July E-News: Conservation Programs at Risk in Farm Bill and Farmers Markets Threatened by Development

Pennsylvania farm coutour strips of grain corn and alfalfa
Welcome to the July issue of E-news. Click here to view a version of E-news on the web

Conservation Challenges Ahead in Farm Bill

farmer kneeling in fieldThe House and Senate have voted on Farm Bill legislation, moving their individual and very different bills forward. The next phase over the coming weeks will be critical for conservation. Important decisions will be negotiated to create a conference report, or a final bill to be approved by the House and Senate for the President’s signature. “All bets are off, and conservation programs have some real challenges going forward as horse trading begins to create a final bill,” says Jeremy Peters, American Farmland Trust’s Director of Federal Policy. “Now more than ever, Congress needs to hear how important conservation programs are for protecting vital farmland into the future, for improving soil health and water quality, and for keeping farmers productive and on the land.”

Visit the American Farmland Trust Action Center today to send a letter to your Senators and Representatives telling them how important farmland conservation is to you and your community both now and in the future!

Development Threatens Family Farms and Farmers Market

I Love My Farmers Market ButtonSummer is in full swing, and so are farmers markets across the nation—but many of these markets may be in danger of disappearing. American Farmland Trust’s I Love My Farmers Market Celebration draws attention to a stark reality that once farmland is paved over, it is lost forever. Moreover, the farmland closest to urban centers is at the highest risk of being bulldozed. The new “I Love My Farmers Market” infographic can help local food consumers go beyond their appreciation for fresh local food and see the bigger picture of how keeping farmers on the land benefits us all. “Shopping at farmers markets allows all of us to make a real difference,” explains Randii MacNear, farmers market manager for the Davis Farmers Market in Davis, California. “How often do we have a chance to make an impact on how the world works? The I Love My Farmers Market Celebration highlights the important role that farmers markets play to keep family farmers on the land.” View the infographic and pledge to support your market at www.lovemyfarmersmarket.org.


Register Now for the California Farmland Protection Conference on August 2

California vineyard at duskFor the first time in at least three decades, land use planners, government officials, nonprofit leaders, and farmers from around California will gather at a statewide conference focused on preserving the state’s remaining farmland. Registration for the conference is filling up fast. If you are involved with local land use planning, agriculture, policy or water issues in California, purchase your tickets to this “can't miss” event today. Notable presenters, include: Hon. Karen Ross, California Secretary of Food & Agriculture; Paul Wenger, President, California Farm Bureau Federation; Hon. Lois Wolk, California Senate 3rd District; and Hon. Susan Talamantes Eggman, Chair, California Assembly Agriculture Committee.

California Farmland Protection: Reality or Wishful Thinking? is sponsored by American Farmland Trust and the Napa County Farm Bureau. The event will take place on August 2, 2013 in Napa California. Download the conference program for more information about the speakers and topics that will be presented at the conference. 

"Like" American Farmland Trust, California on Facebook and Enter to Win $50 to Your Favorite Farmers Market

Like American Farmland Trust on FacebookJoin American Farmland Trust’s California office on Facebook during the month of July and be entered into a drawing to win a $50 coupon to your favorite farmers market! Everyone who “Likes” the American Farmland Trust, California Facebook page from now until midnight on July 31, 2013 will be eligible to receive the prize. The random drawing will take place on August 1, 2013 and the winner will be notified via Facebook message. The full rules and regulations for participation can be viewed here. "We are trying to develop our Facebook page into the 'go to' source of the latest news about farmland conservation in California,” explains Edward Thompson, Jr., California Director for American Farmland Trust. “We would like to hear what people would like to see on our page and, of course, invite everyone to visit it regularly." Make sure to tell your friends, family and neighbors who care about the future of California agriculture to join the conversation. 

Stewardship Index for Specialty Crops Seeks Public Comment

Stewardship Index for Specialty CropsThe Stewardship Index for Specialty Crops (SISC) is seeking public comment on five proposed conservation metrics for specialty crop producers. The purpose of the metrics—which have been developed and tested through an innovative process involving growers, buyers and public interest groups in California—is to achieve consensus for how to measure specialty crop performance throughout the supply chain. "The proposed metrics should make it easier for producers to demonstrate the sustainability of their practices to buyers in the supply chain and ultimately to consumers who are growing more interested in this all the time," says Edward Thomspon, Jr., AFT’s California Director. Visit farmland.org/california for more on the metrics available for comment and information on how to submit comments. 

