Access to land is one of the biggest challenges for beginning farmers in New England. The Land Access Project, Phase II (LAP 2) brings together over 40 collaborating organizations, agencies, and individual experts. Along with direct technical assistance and education of farmers, the project is structured in part around task forces and technical teams of service providers and other stakeholders. It’s exciting to note that the Tenure Innovations Task Force is the largest at 24 members strong, and divided into 6 subcommittees focused on cutting-edge land tenure topics. Here’s a summary of task force outputs, progress, and plans:
The Succession & Transfer Assistance Task Force will hold a 2-day training for attorneys and non-lawyer service providers on farm business succession planning next spring, 2017. Over the next 6 months the training planning committee will develop the curriculum, associated materials and reach out to potential attendees. Stay tuned!
A new Farm Transfer Network of New England website is in the works. The revamped site will continue to list service providers offering farm succession-related planning services in New England, along with resources for transitioning farm families.
A Farm Succession School is planned for three locations this year. These 3-day sessions are designed for senior farmers and farm couples looking toward retirement and farm transition and will be held over the winter months in Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont. Jon Jaffe, Farm Business Consultant at Farm Credit East, and Kathy Ruhf, Senior Program Director at Land For Good and manager of the Land Access Project, will lead these sessions with the assistance of attorneys Paul Dillon (ME), Beth Boepple (NH), and Annette Higby (VT).
The Listing & Linking Task Force is also making significant progress in developing a more robust regional network of farm link programs.What do over 800 farm seekers and landowners have in common? They are all subscribed to New England Farmland Finder, the consortium’s regional listing and linking site that currently has over 130 farm properties listed. Many more use Connecticut Farm Link, Maine Farm Link, New Entry Matching Service (serving parts of Massachusetts), and Vermont Land Link to find properties and farmers – and to connect with resources. This task force is improving how farm link services in New England are working—and working together. Members conducted a user survey of farm link programs, interviewed successful linking programs elsewhere, and strengthened the farm link collaboration. Next steps include improved cross-website posting of farm properties, upgrades to New England Farmland Finder, enhanced coordination of land access services and an ambitious “co-branded” outreach strategy.
Farm link websites are parts of farm link programs that offer various wrap-around services to help farmers and landowners forge sustainable farming arrangements. There’s tremendous interest and engagement in these programs. But with what results? How can the farm link websites and programs be improved? The farm link user survey is designed to document the benefits, outcomes and impacts – and will shape directions for strengthening farm link services across the region. Each state program has reached out to its clientele, asking about results from accessing web-based lists and other land linking services. Results from each state survey are currently being compiled and a regional picture of farm link program use, limits and potential is starting to take shape.
Improvements to “farm link” websites and services are already in the works. During the next six months, the Task Force will make the region’s farm link websites easier to find, use, and navigate for farm seekers and landowners. The Task Force will clarify what services are available, and communicate this to farm seekers and landowners online and through more informed referrals. The Task Force will make technical improvements to New England Farmland Finder that provide farm seekers and landowners more efficient access to the information they need. For example, the website might introduce profiles of farm seekers to make it easier for landowners to find farm seekers. Another new feature might be a way for farm seekers to use New England Farmland Finder as a gateway to access appropriate support from programs in each of the six New England states. There is no shortage of ideas for improvements; the Task Force’s job will be to investigate and decide from a web design perspective which features are highest priority and most practical to implement.
The Tenure Innovations Task Force is the largest task force, which has broken into six subgroups. The Farmer Housing, Urban Land Access, Shared Ownership, Paths to Ownership and Conservation sub-committees researched specific issues and techniques identified by the groups—for example, applying shared equity models in urban settings, advancements in ground leases and cooperative farm tenure. This research will inform the committees’ analyses of these issues as they zero in on programs, techniques and recommendations to be applied in New England.
The Housing sub-committee will hold a convening on October 19th in Greenfield, MA to focus on affordable farmer housing. This convening will bring together of a diverse group of affordable housing and farmland conservation practitioners from across the region. They will learn from each other, share information and experiences, and brainstorm about new and existing tools to integrate affordable housing principles, objectives and methods into farmland access and conservation projects. The convening will address beginning farmers’ challenges in securing affordable housing. The group will explore the contributory value of housing to the price of available farms relative to the value of the farmland; the barriers/programmatic constraints of existing farmland protection programs related to project configurations and easement terms that may frustrate housing affordability; and the tools and experiences from affordable housing efforts that may be applied to securing affordable farm housing and access to farmland.
The Land Access Project is funded by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture through its Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program, Grant # 2015-04544. The project is directed by Land For Good in partnership with over 40 collaborating organizations, agencies and individual experts in six New England states.