Washington, DC, October 9, 2012 —Anthony Mecca, a 29-year-old New Yorker who operates Great Song Farm, is among a growing number of young people launching farming careers despite having grown up outside of agriculture. Yet Mecca may not have had the chance to live his dream if it weren’t for an innovative lease agreement and a farmer-landowner match program run by a local land trust.
“Despite a growing demand for land among beginning farmers, there are significant challenges in transitioning farms from one generation to the next, said American Farmland Trust (AFT) New York State Director David Haight.
A series of projects underway at AFT are designed to help farmers like Mecca by increasing access to farmland in New England and New York. Recent grants from the USDA’s Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program (SARE), Farm Credit National Contributions Program, and the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation have funded AFT projects to support the transition of farmland to the next generation of farmers and improve access to farmland.
AFT believes that local land trusts have a valuable role to play. AFT is working to build the capacity of local land trusts and to share innovative models gleaned from around the country. In Mecca’s case, Columbia Land Conservancy helped connect Mecca with Larry and Betty Steele, who own a 90-acre farm in Dutchess County, N.Y. Inspired by a creative lease pioneered by a Massachusetts farm where Mecca had worked, they came up with an arrangement whereby Mecca pays no monthly lease fee until the farm achieves a specified level in annual sales. Once lease payments begin, the Steeles’ will reserve half of each payment for improvements to the farm’s infrastructure. Great Song Farm is now in its second successful season.
“For new and established farmers alike, access to affordable farmland is a key barrier to entry and business expansion,” said AFT New England Director Cris Coffin. “We want to help farmers gain access to the land they need—and that’s going to take a number of different strategies.”
To address land access and farm transition in the Northeast, AFT is launching a “next generation” initiative with several components: a professional development program to train agricultural professionals in the Northeast about farm transfer and farmland access options; a research project focused on barriers facing beginning farmers; and a network of organizations working to link farm seekers with farmland owners in the Hudson Valley.
According to Haight, “We believe that these initiatives will help increase the number of farms that are successfully transferred to a new generation and increase the number of new and expanding farmers able to secure land.”
Farmland Advisors, a new training program for agricultural professionals will offer 80 participants across New York and New England progressive learning and networking opportunities, including webinars, a regional conference, and peer-to-peer exchanges about farmland and farm transfer issues. The two-year program will be led by AFT in partnership with Land for Good, an organization that helps provide farmland access, farm transfer planning, land planning, and farm use agreements.
American Farmland Trust also is conducting a national survey on policy innovations and overcoming barriers to entering agriculture, which will culminate in a summary report and expand technical assistance through AFT’s Farmland Information Center.
Finally, AFT is exploring the establishment of a Greater Hudson Valley Farmlink Network to connect people seeking to farm with available landowners. This network would consist of a web based linking program with supporting match facilitators at local land trusts and other organizations to connect farm seekers with farmland owners.
For more information about American Farmland Trust’s work in the area of farm transition in the Northeast, please contact David Haight (New York) or Cris Coffin (New England). For more information about national efforts, please contact Julia Freedgood at (202) 378-1205 or firstname.lastname@example.org.