July E-News: Protecting Land and Water; Top 5 State Leaders in the America's Favorite Farmers Markets Contest

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Welcome to the July issue of E-news. Click here to view a version of E-news on the web. Can't wait until next month's E-news? Check out our Farmland Report blog. 

Top 5 Leaders Announced in the America’s Favorite Farmers Markets™ Contest

Girl buying food at farmers marketJuly is an ideal time to savor the summer’s fresh offerings, and what better way to taste the fresh foods of the season than at your local farmers market! Supporting farmers markets is an important step in keeping farmers on the land—and delicious food on your table. “Our country has been losing more than an acre of farmland every minute, and that irreplaceable land is disappearing most rapidly in areas where our fruits and vegetables are grown,” said American Farmland Trust President Jon Scholl. “Farmers markets help combat this growing problem by strengthening family farms.” American Farmland Trust’s America’s Favorite Farmers Markets™ contest seeks to promote the critical role that farmers markets play in keeping family farmers on the land. We have just released the Top 5 leader board showcasing how markets in every state are doing. Will your favorite market make it to the top of the list?  Keep track from now until the end of the contest with real-time updates of state-by-state leaders.

Protecting the Landscape: The Right Thing To Do

birds flying over farm fieldAmerica’s farm and ranch lands face tremendous pressures, illuminated under a national spotlight due to recent severe weather events. Farm bill policies to protect precious land and water resources are critically important for the nation’s farmers as well as the public. In a recent briefing on Capitol Hill, American Farmland Trust President Jon Scholl urged legislators to re-attach conservation compliance to the premium subsidy for crop and income insurance in the farm billa measure that would save taxpayer money, and protect against soil erosion, degradation of water quality and loss of wetlands.

And farmers agree. According to a poll taken by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, 61 percent of farmers in the U.S. heartland agree they should meet environmental standards to receive benefits like insurance subsidies. “We believe compliance represents a covenant between farmers and society,” explains Scholl. “It is reasonable for society to expect a basic level of stewardship to be applied to our most vulnerable lands in exchange for programs that help provide some measure of economic stability on the farm.” 


Land Use Policy Moves Forward in California’s San Joaquin Valley

Corn crops in san joaquin valleyThe San Joaquin Valley of California is among the most productive agricultural regions in the world, yet for decades it has been under intense pressure from residential development as cities throughout the valley have sprawled out onto prime farmland. Recently, however, the City of Fresno shifted toward realizing smart growth principles in its General Plan Update. Most important of these policy changes has been the city’s decision not to expand its sphere of influence and urban growth boundary.  “It was an unprecedented decision that American Farmland Trust was glad to participate in and witness,” explained Daniel O’Connell, American Farmland Trust's San Joaquin Valley Representative.  “Everyone from high-profile agricultural leaders to health, religious and minority groups turned out by the hundreds at city council meetings to demand a change in land use policy.” Read more about this remarkable policy victory—Fresno’s General Plan Update – A Groundswell Model?—on the Groundswell San Joaquin Valley web site, an online hub designed to encourage informed citizen participation in land use issues in the Valley. 

Grassroots Efforts Succeed in Saving Pennsylvania’s Farmland Funding

WIP.jpgEarlier this year, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett set a course to permanently eliminate farmland protection funds in the state, recommending in his 2012-13 state budget proposal to divert these dollars to the state’s General Fund. But thanks to the outpouring of support for Pennsylvania’s nationally renowned program, Governor Corbett signed a final state budget that included $20.49 million dedicated for farmland preservation. To defend this critical funding, American Farmland Trust joined numerous groups in the Save Our Farms Coalition to get the word out to citizens in rural and urban areas who have voted to support this crucial effort for decades. “This was a textbook case for grassroots democracy in action. The response to our appeals was tremendous, and your elected leaders heard you loud and clear,” says Jim Baird, Mid-Atlantic Director at American Farmland Trust.

Planning for the Future in the Chesapeake Bay

Corn crop in MarylandDebates on how to clean up the Chesapeake Bay—a national treasure constituting the largest estuary in the United States—are all over the news these days. Central to the discussion on the future of the Bay is how to offset pollution from new growth and development in the watershed. American Farmland Trust has been seeking solutions that benefit both the environment and farmers by pursuing the creation of trading markets for clean water “credits.” In Maryland, this trading will come from the Department of the Environment’s plan, a draft of which, Accounting For Growth, is up for public input in five meetings across the state over the next several months. “Cleaning up the Bay is more than a slogan. It is a serious challenge that will affect everyone no matter if you are a homeowner, farmer, developer or business owner,” says Jim Baird, American Farmland Trust's Mid-Atlantic Director. “These meetings are about how to keep the Bay on the road to recovery even while new growth brings increased pollution.”

