are still quite often the only type found in rural townships. Licensing and nuisance ordinances do NOT regulate what can be done on land; they can only set rules, within reason, for how an activity is done, such as hours of operation.
And, as with all ordinances, the rules don’t apply if the establishment—say a gambling casino—was built before the ordinance was passed.
(2) Land Division Ordinances
The second type of land-use regulation are Land Division ordinances. These regulate how land can be divided for future development and may govern such items as whether a parcel must have road access, a good building site, and appropriate soils and space for a septic system. In our township, for example, we’ve written ordinances that require a minimum lot size of 2.5 acres and road access that meets state standards regarding distance from intersections and other driveways.
As with licensing and nuisance ordinances, land division ordinances do NOT regulate what can be done on a piece of property, they only establish minimum requirements for development.
Only the third type of ordinance, Zoning, regulates what can be done on property. It’s kind of a double-edged sword: Zoning ordinances, for the most part, protect you from injurious or obnoxious neighbors; they also limit what you are allowed to do on your own land. For this reason, “zoning” has become a dirty word in many rural areas since the thought of not being able to do whatever you want in your own private kingdom seems to trump the thought of someday having a casino next door. Too often, it seems, rural townships refuse to even consider zoning until something awful to live next door to comes to the area, and then it’s too late. In the last ten years, mining for frac sand has exploded in our area, causing a big scramble by area townships to get any regulation they can in place. Many of these efforts haven’t been successful.
Zoning works by establishing districts for different land uses, so incompatible uses, like a huge dairy operation, aren’t built next to residential subdivisions. In rural areas, zoning may include districts for farming, residential, recreational, industrial, and commercial use.
It’s important to look over the definitions of the districts since these vary considerably. Some zoning ordinances are quite detailed and regulate right down to what is allowed for things like fence height, while others are pretty minimalist.
There’s one further twist to land-use regulation. In some instances, such as wetland protection, state or federal regulations have been put in place, which override any local ordinances. In this case, counties and towns can’t override state and federal regulations, so it’s a good idea to ask at the county level what type of state and federal land-use regulations might affect the land you wish to acquire.
Ann Larkin Hansen is a farmer and author whose books include “The Organic Farming Manual,” “Finding Good Farmland,” “A Landowner’s Guide to Managing Your Woods” (with certified master logger Mike Severson and consulting forester Dennis Waterman), “Making Hay,” and “Electric Fencing,” all from Storey Publishing.
In August, we wrote a blog post about New York State legislation that would help beginning farmers across the state get access to viable agricultural land. The bill is now on the Governor’s desk – we are asking him to take action and sign it into law.
If passed, this bill could provide access to state-owned farmland for new and beginning farmers; spur the creation of further state policies and programs to support beginning farmers; and reduce the likelihood of state-owned farmland being developed.
In New York, the average cost of farm real estate, which takes into account land and buildings, has been steadily rising. It is now $2,700 an acre – up 3.8% from last year and 12.5% from 2010 . For beginning farmers who must compete with developers for this land, these prices mean that buying a farm of their own is often out of reach. Few farms are available for under $300,000, and many more are listed for sale at well over $1 million .
New York State’s farm and food sector is worth $47 billion. As the average age of the state’s farmers continues to rise, however, this strong economic engine is at risk of disappearing. We must do more to help our next generation of agricultural businesses succeed. Governor Cuomo has an opportunity to help ensure the future of our farm and food economy in the State by signing this legislation into law.
What This Bill Would Do
The key features of this legislation are:
- Inventorying of state lands. The bill would require state agencies to inventory and publicize their landholdings and assess the suitability of the land for farming.
- Farmland conservation. Viable agricultural lands would be considered for conservation through the state farmland protection program and made available to famers for lease or purchase.
- Beginning farmer land access. The bill requires the state to enhance beginning farmers’ access to this land and to support the successful transfer of viable farmland from retiring owners to the next generation of farmers.
- Beginning farmer assistance. The bill requires the Agricultural Advisory Council to provide guidance to the Department of Agriculture on taxes, financial assistance, and other policies and programs that could address the needs of beginning farmers
By inventorying state landholdings that are viable for agriculture and making them available to beginning farmers, the State could put thousands of acres of land currently sitting vacant on decommissioned prison farms, mental health facilities, and state parks to work for our state’s agricultural economy. This legislation is an opportunity for the Governor to demonstrate his commitment to two of the state’s most valuable agricultural resources – its land and the farmers who work it.
What You Can Do
Call Governor Cuomo’s office today! He needs to hear from you. Governor Cuomo was elected to serve the citizens of New York, and now is the time to make your voice heard.
