Who says the young farmer movement is confined to our nation’s coasts? Last month, 150 young and beginning farmers gathered at Primrose Valley Farm in Belleville, WI for the New Farmer Summit– hosted by the Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service (MOSES), Renewing the Countryside, Agrarian Trust, and the National Young Farmers Coalition. I had the pleasure of flying out to meet the region’s passionate and innovative young farmers and ranchers. The summit was as much a party as an educational feast, with farm tours, workshops, contra dances and delicious local food.
NYFC hosted a lunchtime panel on Land Access issues in the region. In this Midwest, if you don’t inherit family land, you’re in a tough bind to secure permanent land access. Land trusts are not so active in the region, and the ones who are haven’t begun to adopt measures to ensure affordability for farmers. Jim Welsh of the Natural Heritage Land Trust joined our panel to give insight into the trust’s work protecting farmland around Madison, Wisconsin. He hasn’t seen non-farmers outbidding working farmers for farmland yet, but says it could be on the horizon. I encouraged him to consider using OPAVs (the Option to Purchase at Agricultural Value) in his easements. That way, the land can only be sold to working farmers, ensuring affordability and ongoing agricultural production.
Sarah Claassen of the Land Stewardship Project introduced the structural issues affecting land access. She encouraged summit participants to consider putting on a play about farmland transition as a lighthearted way to get their communities educated. Look Who’s Knockin’ is a one-act play that portrays the moral dilemma posed by wanting, on one hand, to get top dollar for selling or renting one’s land for the sake of personal economic security and, on the other, wanting to help the next generation of farmers get started farming for the sake of the community.
We then heard from three farmers with incredible land access stories. Zoey Brooks is the sixth generation on her family’s dairy and grain farm in Waupaca, WI. Brooks Farm was established in 1855 and was one of 15 farms in the state to be protected in perpetuity by the PACE (purchase of agricultural conservation easements) program, with 1200 acres protected. The PACE program no longer exists in Wisconsin, so Zoey is an active advocate for its return. Having her family farm protected by PACE gave her the security she needed to return to the farm.
Anne Drayful is a farmer and permaculturist who co-owns a small-scale organic produce farm, Regenerative Roots, in Jefferson, WI. Anne and her farm partners are in the process of forming a cooperative entity (with farmers and non-farmers) to become co-owners of the land they currently rent. Peter Allen is the farmer-owner of Mastodon Valley Farm, where he does multi-species grazing amidst fruit and nut trees. Peter looked at over 300 pieces of land before finding his dream farm. And by getting investors on board, he was able to afford it.
The summit was a real breeding ground for new NYFC chapters and for strengthening the Midwestern young farmer community. My hope is that summits like this will spring up in region’s across the country. It might be up to you to make it happen!