Across the country, cities and suburbs continue to swell and push outward beyond the rural urban divide threatening small local farmers and food systems. Agricultural landholders are increasingly succumbing to offers from developers that far surpass the lease fees that they could obtain were they to continue to lease their lands to farmers. As a result, in certain counties and cities, what farmland remains is often priced beyond what most farmers can afford, or else it is offered for short-term lease periods. These leases often conclude abruptly with the sale of the land to a developer leaving the farmer left looking for a new plot of land on which to farm.
The tri-county region south of Puget Sound in Washington is one such area where significant urbanization pressures are posing challenges to those who wish to farm its lands. To tackle these challenges and help insure that local food and farming systems remain and flourish in the area, the South of the Sound Community Farm Land Trust based in Olympia Washington employs an innovative model of farmland preservation to insure that farmers have access to land at affordable lease rates.
By September 30, 2017, the USDA plans to increase investments across its New and Beginning Farmer and Rancher Program by $5.6 billion over two years. During this period, targeted outreach and technical assistance initiatives aim to increase participation in the program by 6.6 percent.
“We’ve got a big challenge in front of us—new farmers are hard to find,” said Lilia McFarland, USDA New and Beginning Farmer and Rancher Program coordinator.
With the embrace of aquaponics growing in tow with the urban agriculture sector, Santa Fe Community College in New Mexico wants to stay ahead of the curve and insure that its students are positioned to become the farmers of the future.
“The aquaponics industry is growing—10 years ago no one had heard of aquaponics and hydroponics—now people are excited,” says Adam Cohen, lead faculty member for the college’s greenhouse management program. “In the next five years, where do we go? We want to get information out to people and provide students with a way to go out and find jobs.”
Cohen says that aquaponics is a great agricultural technology to employ and teach in New Mexico as the state has a very arid climate and trenchant water resource challenges.
When Tessa Edick was a young girl, she spent visits to her grandmother’s dairy farm in upstate New York pining over a big city life in which she would have her own elegant law office and manicured, dirt-free fingernails.
“Honestly, we were broke, and it was just smelly and embarrassing,” she says. “I wanted glamor and success. But a funny thing called life happened.”
As she grew into an ambitious communications professional, Edick found an unlikely synergy between her early farm experiences and her love of boutique culture. Beginning with her own label of specialty jarred sauces–Sauces N’ Love—that ended up selling in 4,000 stores nationally within its first five years, Edick continued to carve out a niche for herself as a food product development pro. She created lines for Tom Colicchio, Todd English, and several major retail companies, and in 2010 established her own consulting and development company called Culinary Partnership that offers everything from co-packing to TV production services.
Landon Jefferies knew he wanted to pursue farming as a career, but the options in the city were limited.
So after spending a year working farmers’ markets for The Food Trust, a Philadelphia organization that works to ensure access to affordable, nutritious food and information, and three seasons as the manager of Wyck Home Farm, a Philadelphia historic home, garden and farm, he and partner Lindsey Shapiro set about launching Root Mass Farm in rural Berks County, Pennsylvania in the summer of 2011.
The DeHerrera family has worked the land of Longmont, Colorado for six generations. Utilizing just three acres of that farmland, niece Hannah DeHerrera and her husband Simon began Flipside Farm In 2013, growing fresh winter produce for area families.
So far this startup has met with numerous weather related challenges. By adapting their business model and making use of urban space, Flipside Farm just completed its second harvest, demonstrating that fresh vegetable production doesn’t have to stop because of snow and flood.
Determining what crops to offer has been a combination of experimentation with growing conditions and understanding the local market. A call to the farmer’s market informed DeHerrera that many of the traditional crops were already saturating the local market.
Getting through the first season as a new farmer can be daunting, but Perpetual Harvest owner Frazer Love faced the challenge with a commitment to organic growing.
As Love explains: “When we contribute positively to our community, our community sustains us as a naturally created cycle.”
Love took a chance when he left his job in October 2012 to become a micro farmer. A micro farm, according to Love, is an urban plot of land no bigger than 4 acres dedicated to producing fruits, vegetables, and, at times, poultry.
To start his farm, Love built twelve 16-square-foot raised beds on his home property in Athens, GA, and installed a custom irrigation system featuring a feeding barrel for compost tea and ball valves on each bed to control water flow.
This is the story of start-up farm that is actually a start-over.
For most of his life, David Lankford, along with his wife Sharon, ran a farm on Maryland’s Eastern Shore called Davon Crest II, which was particularly well known in the Washington D.C. and Baltimore areas for quality microgreens grown year-round in heated greenhouses.
When David decided to get out of the day-to-day farming business to work for a company that produces farming software, he offered the farm to his sister, Dixie Blades.