Let Chesapeake Bay Officials Know You Support Farmland Protection

Maryland farm along the water in the fallRepresentatives from Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia and the District of Columbia just released an abridged version of a new Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement—the fourth since 1983 and newest since 2000—outlining goals to protect and restore the Bay. The voluntary agreement helps set the course for how states work to meet the regulations for Total Daily Maximum Load (TMDL) set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. This latest version presents an opportunity to bring farmland protection into the discussion. “The TMDL only deals with water quality and neglects land conservation,” explains Jim Baird, Mid-Atlantic Director for American Farmland Trust. “It may even create unintended incentives to build on farmland. We need to be sure that doesn’t happen.” Baird adds that the agreement could establish more common ground. For the first time, Governors from all states in the watershed would be signatories with the addition of New York, West Virginia and Delaware, sending the message that all states in the watershed can be part of the solution. Give your input from now until August 15

Buy Local Challenge Celebrates Maryland Farmers and Food

Mother and son shopping at a farmers marketGovernor O’Malley put out the challenge to all Marylanders to eat something that is grown, produced or harvested from a Maryland farm each day during the week of July 20 to 28. The request is part of the annual Buy Local Challenge, an initiative started by the Southern Maryland Agricultural Development Commission with the goal of highlighting the benefits of buying local to the state’s economy and environment. “The Buy Local Challenge is a great way to connect consumers with family farmers throughout Maryland,” says Jim Baird, Mid-Atlantic Director for American Farmland Trust. Although started in Maryland, all states are invited to participate with the hope of building a unified, nationwide effort that would demonstrate the need to support local farms. So far more than 5,000 people have signed up. Surely there are more people participating. Are you?

Women Farmland Owners Share and Learn About Conservation at Illinois Learning Circle

Women Landowners Learning Circle in Cole County, IllinoisThe future of farmland in Illinois was the center of a June 26 women-only learning circle for female landowners in Mattoon, Illinois. Hosted by American Farmland Trust, Prairie Rivers and the Women, Food and Agriculture Network, the meeting brought Illinois women landowners together with women from local partner organizationsthe farm bureaus and the Soil and Water Conservation Districts in Coles and Douglas counties—to discuss conservation practices on their farmland. The women discussed the need to improve soil health, address invasive species and pass a new Farm Bill. When confronted with the application process for federal conservation programs, one participant remarked, “I feel like there is some kind of secret society I don’t belong to with an alphabet soup of acronyms.” An afternoon tour included stops to see wetland restoration, native grass buffers along ditches, hedge rows, cover crops, grass waterways, and stabilization structures. With four inches of rain the night before, it was easy to see that the conservation practices had helped protect the soil and prevent erosion. Learn more about AFT’s work to empower women landowners.

New Hampshire Re-Dedicates Funding for Farmland Conservation

New Hampshire farm field with hay balesAfter several years of being diverted, all proceeds from New Hampshire’s deed recording fee—an estimated $8.45 million over the next two years—will be dedicated to the state’s Land and Community Heritage Investment Program (LCHIP), thanks to strong support from legislators of both parties and from Governor Maggie Hassan. Because of LCHIP, towns and land trusts around the state, working with farmers and landowners, have permanently protected 263,000 acres of land for forestry, farming, recreation, watershed protection and habitat. This marks a significant increase from the $1.8 million that was provided in the last two-year state budget. Cris Coffin, New England Director, is thrilled with this news and thanks AFT members in New Hampshire who weighed in with their legislators during the state budget process. “New Hampshire has lost nearly one-fifth of its farmland in just the last 30 years,” Coffin noted. “With this action, the state will again be an important and reliable partner in farmland protection efforts, able to increase the state’s pace of farmland protection.” The next LCHIP grant round opens on July 22.   

Massachusetts Lawmakers Consider Environmental Bond Bill

Purple cabbageAmerican Farmland Trust and its allies in the Commonwealth Conservation Coalition are urging Massachusetts lawmakers to authorize $13 million annually for the Agricultural Preservation Restriction (APR) Program over the next five years. This action would maintain funding for other vital agriculture programs in the next state Environmental Bond, including programs aimed at improving farm profitability, promoting environmental stewardship, and expanding institutional procurement of Massachusetts-grown food. Cris Coffin, AFT’s New England Director, notes that the version of the bill introduced by Governor Patrick's Administration has reduced funding for the APR Program over the past three years. Coffin encourages farm and food advocates to weigh in with both legislators and with the Governor’s office. “There’s a current backlog of more than 60 APR projects—projects involving landowners who want to protect their land but may not be in a position to wait several years until funding becomes available.”        