Strengthening Farmland Protection Policies in Minnesota

cow in green pastureThe Farmers’ Legal Action Group, Inc., recently announced the release of a new and timely report, Preserving Minnesota’s Agricultural Land: Proposed Policy Solutions [PDF]. This report analyzes Minnesota’s current laws and practices regarding farmland preservation, suggests steps the state can take to strengthen and streamline existing programs, and recommends new tools the state can adopt to better preserve farmland. Situated in the middle of the Corn Belt, Minnesota is an important agricultural state. It ranked sixth in the nation in overall farm production in 2009. It is also projected to grow by more than 1 million people in the next 20 years. “Like the rest of the nation, Minnesota has seen significant loss of farmland—more than 465,000 acres since 1982—due to development surrounding growing cities. But it has no statewide plan or vision for protecting its farmland,” says Julia Freedgood, American Farmland Trust’s Managing Director, Farmland and Community Initiatives. “The proposed policy solutions are thoughtful and relevant and an important first step.”

New Project Aims to Keep New England's Farmland in Farming

New England farmBuilding on work done through the New England Commission on Land Conservation and its Farm and Food Security Initiative, American Farmland Trust is bringing together farmland experts from around New England to explore ways in which the region might work collaboratively to keep farmland in farming. The six New England state “Chief Agricultural Officers” and the six state USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service Offices are key partners in this effort, as is Land For Good. The project will include a “shop talk” for farmland protection practitioners and a convening for farm and conservation stakeholders, federal and state agencies, and public and private funders. Cris Coffin, New England Director at American Farmland Trust, believes that regional collaboration is critical to retaining and growing the region’s farmland base. “Every state in the region is in some stage of farm and food system planning and, not surprisingly, land access and availability are emerging as key and common needs,” says Coffin. “We will be better able to tackle these challenges at the state level if we learn and work together as a region.”

Save the Date: November 15, Harvesting Opportunities Conference, Albany

Boy holding a turkeyAmerican Farmland Trust is hosting a conference in New York titled Harvesting Opportunities: Growing Local Food Economies and Protecting Farmland. “This conference is exciting because it brings together farmers, citizens involved in their community, local officials, land trusts and local food and public health advocates to take a serious look at how food, farms and farmland are integral to growing New York’s economy,” says David Haight, New York State Director for American Farmland Trust. The conference will be held on November 15 at the Hotel Albany on State Street in downtown Albany. Stay tuned for more details at www.farmland.org/newyork.

Development of Greater Hudson Valley Farmlink Network Underway

Farmers from Root Down Farm in New YorkTo help a new generation of farmers access farmland, American Farmland Trust and local partners are investigating the establishment of a Greater Hudson Valley Farmlink Network. “Thirty percent of Hudson Valley farmers are over 65,” said Diane Held, American Farmland Trust’s Senior New York Field Manager. “When these farmers retire a lot of Hudson Valley farmland is going to change hands. We want to get young farmers onto this land before it’s lost to development.” The project, funded by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, builds on important efforts by New York FarmLink, Columbia Land Conservancy, Catskill FarmLink and Westchester Land Trust.

Officials Tour Long Island Farms Protecting Water Quality

Long Island Farm Tour Group PhotoCongressman Tim Bishop, United States Department of Agriculture and Environmental Protection Agency representatives, Suffolk County legislators and others visited Long Island farms on a Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County Agricultural Stewardship Program tour. Farms, like Lewin Farm, protect water quality by fertilizing corn with new controlled-release nitrogen fertilizer as part of the BMP Challenge program coordinated by American Farmland Trust and Agflex. “We are thrilled to help sweet corn growers use this new fertilizer that, less susceptible to runoff, will improve drinking water quality and Long Island Sound,” says David Haight. 

Agricultural Enterprise Areas Offer a “Win-Win” in Wisconsin

Red barn on Midwest farm at sunsetThe Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection is offering an opportunity for local communities to boost their farmland protection efforts. The Department is seeking petition submissions from communities across the state to be designated an “agricultural enterprise area.” Through this designation, the community can encourage continued agricultural production and investment in the farm economy, as well as open eligibility to farmers in the area to voluntarily protect their land. Explains Bob Wagner, Senior Policy and Program Advisor at American Farmland Trust, “Agricultural enterprise areas are a win-win for Wisconsin communities, supporting the state’s $59 billion agricultural economy and opening up valuable tools for farmers to preserve its underlying resource—the land.”  

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