The Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture (PASA) has just launched the website for their new land leasing program, Farm Lease Connection. The project, which started to take shape in 2009, came out of a perceived need of young, aspiring farmers in southeastern Pennsylvania. They were coming out of internships and apprenticeship experiences and looking for a next step, but not seeing a clear path forward in their farming careers. This challenge was compounded by high land prices in the area: In order to gain access to cities like Philadelphia with markets for sustainable food, you may need to farm in places where land prices can be prohibitively expensive for new farmers. Marilyn Anthony, PASA’s Eastern Regional Director, describes the inspiration for the project: “Every survey done with new and aspiring farmers cites ‘access to land’ as a primary hurdle. Since PASA is dedicated to ‘Farming for the Future’ we figured we’d better tackle the land issue. We took the idea to the William Penn Foundation for research and development funding, and then to the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Council for pilot project implementation.”
In 2010 PASA worked with Temple University’s Fox School of Business to explore the possibilities around leasing land in southeastern Pennsylvania. Unsurprisingly, they found a strong and growing market for organic produce, both nationally and locally. CSA shares in the region were purchased to capacity, and some even had waiting lists. They also found that land in southeastern Pennsylvania was much more expensive than most farmers could afford: The average cost in the region is $45,200 per acre, which makes purchasing land infeasible for most young farmers trying to start a business. Instead of trying to purchase land that they cannot afford, the study recommends that farmers pursue alternative leasing arrangements. Although they would not be gaining equity through land ownership, they suggest seeking it through other channels, such as equity in the farming partnership itself or by buying the right to farm the land in perpetuity. The study also found that land is indeed available to be farmed in the region, and that it is important to match landowners and farmers that have compatible interests and motivations to ensure a successful partnership.
PASA is seeking to fill this need by providing land-linking services, but through Farm Lease Connection they are providing more than just a basic matching service. They focus on arranging farmland leasing situations rather than purchases and are piloting the program in the southeastern region of the state. The goal is not only to match farmers with landowners, but also to serve as a resource for putting people in touch with business consultants, lawyers, and financial resources. They also seek to differentiate themselves from many other existing land-linking programs by providing human mediation throughout the matching process.
The website officially launched on February 7th, and, to date, the program has already received around 130 applications from farmers and landowners. In addition to online matching services, the website will be interactive and up-to-date, with regular blog postings and event listings.
You can find more information about Farm Lease Connection at their website, farmleaseconnection.org or by contacting Ann McGinnis at firstname.lastname@example.org.