KEENE, N.H. — Accessing land, and passing farms on to a new generation of farmers, are top challenges for New England farmers of all types. A $600,000, USDA grant to Land For Good (landforgoood.org), a regional and national leader in farmland access, will fund Phase 3 of a New England-wide Land Access Project (LAP) that provides land access and transfer education, training and technical assistance to beginning and established farmers in collaboration with six state partners and over a dozen other organizations. The grant is part of $18M recently awarded to 36 organizations nationally by USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP).
Addressing land access and transfer for farmers is especially critical to regional farm economies and food systems in New England and across the country.
In New England, 30% of farmland is owned by farmers age 65 or older, and their farms will change hands in the next 10+ years. Most of these farmers do not have successors identified to take over, even though they overwhelmingly express a strong desire to see their farms remain in farming. Yet, a top challenge for new farmers is gaining secure and affordable access to the land they need to launch and maintain viable farms. Barriers to accessing farmland are a key source of increasing inequality in agriculture, especially because most new and beginning farmers come from non-farm backgrounds and are more diverse than previous generations of farmers.
According to Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), a leading member of the Agriculture Committee who has helped create and fund the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program, “Vermont and New England have a great legacy of agriculture, and the future can be just as bright for our farms and farmers and their communities. That future depends on our ability to provide the training, mentorship and farmland necessary for a new generation to get their footing and to succeed.”
“The future of farming in New England—and what it looks like—depends in no small part on whether exiting farmers can transfer farms to the next generation of farmers and who gets access to land,” said Jim Hafner, Land For Good Executive Director. “The land access challenge is particularly acute in New England, which has some of the highest prices for prime farmland in the country.”
This grant follows two previous, three-year BFRDP grant awards for Phases 1 and 2 of LAP, which also strengthened land access and transfer services. With the support of this grant, Land For Good stepped in at a crucial moment for Chase Hill Farm (MA) by helping the retiring farmers, Mark and Jeannette Fellows, with their transfer planning. Realizing the immediate need for identifying a successor, they connected with Ben and Laura Wells-Tolley who shared the Fellows’ passion and also received guidance from Land For Good. Chase Hill Farm is known for their tradition of organic farming methods and handmade cheeses. The farm will survive and flourish—strengthening the farmland security of the community—thanks to timely intervention and successful transfer of the farm and farm business.
Phase 3 (LAP3) builds on this kind of progress and responds to the lessons, needs and gaps identified to keep land in farming by improving farmers’ secure access to land. This third phase will educate, train and advise over 2,500 farmers in New England. The project’s ambitious goals include providing individualized technical assistance to 150 beginning farmers, helping 200 farmers identify farm properties and connect with landowners, and guiding transitioning farmers through the farm transfer planning process.
“This phase of LAP has the same long-term goal: more New England beginning farmers successfully access land to start or expand their farm businesses,” said Jim. “Most importantly, it supports and links to many other initiatives in the region that recognize that to keep land in farming and grow viable farm businesses, we must improve farmers’ secure access to land and their ability to transfer farms to other farmers.”
This winter LAP3 funded the New England Farm Succession School helping 5 farmers and farming couples who want to plan for their farm’s transition. The school, which has helped 40 New England farms over the past 3 years, offers structured and sustained support to make decisions, engage their families, and organize the legal and financial mechanics involved in a farm transfer plan. The grant will also support the efforts of the New England Farm Link Collaborative, which coordinates state farm property posting websites and oversees NewEnglandFarmlandFinder.org. The project will organize the first national Farm Link Clinic in April 2019.
The Land Access Project, Phase 3 brings together six state partners including Maine Farmland Trust (ME), Vital Communities (NH), New Entry Sustainable Farming Project (MA), Intervale Center (VT), University of Connecticut Cooperative Extension (CT), and Young Farmer Network (RI); plus over a dozen other collaborating organizations. Including the New CT Farmer Alliance, CT Land Access Working Group, RI Dept. of Environment Management, Southside Community Land Trust (RI), Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture (MA), Greenbelt – Essex County’s Land Trust (MA), Mount Grace Conservation Land Trust (MA), Vermont Farm To Plate, Vermont Land Trust, Southeast Land Trust (NH), University of NH Extension, Beginning Farmer Resource Network of Maine, and Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association.
–Land For Good
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