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Collaboration around land access in CT gains momentum.

“Access to quality farmland is an important topic in Connecticut, where land is costly and large acreage can be difficult to come by.” That’s how a recent Lancaster Farming News story, Getting Farmland in Conn. Requires Flexibility, summed up the land access situation in Connecticut. Access to farmland is even more important since the state experienced a significant increase in farmers and in the amount of land in farming according to the recently released Census of Agriculture (USDA 2012). Connecticut led all New England states with a 22 percent increase in the number of farms created since 2007, while land in farms increased by 8 percent. See The Courant, Let It Grow: Connecticut Leads Farm Growth in New England.

Hopefully, this positive trend will continue with the help of efforts around land access that have gained new momentum. LFG has been active in CT for some time, but over the past year we have been part of a strong working partnership of groups leading the charge around land access. This ad hoc Farmland Access Working Group has been meeting regularly for over a year. Among other things, the group is looking to optimize the state’s farm link program, and to provide education and services to farm seekers, farmers and landowners. Led by the Working Lands Alliance, the Farmland Access Working Group also includes American Farmland Trust, CT Farmland Trust, CT Farm Bureau, UConn Extension, CT NOFA, the New CT Farmer Alliance, and Land For Good.

Last fall the Working Group organized a statewide Farmland Access and Affordability Forum to increase dialogue and introduce strategies from other states. Over fifty stakeholders – from farmers to lenders to agency policymakers – discussed how to make farmland more accessible and affordable in a state that has one of the highest farmland costs in the country. The forum showcased successful models from New England and beyond that showed what might be possible, and necessary, in Connecticut. Innovative methods were drawn from the affordable housing world, other states’ purchase of development rights programs, tax incentives for land leasing, and inventories of public farmland, for example. Our Kathy Ruhf moderated a panel on affordability and its many dimensions.

As in other New England states, LFG is also participating in discussions and providing support to farmers and service providers through events hosted by state programs, networks and events. Accessing farmland was a featured topic at the Getting Started in Organic Farming Conference sponsored by NOFA-CT. Kathy and Kip Kolesinskas of American Farmland Trust led a session for an audience of new farmers from teens to folks in their 70’s. Kathy stressed that farmers need to be informed – knowing the options, and recognizing that a farmer’s land tenure situation can change over time. “A beginning farmer without land debt is more likely to succeed,” Kathy explains. “One third of CT farmers rent some or all the land they farm.” Read more in Getting Farmland in Conn. Requires Flexibility.

Jim Hafner, Deputy Director of Land For Good, was on the land access roundtable at February’s Build Your Network, Grow Our Future meeting. This event, similar to those in other New England states, was designed for new and beginning farmers to connect with service providers critical to their success. Read more in Growing Magazine, Young Farmers are Building a Network to Grow Connecticut’s Future.

Susan Mitchell of the New CT Farmer Alliance (Cloverleigh Farm, Colchester, CT) says, “LFG is the lead organization in New England dealing with any and all issues pertaining to farmland access, tenure and transfer.” LFG has been privileged to be at the table providing resources and expertise in Connecticut.  We look forward to working together to gain more ground for farmers, farmland and food systems.

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