A New Future for Singing Hills Dairy and the Lor Farm - American Farmland Trust

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April 12th, 2024

A New Future for Singing Hills Dairy and the Lor Farm

For 26 years, Minnesota goat farmer Lynne Reeck stewarded the land—and countless herds of goats—at her Singing Hills Dairy in Nerstrand, Minnesota. She produced hand-crafted goat milk cheeses on a landscape with rolling hills and 400-year-old oak trees, prairie grassland, a flowing creek, and a rich diversity of wildlife.

An aerial view of Singing Hills Dairy, located 45 minutes south of the Twin Cities in Minnesota.

As Lynne approached retirement, she wanted to see her farmland transition to farmers who would take care of the land and grow food for the community, rather than sell the land for development. The property’s picturesque setting near Big Woods State Park and major metropolitan areas made it attractive to developers.

“I laid awake many a night trying to figure out what was going to happen,” Lynne said.

Fortunately, one of American Farmland Trust’s land protection initiatives was able to help bridge the gap: the Buy-Protect-Sellplus (BPSplus) program. The program acquires vulnerable farms, protects them from development, and then makes them available for the next generation to farm using regenerative practices. The effort to protect Singing Hills Dairy marks the first completed Buy-Protect-Sell project since AFT launched the program in 2021.

Near Singing Hills Dairy, the Lor family were selling fresh fruits and vegetables at local farmers markets in the St. Paul/Minneapolis area, growing strawberries, asparagus, bell peppers, onions, and other produce on land they rented.

Before settling in Minnesota years ago, Kue Lor and Bao Xiong emigrated from their native Laos to Thailand before arriving in the United States, where the couple began renting land to farm. “At first, we farmed to feed our family, and then starting in 2000 we started selling at the farmers market,” Kue said.

Kue Lor and Bao Xiong. Photo by Shawn Linehan Photography.
Kue Lor and Bao Xiong. Photo by Shawn Linehan.

For 20 years, the Lors farmed on rented land, cobbling together an operation on multiple properties. It could take them up to an hour to travel between their two rented parcels, depending on traffic. Neither property was close to where they lived. During the growing season, the Lors worked late into the night and sometimes camped next to their fields to save time between harvesting and driving to the farmers markets.

Renting farmland was a constant source of stress for the family. Land was sold out from under them countless times, causing them to lose thousands of dollars in potential profit.

“We had a case where we were kicked out of our farmland, and we lost about 30,000 asparagus and strawberry plants, which is a lot of money to go to waste,” Bao said. Like many farmers who grow on rented land, they worried each year about whether their leases would be renewed and were hesitant to make improvements on the property for fear of losing access to the land.

The Lors were exactly the kind of farmers that Lynne wanted to see take over her farm, but given the desirability of the land, the price was prohibitive. This is a common problem. As development pressure increases, valuable farmland near urban markets becomes ever more expensive. “It had always been a dream of mine to own a piece of land, but because of finances, I couldn’t do it myself,” Kue said.

American Farmland Trust purchased Singing Hills, protecting the farmland with an agricultural conservation easement requiring healthy farm practices, and then sold the farm to the Lors. The easement prevents nonagricultural development and other uses that threaten the future of farming. The easement reduced the valuation of the property, making it more affordable for the Lors.

The Lors converted goat pasture into fields of vegetables to sell at local farmers markets. Photo by Shawn Linehan.

“We are incredibly proud to have completed the transfer to the Lors, it marks a milestone for AFT as our first BPSplus project. Looking to the future, we hope to use this tool to connect more farmers with land access opportunities across the country. The work that we’ve done with Lynne and the Lors will ensure that this land is productive and available for future generations of farmers,” says Ben Kurtzman, director of American Farmland Trust’s Land Protection program.

American Farmland Trust was supported in this effort by local partners, including Renewing the Countryside, a regional land access group that connected American Farmland Trust to the Lors. Renewing the Countryside and other community members rallied and helped the Lors raise additional funds to purchase the farm.

“This piece of land, it just doesn’t belong to us but to the whole community. The fresh produce will be grown for all,” Bao said.

The Lor Family Farm. Photo by Shawn Linehan.

For more information or to learn about options for working with American Farmland Trust to protect your farm or ranch, contact Alison Volk, AFT’s deputy land protection projects director and national BPSplus manager, at avolk@farmland.org or visit our Farmland Information Center.