1. Call the Governor’s office: 1-518-474-8390 PRESS 3 to speak with an assistant or PRESS 2 to leave a message
2. Tell him,“I am a ____________ (young farmer/advocate/New York State resident) who is ____________ (experiencing/concerned about) the challenge that our beginning farmers face getting started in New York State. Through Governor Cuomo’s policies and actions, he has demonstrated an awareness that agriculture is a strong economic engine in the State of New York, and we appreciate that. As our current population of farmers ages, however, we need to do more to support the next generation of farmers getting started or we risk losing this incredible state resource. The Governor has an opportunity to help beginning farmers access land and successfully start their farm businesses by signing Bill A07002 into law. This bill, which is currently on his desk, would make state lands available to young farmers and help direct resources towards ensuring those farmers’ success. I urge him to sign the bill into law today.”
3. Talk to your friends! Tell other farmers and farm supporters you know to call the Governor’s office and make their voices heard as well.
THANK YOU! Together, we are ensuring the voice of the next generation of farmers is a powerful part of the public conversation.
Below average precipitation combined with warm and dry summers make it difficult for producers to grow enough to make a profit and forecasts of low precipitation patterns suggests this may be a new normal. With water being a critical resource for managing a successful farm, drought resiliency is an important skill. This week the National Young Farmers Coalition, in partnerships with the Family Farm Alliance, brought together a diverse group of more than 50 farming and ranching professionals to discuss the question: “What are farmers and ranchers doing to be more resilient in times of drought?”
In U.S. agriculture, there is a long history of discrimination against minority populations and women. For many years, these groups were purposefully excluded from Farm Service Agency (FSA) programs in their own communities. A series of class action lawsuits, most notably Pigford v. Glickman, brought these practices to an end. (more…)
SOIL: What do we know about healing from roundup?
SERVITUDE: Political economies across time
OPPORTUNITY: The Commons; Entrepreneurship.
QUALITY OF LIFE: Duty. Joy.
URBANIZATION: Geo-constraints; Digital culture’s expectations; Ag-literacy; Rooftops, Brownfields.
LOGIC & CONTEXT: Thinking in terms of the system.
STARTUP & STEADYSTATE: Cooperative dynamics.
TECHNOLOGY: Criticism & Evaluation; Increasing mechanical literacy among female farmers.
DEMOCRACY: Microcosms & Macrocosms.
SPIRIT & DOMINATION: Sir Francis Bacon, where’s the eggs?
INDIGENOUS: Pre-agricultural and agro-ecological kinds of knowing. Are there any young shaman voices?
SHIFTING: Deliberate strategies for straddling and transitioning the systems we live inside of.
Our dear friends at Wilder Quarterly are launching a project, Wilder Field Art: An Art subscription service for those enthralled with the natural world.
Wilder is a beautiful print magazine where you’ll find rooftop gardeners, scientists and artists, hobby farmers, horticulturists, nature’s innovators, amateurs, experts and outdoor enthusiasts. The Field Art project goes beyond print to deliver subscribers 4 art works a year in tandem with the seasons.
Wilder will be visiting one city a season in which they will select 3 artists who are working across various media – from photography to print to sound. Each artist will create a work based on their season and their interpretation of the environment that surrounds them. In each city, they’ll partner with a gallery to host the opening event. At the end of the year will culminate with a group show featuring all the Field Artworks in New York City.
Click here to help Wilder to kickstart the project! Just 8 more days to go!
And don’t forget: Wilder offers 40% off magazine subscriptions to NYFC members!
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: October 18th, 2013
PRESS ADVISORY: National Day of Action to Save Local Farms will bring together farmers, consumers to change proposed FDA food safety rules that threaten farm viability
HUDSON, NY – On Sunday, October 20th farmers and consumers from across the country will take action to change the FDA’s draft food safety rules. Activists will gather at farms, schools and grange halls to educate each other on the impact of the proposed rules and write comments to the agency. Dozens of events are happening in 28 states between now and early November. The Day of Action is sponsored by the National Young Farmers Coalition and the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition.
Select Events and Organizer Quotes:
Action in Eyota, Minnesota at private home (10/21/13)
“We’re always looking to make sure our food is healthy and safe, and we believe that small farms are part of the solution to healthy, safe food–not part of the problem!” – Hannah Breckbill, Organizer and Farmer at Humble Hands Harvest
Action in Paonia, Colorado at Downtown Public Library (10/20/13)
“Because food safety issues are uniquely different for small farms, FSMA’s current one size fits all approach poses a threat to small-scale agriculture,” says Kacey Kropp, Farmer at First Fruits Organic Farms and Organizer. “The goal of writing these letters to the FDA is to illuminate the worth of sustainable, already safe and locally sourced foods from small farms.”
Action in Albuquerque, NM at the Rio Grande Community Farm (10/24/13)
“As an economically challenged state, with a number of exceptional challenges to farmers like erratic and limited water supplies, writing to the FDA to comment on FSMA is particularly important to the Rio Grande Farmers Coalition. What may seem like a financial drop in the bucket for large, industrial farm and food operations can sink a small family farm, an artisan food producer, or a food hub.” – Sarah Wentzel-Fisher, Organizer
Action in Lansing, Michigan at private home (10/25/13)
“I’m utilizing my birthday to entice friends with food and drink to have them write comment letters to the FDA on how it will affect their farming operations or farms that they patron regularly,” says Alex Bryan, Farmer at Food Field and Organizer.
