American Farmland Trust Awards $132,000 in Grants to New England Farmers
Northampton, MA –Today, American Farmland Trust’s New England Farmer Microgrants Program (NEFMP) awarded its second round of grants to support New England farmers. The program seeks to address some of the key barriers faced by farmers in the region: access to land, resources to expand production on new or existing land, and succession and land transfer planning. This year’s awardees include 28 farmers from across the region, with a total of $132,000 awarded.
NEFMP was founded with the support of two long–time AFT members in the region. In 2020, it provided $181,000 to 41 farmers. The timing of its launch was instrumental in supporting New England farmers newly facing market disruptions brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2021, the program trialed a new nomination process, utilizing the rich network of agricultural service providers around the region to recommend eligible farmers for the more limited number of grants —with a goal of awarding at least 50% of the funds to Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) farmers across the six New England states.
While racial diversity is increasing overall in New England, with the non-white farming population having increased 50% since 2002, only 6% of farms are operated by non-white farmers (USDA Census of Agriculture, 2017). NEFMP is committed to supporting limited resource and historically marginalized agricultural producers, with BIPOC farmers representing nearly two-thirds of this year’s awardees.
“While funds were more limited in our second year of the program, we were committed funding a highly diverse range of eligible farmers and farm operations across New England who would be able to benefit immediately from these funds to enhance their productivity or their access to farmland,” said Jamie Pottern, American Farmland Trust’s New England Program Manager, “Small grants like this that cover farm equipment, infrastructure, and costs associated with getting onto land or transitioning farmland are pretty rare. And farmers’ time is precious. We tried to keep the process simple and focus on providing as much financial support as we could directly to the farmers.”
One of this year’s awardees, Teodulio (“Teo”) Martinez del Rosario of Martinez Farm, moved to Rhode Island from the Dominican Republic in 2014. Martinez comes from a long line of agricultural producers and continues that legacy in Providence by specializing in fresh beans, local honey, and other vegetables native to his home country. Farmland values in New England have continued to be the highest in the country, posing significant land access barriers for farmers, especially for new and beginning farmers and New American farmers. According to USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (2020), Rhode Island has the most expensive farm real estate values in the country at an average of $16,000 per acre. Martinez del Rosario has been supported with secure access to land for the last 3 seasons by renting 2 acres of land at Urban Edge Farm (UEF), a 50-acre state-owned property in Cranston managed by the Southside Community Land Trust (SCLT), that provides land access to primarily immigrant and refugee farmers starting small farm businesses. Martinez del Rosario will use the NEFMP funds to purchase a BCS tractor to assist with prepping and maintaining his fields.
“We do well at markets but often lack time to prepare the soil and cultivate all our land effectively, while also juggling health appointments and the work of going to multiple markets, delivering for wholesale accounts, etc… Therefore, an obstacle to having a more successful business is better equipment that will allow us to efficiently prepare land for planting.” Teo Martinez del Rosario, Martinez Farm.
In the face of centuries of land dispossession, Indigenous communities have continued to fight for land and food sovereignty. Ashawaug Farm, a 2021 NEFMP awardee, is a project of the Narragansett Food Sovereignty Initiative and the Northeast Indigenous Arts Alliance, and will also be using their funds to offset the cost of necessary equipment. The farm, located in Ashaway, Rhode Island, will function as an “agriculture and arts space that will include a range of community activities around all aspects of agriculture, seasonal foraging, and garden practices with a cultural lens,” said Dawn Spears, Farmer and Director of The Northeast Indigenous Arts Alliance.
“As a Native run farm, we will be establishing ourselves as the first such agricultural enterprise in our area. Our vision encompasses a small-scale commercial heritage farm specializing in heirloom, culturally relevant and indigenous varieties…We see this space as a means to address food justice and food security by providing a space to grow, teach and share, a place to harvest and an outdoor classroom to engage with our community on the importance of farming while in a safe environment. A BCS Model 750 [tractor], will [help us] support and maintain soil health while also allowing us to increase our production.”
Another challenge for New England agriculture is an aging farmer population, many without a plan for transitioning the farm to the next generation. According to a 2016 report by AFT and Land for Good, 92% of New England’s senior farmers did not have a farm operator under the age of 45 working with them. This is further supported by the 2017 Census of Agriculture, which found that 61% of farmers in New England were over the age of 55 (with nearly a third of all producers over age 65), and at least 40% of New England’s farmland—at least 1.26 million acres—reported no succession or estate planning of any kind. As New England’s aging farmer population continues to grow, many struggle find the time and resources to plan for the future of their land.
Jan Goranson and her husband Rob of Goranson Farm in Dresden, Maine have been farming for decades. They will be using the funds to create a succession plan to shift ownership of the farm to their sons. Their grant award will go towards a team of key legal, financial, and estate planning advisors to support the process.
“Our family has been on this farm and land for 60 years, spanning into the third generation. We have evolved from a commercial potato farm to an organic, diversified strawberry, flower, and vegetable farm. Our sons have worked with us since childhood and left the farm to study agriculture and ecology in college. They brought back education, experience, and a desire to continue producing food with sustainable practices on our land…We are prime to move in a direction of sharing the responsibilities and the income of the business our sons have helped create. We want them to envision a future for this invaluable resource we love so dearly. This grant will energize us to move in this direction” Jan Goranson of Goranson Farm.
Other 2021 awardees include: Clemmons Family Farm in Vermont, Park City Harvest in Connecticut, Robinson Farm in Massachusetts, and Scruton’s Dairy in New Hampshire, among many others. Projects will take place over the course of the 2021 season. To learn more about the New England Farmer Microgrants Program, and read about the 2020 and 2021 awardees, visit www.farmland.org/new-england-farmer-microgrants-program or contact Jamie Pottern at firstname.lastname@example.org
For more information about supporting the New England Farmer Microgrants Program please contact Willa Antczak, Associate Director of Development-New England email@example.com.