New England Nonprofit Tackles America’s Farmland Access Challenge
December 31, 2013 | Trish Popovitch
By targeting three aspects of farm ownership, the folks at New England’s nonprofit Land for Good help existing farmers with the succession of their property, new farmers with land acquisition and property owners with finding farmers to work their arable land.
This threefold operation, which began in 2001, has successfully helped hundreds of New Englanders become farmers and saved farms from going out of business.
“We started as a nonprofit in 2001,” explains Kathy Ruhf, Executive Director of Land for Good. “In 2004, we started trying to address the problems of farm succession and then we started working on the other side of the coin which is the farm seekers understanding that a lot of farmers don’t have successors and that farms, if they’re not transferred successfully to another generation or owner, are going to go out of business. Then we added on people that own land but don’t farm it, land owners that might want to make their land available.”
Land for Good takes a collaborative and multifaceted approach to land ownership and farming policies in the New England area. By facilitating land access workshops across the region, the organization brings together stakeholders to help in the creation of local land databases. The groups also educates folks on issues that affect today’s farmers by providing farming-related information and online learning opportunities via their website. Land for Good offers individual consultations for all farmers, both new and experienced, all with the goal of preserving America’s farmland.
“We educate them and provide individual support for their farm acquisition and that has as much to do with making sure they understand and aware of all their various options, creating a farm search plan, understanding financing, understanding leases,” explains Ruhf. “Sometimes we’ll facilitate transactions between farmers and landlords. We do a lot on leasing, educating about leases, looking over leases and helping people get lease agreements into place.”
By working with land owners and local municipalities, the organization is helping towns shape zoning policies, build databases and reach out to land owners who may consider leasing land to new farmers.
While Land for Good provides New England farmers with the data necessary to make informed decisions about land purchase or lease, the group emphasizes that a sound business plan and realistic aims are essential for farming to succeed. The idea that purchasing a farm is the first step to becoming a farmer is a mistake, according to Ruhf.
“Farm ownership is a great vision for many farmers but it’s not the only strategy and it may not be the best strategy to start out,” shares Ruhf. “I would say the best advice I could give for farmers is to learn that there are options and to be ready in terms of understanding their financial readiness, understanding their choices, doing their homework, being really clear about what their goals are and not to buy a piece of property until they are absolutely sure about the kind of farming and the location of the farming and the scale of the farming that they want to do,” says Ruhf.
A large portion of Land for Good’s research, consultation, advice and facilitation is offered to farmers free of charge. The organization relies on private donations and grants to fund its work. For those that require ongoing assistance, Land for Good charges a small fee. This is determined on a sliding scale to ensure as many folks as possible access to the professional assistance provided by the organization.
“We have a lot of resources and take this comprehensive approach. It’s not just working with farm seekers but it’s also working with land owners, both farm and non-farming. It takes a community to solve the land access problem and we need innovative as well as traditional solutions these days,” says Ruhf.