New Farmer Residency Program Seeks to Address Land Access Challenge
November 18, 2013 | Missy Smith
Access to land is one of the most formidable obstacles facing young people who want to start a farm, according to a 2012 study by the National Young Farmer’s Coalition. The study notes that the price of farmland doubled between 2000 and 2010 in the United States.
A nonprofit organization in Bellaire, Michigan, the Institute for Sustainable Living, Art & Natural Design, or ISLAND, is working to address this problem with a new farmer residency program that will launch in spring 2014. The program operates in partnership with the Grand Traverse Land Conservancy, a local land trust that owns the 11-acre property the residents will farm.
Founders Brad and Amanda Kik hope the program will provide a pathway for linking prospective farmers with farmland.
“The thing we’ve been hearing over and over again is that the biggest barrier to farming is access to land,” explains Amanda Kik. “It used to be that people would inherit family farms, but that is no longer happening. This is an attempt to address that.”
Program tuition for the farmer residency program will cost $800 per year, and will include land lease, baseline soil amendments, equipment and infrastructure access, technical and business consulting, and access to the organization’s workshop programming. While the residency program will offer learning experiences, Kik explains that it is not designed to be a training program.
“The idea is that the people who would apply already know what they are doing; they will have gone through education programs for farming,” says Kik. “They will be ready to manage a farm, but do not have access to land on which to get their business started.”
Program candidates apply online and are asked to demonstrate an understanding of farming and a basic business plan. Three farmers will be chosen in the first year to start a farming business. Up to one acre will be made available to each farmer-resident for three years.
“After their time is up, maybe some farmers will decide this is not for them—sort of testing the waters before investing—and hopefully for others, their businesses will get off the ground,” says Kik. “They will be able to show banks and the USDA that they have three years of farming experience. Lenders like to see that.”
During the planning, organization and promoting stages of the farmer residency program, ISLAND has received strong support from the local community.
“The feedback has been really fantastic,” Kik says. “People are really excited to see this happening in the Michigan area.”
The partnership between ISLAND and the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy strategically addresses the root causes of farmland shortage and prospective farmers’ access to farmland.
“One of the best ways to preserve land is to keep it with farmers,” explains Kik. “We can keep that land in farmers’ hands and conserve land. Farming is a big part of conservation.”