Facilitating affordable farm ownership with an OPAV:
Vermont Land Trust gets land back in production with discounted sale to Deep Meadow Farm
In April of 2012, farmers Jon Cohen and Ruth Nangeroni bought a 59-acre property on the banks of the Connecticut River with the help of the Vermont Land Trust’s Farmland Access Program. Formerly the Kelley Farm, a well-known landmark in the Town of Weathersfield, the parcel had not been farmed for years.
Although Jon and Ruth had previously run a successful farm and CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) business on leased land in Westminster for eight years, they would have been unable to afford such a large property without the Vermont Land Trust’s (VLT) support.
In 2004, the VLT established the Farmland Access Program to help farmers overcome the hurdle of finding affordable land. There are currently 140 farmers on their list who are looking for farms. By providing opportunities for farmers to purchase or lease affordable farmland, the program supports local communities and local food production.
After acquiring the property in late 2011, the VLT issued a public request for business plans from farmers interested in purchasing the land. Jon and Ruth were selected from a highly competitive pool of applicants, according to the Farmland Access Program’s Director Jon Ramsay, based on the strength of their business plan and their track record successfully managing another operation. Only six months passed from the time they acquired the property to the time they completed the sale to Deep Meadow Farm.
The couple purchased the 59-acre farm for roughly half of the $733,000 that the land trust originally acquired it for. The resale price reflecting the farm’s agricultural value as a result of a permanent conservation easement placed on it. The easement value was appraised at $318,000, or 46% of the full fair market value of the property. State, federal, and private funding made it possible for the VLT to conserve the farm and make it affordable for purchase by a farmer.
Since 2004, Vermont Land Trust has been fully committed to incorporating the option to purchase at agricultural value (OPAV) into their easements. If Jon, or other owners of VLT protected farms, wants to sell the farm in the future, the easement ensures Vermont Land Trust the right to review prospective purchasers and their “training and experience as an agricultural producer and an agricultural business plan for the protected property”. This strategy has succeeded in keeping VLT’s protected farmland in active agricultural use.
The approach to appraising easements with this language has been evolving, and today the appraisal reflects a single number for the overall value of the easement including OPAV language. Alex Wylie, Agricultural Director at Vermont Land Trust, describes this as “whole farm OPAV easement appraisals,” which include the house appraised at contributory values. The appraisals do not consider amenities on site, but rather the average cost of a home that size. This appraisal approach helps the landowners to recover value from their property asset while ensuring that it stays in working farmland.
Jon and Ruth and their seven employees are happy their work strengthens the local economy and food system. With more space, they can now raise animals and offer a much wider variety of crops including perennial plantings of cane berries. Customers can find their diverse assortment of organic vegetables, fresh flowers, herbs, eggs and pork at their farm stand, four local farmer’s markets, local retailers and food establishments. As of spring 2013, they also have 75 enthusiastic CSA members.
Since 1977, the Vermont Land Trust has permanently conserved more than 1,775 parcels of land covering 535,000 acres, or about eight percent of the private, undeveloped land in the state. The conserved land includes more than 775 working farms, hundreds of thousands of acres of productive forestland, and numerous parcels of community lands.
This case was adapted from the Press Release issued by Vermont Land Trust on June 22, 2012 and additional details provided by email to Steve Schwartz from John Ramsey of Vermont Land Trust on May 6, 2013.
 Vermont Land Trust Easement Deed Language, provided by Jon Ramsay, May 6, 2013.