New England Project Highlights Programs and Policies to Promote Farmland Access

Young farmer in fieldFinding affordable land to lease or to buy is one of the major challenges facing the next generation of farmers in New England. Two new reports produced by the Land Access Project—a regional project in which American Farmland Trust participated—offer recommendations on ways that states, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, farm and conservation organizations, land trusts, and private investors can help to improve access to land for new and beginning farmers. The Farmland Access and Tenure Innovations report focuses on strategies to encourage public and private landowners to sell or lease their land to beginning farmers. The second report, Does the Option at Agricultural Value Protect Farmland for Beginning Farmers, analyzes a legal requirement—used by both the Massachusetts and Vermont farmland protection programs, as well as some land trusts—that farmland under conservation easement be sold at its agricultural value rather than market value. This would ensure the affordability of protected land for farmers, particularly beginning farmers.  

American Farmland Trust’s New President Andrew McElwaine Coming to New York

American Farmland Trust President Andrew McElwaineAmerican Farmland Trust is pleased to announce that our new president, Andrew McElwaine, will be speaking at the Harvesting Opportunities in New York conference in downtown Albany on November 20. McElwaine succeeds Jon Scholl and brings more than 30 years experience in land and water conservation to his new role at AFT. “My plan is to keep the mission of American Farmland Trust moving forward,” said McElwaine. “Farmers have incredible demands placed on them in the face of a growing population that will require more and more food, fiber and fuel. We're going to need plentiful, well-tended farm and ranch land to meet this increased demand.”

Farm Aid Coming to Saratoga Springs, New York

Willie Nelson and Washington County, New York farmersWillie Nelson, Neil Young, John Mellencamp, and Dave Matthews are known for headlining Farm Aid, a concert to raise money to help family farmers. This year, Farm Aid is coming to the hometown of American Farmland Trust’s New York State Office—Saratoga Springs. “This region has strong agricultural roots and offers fertile ground for new farmers and sustainable agriculture," said Farm Aid President Willie Nelson. "On the Farm Aid stage we'll celebrate the hard work of family farmers and support their efforts to grow strong and healthy communities for all of us.” The Farm Aid concert will be held on September 21 at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center. American Farmland Trust will have an exhibit in the HOMEGROWN Village and will join farmers and farm advocates in the Farm Yard to talk with concert goers and the media about saving farmland from being paved over by shopping malls and subdivisions. 

Tell New York State to Buy Local

Cafeteria staff making a local food lunchThanks to your support, the Food Metrics Act S. 4061/A. 5102 unanimously passed the New York State Assembly on June 20. The Food Metrics Act would require New York State agencies to provide greater transparency about state food purchasing by reporting agency food purchasing practices and encourage state institutions to buy more food produced in New York.

The bill, which passed the Senate on June 12, will soon move onto the Governor’s desk for his signature. “We hope Governor Cuomo will sign this legislation and use the state’s purchasing power to support local farms and feed local food to more New Yorkers,” says David Haight, American Farmland Trust's New York State Director. Act now and urge Governor Cuomo to help New York State support its farmers by signing the Food Metrics Act into law.

Victory for Farmland Protection in Washington State Budget

Rolling farmland in Washington's Palouse regionThe Washington State Legislature finally passed a budget for the 2013-15 biennium and it includes $5.3 million for farmland protection, a substantial increase from the $700,000 approved in 2011. The funding will be used to purchase conservation easements on 14 farms totaling more than 6,000 acres around Washington State. American Farmland Trust led a coalition of farmers, farm organizations, and environmentalists to support the appropriation. "This is the first big success of our Farmland Forever campaign," said Dennis Canty, Pacific Northwest Director for AFT. "We're very proud to have played our part in a substantial increase in funding for farms and farmers." American Farmland Trust's Farmland Forever campaign aims to protect 70,000 additional acres of Puget Sound region farmland in large lot exclusive agricultural zoning in the next five years.

Technical Assistance on Farmland Planning and Zoning in the Puget Sound

Farmland on waterRecently, American Farmland Trust kicked off our program to help cities and counties in Washington’s Puget Sound enact land use plans and zoning to protect farmland. We anticipate providing workshops, publications, and one-on-one assistance to planners and public officials beginning this summer. The effort follows on the very successful conference hosted by AFT in April on this topic. Robin Fay and Joe Basile are leading the project in the Pacific Northwest office.

Farmland Protection Fares Well in Wisconsin Budget

Red barn and corn fields in WisconsinDespite the fact that the state’s Purchase of Agricultural Conservation Easement Program remains unfunded, farmland protection measures did relatively well in the recently completed Wisconsin budget.  Funding was restored for county land conservation departments, a critical link in local farmland protection and conservation efforts; Governor Walker vetoed an effort to transform the state’s farmland preservation tax credit into a grants program, while also fully funding the current tax credit program; and, funds for county farmland preservation planning grants were restored. 

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