National and Regional Collaboration Builds Innovation in Land Access Programming
Communities, states, and regions across the United States share common challenges in access to farmland, and yet there is no one-size-fits-all approach to getting and keeping farmers on the land. American Farmland Trust (AFT) works at the national level to develop initiatives that can then be used and adapted by regional efforts, tailoring support to the nuances of local zoning laws and other challenges.
In one example of this collaboration and adaptation, the National Farms for a New Generation program and the Pacific Northwest Regional team worked together to adapt and deliver information to a cohort of land access professionals in Washington State.
Farms for a New Generation (FNG)
In 2015, through a Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP) grant, AFT’s national FNG program partnered with the nation’s leading experts in land access and transfer to develop “Farmland for the Next Generation,” a comprehensive 8-part land access training curriculum. This curriculum’s adaptable, skills-based approach focused on what people need to be able to do, not just on what they need to know, and addressed three paths to land access: leasing, purchasing, or receiving land through inheritance or gift.
This curriculum’s adaptable, skills-based approach focused on what people need to be able to do, not just on what they need to know…
The ‘Farmland for the Next Generation’ curriculum was used to train 25 experienced agricultural educators and service providers from across the country to serve as Certified Land Access Trainers (LAT), advising beginning farmers and ranchers on their land access decision-making. These LATs are part of a nationwide network to support beginning farmers and ranchers as they sort through the financial, legal, and technical challenges of gaining access to land.
Adaptation of training materials for the Pacific Northwest (PNW)
One important internal collaboration is with the Pacific Northwest regional office, where curriculum developed by the national initiative was adapted for the needs of the local communities.
In the Pacific Northwest, 32% of farmland is set to change hands in the next 15 years. In Washington state specifically, over 75% of farmers over the age of 65 lack a succession plan or identified heir. At the same time, the ranks of beginning farmers have steadily declined and access to affordable land is listed as the top barrier for new and beginning farmers. Recognizing these challenges, AFT’s PNW team developed a training that brought together 32 service providers for an eight-week course rooted in the following goals:
- To ensure a new generation of farmers and ranchers can secure land to support viable agricultural operations, and
- To foster an expanding network of skilled agricultural service providers who offer training and technical assistance to support land access for farmers and ranchers in the Pacific Northwest.
In response to conversations with land access partners in the region, the PNW adaptation shifted some of the course’s focus to a skills-based approach of how to provide the best support. In addition to the traditional topics of financial readiness, finding and assessing land, leasing and purchasing land, and non-traditional land access strategies, this inaugural cohort spent time exploring coaching skills, understanding power dynamics and systemic barriers to land access, and how to support immigrant and refugee farmers across language and cultural barriers.
In a post-course survey, participants noted that they were already making strategic changes to reach a broader audience, including practicing the coaching model, marketing directly to underserved producers, being intentional in communication efforts for those for whom English is not a first language, exploring website user experience and readability, and more.
Lending personal experience to this training was the PNW Regional Director, Addie Candib, who shared her personal struggles with land tenure in this blog for AFT.
“I now understand there was a lot we could have done to prevent the heartbreak that ensued (a written lease agreement would have been a great start, for instance). But if not for my lived experience of unstable and insecure land tenure, I might not be where I am today.”
Although the 8-week training has ended, the community built within this project will continue. Feedback from participants showed a desire for continued opportunities to share successes and failures, and to troubleshoot challenging areas together. Said one participant, “One of the greatest realizations for me was the number of folks out there that are working towards a similar vision of the future. We are not working in isolation and together we can succeed.”
In 2020, AFT’s national FNG program was awarded a second BFRDP grant, “Transitioning Land to a New Generation.” This award allowed AFT to create another skills-based curriculum to support agricultural service providers who are working with a new generation of producers and landowners. AFT is currently underway training a cohort of fifty Land Transfer Trainers (LTT); these trainers will share lessons learned through the new curriculum with farmers, ranchers, and landowners in their communities.
After their successful initial collaboration, the national FNG initiative and the regional PNW team are continuing to explore ways to collaborate on strengthening and delivering information to practitioners who support a new generation of farmers and ranchers across the United States.
For more information on Farms for a New Generation national projects, contact [email@example.com]. For more information on projects in the Pacific Northwest, contact Chantel Welch, PNW Project Manager [firstname.lastname@example.org].
“This blog post was written in collaboration with Suzanna Denison.”