Can Vacant Lots Grow into Farms? New Guide Helps Growers Adopt Healthy Farming Practices; Bad News for the Conservation Budget; and More

American Farmland Trust
American Farmland Trust

E-News February 12, 2010

Welcome to the February issue of E-news. Can't wait until next month's E-news to hear more about farms, food, and the environment? Check out our Farmland Report blog where we post regular updates about our work across the country and in the nation's capital. 

New York

A Call to Farms!

New York Cut Grass

Severe, disproportionate cuts to key state agricultural, environmental and nutrition programs are proposed in Governor Paterson’s 2010-11 State Budget. Some cuts would eliminate programs that strengthen our farm and food economy and protect natural resources. Drastic cuts to farmland protection funding could prevent any new projects from being funded for two years or more! Funding for farm, farmland and local food programs represent less than one percent of the state’s $130 billion budget. There are better solutions to our budget woes than cutting programs that invest in our farm and food system, which contributes over $23 billion to our state economy annually. These cuts are not inevitable – you can help get the No Farms No Food message out!

No Farms No Food Lobby Day March 15th

No Farms No Food Rally 

Join American Farmland Trust at the Capitol to lobby for funding to protect farmland, help farmers preserve clean water, increase access to local foods and strengthen economic opportunities for farms. RSVP by e-mailing or call (518) 581-0078 ext. 302.

Helping Farmers Keep Water Clean 

 Saratoga New York Arial Photograph

We are bringing a new program to New York to help farmers protect water quality. The Best Management Practices (BMP) Challenge program will reduce financial risks for farmers that adopt conservation practices, such as reducing fertilizer use. Farmers will work with crop consultants to reduce fertilizer use on corn crops and be compensated for any potential decrease in production. Thanks to the New York Farm Viability Institute and Natural Resources Conservation Service, we have the funding to enroll up to 30 New York corn growers and up to 3,000 acres of cropland. For more information contact: Judy Wright,, (315) 730-4505.


Plowing Ahead: Farmland Preservation in 2010 and Beyond

Working Lands Alliance Registration Form 

A special invitation to farmers, conservationists, town officials, anti-hunger advocates, locavores, chefs, and all supporters of farmland preservation in Connecticut. Join us for WLA’s tenth anniversary to examine the past decade of progress and help craft a vision for our work during the next 10 years at our conference on Saturday March 27th at Kroon Hall, Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, New Haven. Download a registration form and get conference details. A special thanks to our 18 sponsors, including our lead sponsor the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Register Online Today!


Massachusetts Approves Farmland Protection Program Regulations

Barn in Ashfield, Massachusetts 

We’re enthusiastic about the recent completion of regulations for the Massachusetts Agricultural Preservation Restriction program. The regulations define various easement terms, spell out the process for application consideration and evaluation, and address how requests from landowners for approval of agricultural activities and special permits will be handled. "These regulations are welcome news,” said Cris Coffin, AFT’s New England Director, “farmers need to trust the Agricultural Preservation Restriction Program—to know what the rules are and how they will be applied—in order to be comfortable enrolling their land in it. These new rules should increase that comfort level considerably, which we hope will lead to more participation in the program and more farmland protected.”  


Securing the Next Generation of Maryland Farmers 

Farm and Yellow Fields

A popular farm expression says the only way to acquire farmland is to marry into it or inherit it. In Maryland, the Estate Tax Bill will help the latter happen more frequently by enabling farm families to retain their land—an important step to help the next generation keep farming so Maryland agriculture can continue its prominent place in the state's economy. Investing in the next generation helps communities protect a vital asset and avoid costs from development such as roads, fire and rescue and public facilities.


Virginia Grown Food Is on the Menu

Little Girl Eating a Healthy Fresh Lunch 

New bills currently in the Virginia State House of Representatives will encourage state agencies, institutions and school districts to purchase Virginia-grown food. One bill relaxes bid requirements to facilitate local food purchases by public schools, while the second calls for institutional purchases to include nutrition standards and recommends the use of Virginia-grown food.

Catching the Farm Conservation Practices that Fall Through the Cracks

 Farmer Looking at the Bay

As the massive effort to clean up the Chesapeake Bay unfolds, it’s become apparent that how we currently measure agriculture’s efforts for cleaning up pollution isn’t giving us the whole picture. Right now only conservation practices that are paid for by a state or federal program are recorded—but farmers are also adopting practices on their own or with funding from nonprofits. These practices include no-till, cover crops, stream fencing, reduced use of fertilizer, etc. Across the region, producers and state agencies are calling for a full accounting of agriculture’s contribution as pollution limits are set. In Virginia, Senator Emmitt Hanger has introduced a bill to develop a statewide database of all the healthy farming practices to ensure farmers get the credit they deserve.