“FSMA has the potential, as written, to derail most everything I’ve spent the last 5 years of my life working for…Not only will this impact my livelihood and way of life, but it threatens the very nature of regional food sovereignty. I care about my community’s future and cannot sit idly by while these rules are put in place. I just hope that the FDA will continue listening, adapting and changing to the needs of smaller, younger, beginning farmers.”
Action in East Berlin, Pennsylvania at Everblossom Farm (10/26/13)
“These proposed rules stand to change how we farm and run our businesses, so it is imperative that we make time to tell our stories to the FDA. I hope this Day of Action will rally together farmers and consumers to make change with our collective voices!” –Emily Best, Farmer at New Morning Farm and Organizer
Action in Sonoma, California at the Sonoma Valley Grange Hall (10/27/13)
“The issues facing young farmers today are too daunting to grapple with alone, so we’re uniting our communities to inform and empower them to take a stance with us on these rules that could gravely effect their future success doing what most needs done: feeding us.” –Evan Wiig, Farmer at True Grass Farms and Organizer
Action in Peterborough, New Hampshire at Wells School (11/9/13)
“By submitting comments to the FDA we take a proactive stance toward shaping the landscape that we will have to work within down the road,” says Ray Connor of Evandale Farm and Organizer. “If we miss this opportunity to take action now, we will spend the rest of our careers reacting to whatever rules are imposed on us.”
In 2011, President Obama signed into law the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) — mandating the first overhaul to U.S. food safety laws since 1938. The USDA Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released 3,500 page of rules in the spring, covering all aspects of a produce farm operation – everything from water testing to soil amendments and worker training. In the words of former U.S. Department of Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan, the new rules have the potential to “destroy some operations.” In fact, for many diversified farms, the average annual cost to comply with the proposed rules is about half or more of what many farmers might, in a good year, expect in profits.
For more information, map with actions nationwide and details: youngfarmers.org/fsma
Lindsey Lusher Shute, lindsey[at]youngfarmers[dot]org
Hi! I’m Abbie, mama to Eli, wife to Dave (who is NOT a farmer, but a wildly talented builder), and daughter to Leon and Linda. Along with my parents I farm here in the rolling hills of southern VT. We’ve been stewarding the land since 1868 and are excited to have you join along with our adventures this season.
I was never going to be a farmer. My life’s goal was to go to college and hightail it out. Growing up, though appreciative of the beauty of my surroundings, I was unable to fathom how I would ever be happy here. And my father raised my brothers and I under the dictate that unless we woke up in the morning happy to do what we did, it wasn’t worth doing. Farming, for me, didn’t seem worth doing.
Nonetheless, life is a journey that sometimes lands you not so much where you want, but where you need. And I had some lovely jobs in some lovely places and I realized that I wasn’t doing them very well. My soul was never fully engaged. May rolled around and I looked out my office window and wanted to run outside and soak up the sun. Growing up as the oldest child in the 6th generation of a dairy farming family my existence was based (though I never registered it at the time), on the rhythms and routines of Nature. I could be outside whenever I liked, sometimes more than I liked, with the option of constant motion. I am not so good at sitting still.
But, as my dad would say I am dyed-in-the-wool organic. For me, it truly is the only option. And though our farm has a long history of attempting to work with Nature instead of against her, we only officially transitioned as a certified organic dairy in 2008. My dad will openly admit that for him the lure of organic initially was its sustainability factor and not the environmental kind. Conventional milk prices were a disaster and even a farm as well established as ours with as little debt was struggling. After looking a bit into the transition process he learned that our journey towards organic, comparatively speaking for a lot of conventional dairies, would be straightforward.
I was a wholehearted cheerleader of this transition. I loved reading about the standards Organic Valley would be asking of our farm. Dad has always fostered a mentality of quality over quantity and OV is based on the same premise. We would be compensated fairly for our milk and paid quality premiums. At 2000’ this land is not well suited to growing anything but grass; the 142 days our 60 cow milking herd spent on pasture fit well within the organic model.
Growing up, I was notorious for hating cows. They were awful beasts that made life inconvenient. It wasn’t until I was 8 months pregnant and following them up the road that cows and I understood each other. It was a “light bulb” moment. I realized these awful beasts were simply misunderstood. They were lactating mothers!
So, I got it. The farm informs mothering. Mothering illuminates farming. Having my son was a double gift. It empowered me to believe what my husband had always told me; “the only place I’ve ever seen you truly happy is on the farm.”
For current photos, please feel free to follow along with me at instagram.com/tractormom.