Thirty-two percent of Pacific Northwest farmland is set to change hands in the next 15 years. In Washington state specifically, over 75 percent of farmers over 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. 

Farmland for the Next Generation Training Program

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.”