Dedicating Space for Farming 

Wisconsin Farm Area 

Last summer Wisconsin scored a victory for farms and farmland with the Working Lands Initiative, which helps farmers protect their land through a purchase of agricultural conservation easement program and new Agricultural Enterprise Areas. Agricultural Enterprise Areas are contiguous blocks of land dedicated to agricultural uses. Now the first applications for the new Agriculture Enterprise Areas have been submitted to the state, starting the process of targeting state incentives to promoting farming operations in Wisconsin. 


 Washington Farmland Protection Progress Reports

Washington Lavender Farm 

The Washington State Office of Farmland Preservation recently published two helpful new products of its work and of the work of the Washington Farmland Preservation Task Force. The first is their 2009 Report to the Washington State Conservation Commission, which nicely lays out the state’s challenges in protecting agriculture and the resources available to address them. The other excellent publication is a new “Washington State Farmland Preservation Indicators” booklet, which provides an excellent, up-to-date list of measures that indicate how well we are doing in preserving agriculture. 

Main Stories

Guide Helps Fruit, Vegetable and Nut Growers Adopt Healthy Farming Practices

California Farmers Market Customer

Our new Guide to Beneficial Management Practices for California Specialty Crops outlines practices that fruit, vegetable and nut growers can use to reduce pollution, conserve water and energy, improve wildlife habitat and moderate climate change. The interactive guide matches California's leading crops with specific farming practices, their environmental benefits and sources of funding to pay for their use. Lincoln "Ed" Burton, California State Conservationist for the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, said, “American Farmland Trust has done a real service by collecting this much information in one easy-to-use document. It should help encourage more widespread use of beneficial management practices.” NRCS is the source of many of the beneficial management practices highlighted in the new guide.

Can Vacant Lots Grow into Farms and Help Green America's Troubled Urban Economies?

Farm in a Vacant Urban Lot

With scores of foreclosures and a mounting supply of vacant urban lots, the establishment of urban farms is gaining momentum, not only with community-based organizations but also with entrepreneurs who have an eye on greener economies for struggling cities. In New Orleans, rental property owners who couldn't rebuild after Katrina opted to lease their land for the Villere Urban Farm project, which is growing produce for the local neighborhood. The ambitious, for-profit Hantz Farms venture in Detroit plans to convert more than 70 acres of underutilized vacant lands and abandoned properties on the city's lower east side to grow local fruit, vegetables and trees. These city-based "farmland reclamation" efforts join the ranks of established programs such as Greensgrow Farm in Philadelphia and Growing Power in Milwaukee.

President Slashes Conservation Funding in FY2011 Budget

Salinas Valley, California farm 

“At a time when we most need to invest in our strategic natural resources and keep them healthy for the future, the President has proposed cuts to key farmland preservation, conservation, and water quality programs,” says our president, Jon Scholl. If accepted by Congress, the President’s proposed budget would cut approximately 20 percent from working lands conservation programs that were promised under the 2008 Farm Bill. Cuts include the Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program, the Environmental Quality Incentives Program and the Conservation Security Program. On a positive note, the administration is building on new programs that develop local and regional food systems

Vote for Our Idea for Change!


Help us put farmland protection, the promotion of healthy farming practices and support for farmers and ranchers on every state's agenda and make it a key priority in national farm policy. Vote for our "Idea for Change" and join the movement to save the land that sustains us! The top 10 voted ideas will be presented at an event in Washington, D.C. and promoted to more than one million people.

Around the Country

The final Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program allocations through fiscal year 2009 are now posted on the Farmland Information Center website. 

In Michigan, the Farm to School: Setting the Table for Wellness conference is only about a month away!

Mark your March calendars; National Agriculture Day is just around the corner.

Proposed legislation in Florida would create the Florida Farm Fresh Schools Program, encouraging schools and school districts in the state to buy fresh and local food.

In Utah, the proposed Agriculture Sustainability Act requires counties to adopt Agricultural Sustainability Funds with revenue collected from county differential assessment rollbacks.

Iowa legislators are looking to establish a local food and farm task force, which will provide the state with a local food and farm plan containing policy and funding recommendations for expanding and supporting local food initiatives.

Farmers markets owned by nonprofits could receive property tax exemption through Washington state’s HB 2402.

A recent study by the United States Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service notes that beginning, limited-resource, and socially disadvantaged farmers make up as much as 40 percent of all U.S. farms. Find out what the report has to say about how these farmers are using conservation programs.

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