Farmland Transitions Part 2
While challenges and pressures will continue to exist for those who hope to stand up to the problems inherent in our modern food system, there are always those who have gone before and those who are finding solutions to these issues today. Connecting to elders, collaborating with community members, reaching out to other farmers, and tapping into the local and regional resources of your area can help you source the tools and information you need to persevere and ultimately succeed. To return to Part 1 of this series, visit Farmland Transitions Part 1.
Solutions and Resources
Support for agrarian businesses comes in many different forms and there's no one size fits all method for making it all work. From the invaluable support of your community to the newly popular agri-tourism options, getting your farm profitable will take time, take creativity, and may turn out looking differently than you had anticipated when you first broke ground.
The Value of Community
“I have found that building relationships in the community helps us to locate parcels of lands that can be used to farm. I look at all lands as potentially farmable. I can easy locate land that is not in use versus finding 'farmland', lands with a farm number, history, etc." - Howard Allen of Faithfull Farms in Chapel Hill, North Carolina
“My most valuable resource to date has been my farmer friends. We often talk weekly to ask each other how to approach pesky tasks, trade equipment, and help each other. Teaching is learning and I find that the more time I spend teaching and working with others, really benefits our farm long term.” - Spring Alaska Schreiner of Sakari Farm LLC in Bend, Oregon
“Working on a community farm, with committed members and volunteers, lets me work on a farm without the stress that comes with finding land or private land ownership. We are also able to donate food and create space to train future young farmers on this leased land.” - Sara Rostampour of Brookwood Community Farm in Canton, Massachusetts
“Choosing Goshen as our home and working hard to make connections and let people know we were looking for land opened so many opportunities for us, almost all of them word-of-mouth or from a friend-of-a-friend. Talking to people who were already small-scale farming or had already purchased small farms was also helpful in figuring out where to look and how to go about the process.” - Kate Friesen of Singletree Farm LCC in Goshen, Indiana
“I have recently become part of a collective that is currently forming called the Raceme Farm Collective. We are a collective of farmers of color, Black, Brown and Indigenous. We all work to be in good relationship with the land that we work and grow on and connecting to the community who were the first stewards of the land. One of our goals moving forward is to share a portion of what we grow with the community and offer land access for ceremony and gathering.
We hope, when we do acquire land of our own, to form Land Trusts to protect land from further development. This I feel is another key to protecting growing space, green space, culture, tradition and heritage.” -Letty Chichitonyoloti Martinez of Flying Dogheart Farm in Chinook Territory also known as Portland, Oregon
“I spent a little over a year at a nearby environmental center, working as an assistant farm manager for their educational farm. This was a great way to apprentice and see how the farming lifestyle fit. Working there gave me time to learn more about farming before making such a big commitment and provided several good connections in the community." -Kate Friesen of Singletree Farm LCC in Goshen, Indiana
Connect with Elders
“Meeting leaders and elders of the Nations that are the first people of the lands that I'm a guest on is a big part of what I'm finding to be the solution. Learning about treaties, culture and the history of the people. Being in a relationship with the land isn't enough, it's also important to be in relationship with the people. We are building a food systems community, not just a capital venture.”- Letty Chichitonyoloti Martinez of Flying Dogheart Farm in Chinook Territory also known as Portland, Oregon
Conservation As a Tool
“Our land is currently not conserved, but we are surrounded by land that is. It might be something we’d consider doing in the future to make it more affordable for me to buy.” - Pauline Stevens of Golden Russett Farm in Shoreham, Vermont
"We have found that finding community among other farmers is imperative. We find these farm friends at the market, in the neighboring area, and at conferences. Also, looking to our state and national organizations that support farmers often provides good information and opportunity. In our area, there is also greater interest in alignment between conservation organizations and farmers." - Joe Reynolds of Love is Love Farm at Gaia Gardens in Atlanta, Georgia
Diversify Revenue Streams
“I do know some farmers, like my brother in Lockhart Texas, who is turning several acres of his property into a rental space for new farmers. They will be able to rent out an acre on his land and he would let them use some of his tools on the property. On top of that he would teach them how/what to grow as well. Great use for young farmers that are wanting to learn.” - Brian Emadi of Little Bexar Farm in China Spring, TX
Have a Mission
“Growing in the city is a hard task but also, it’s important to be critical of why you are growing. I feel like Sundance Harvest bloomed wonderfully because I was addressing a problem in the food system of systemic racism as well as environmental racism which is directly tied to food and who has access to that. So because my community and city didn’t have a lot of urban farms devoted to food justice work, which could look like youth led BIPOC farms or even community farms with the mission to provide sustainable employment, I started Sundance Harvest to fill that void. It was not hard finding land because I had a community that was ready for a farm like this with the values Sundance Harvest holds.” - Cheyenne Sundance of Sundance Harvest in Toronto, Ontario
Advice for Young Farmers
Take it from the growers that have been where you are, it's not going to be easy to start your own farm. That being said, it is far from impossible. Connecting to the "what" and "why" of what you are hoping to create is an essential part of starting a business that is not only profitable, but fulfilling. Making connections to the farms, elders, institutions, and regional USDA/FSA/NRCS offices can help you become more aware of your options.
“Give yourself plenty of time and experience to learn what you actually want to grow. It's awesome to grow your own food and sell it to the community. But if you don’t have the right experience or a decent location it's going to be hard to make a profit. Take it slow, work on somebody else’s farm and learn all you can so that when you do have the right property in mind you will be able know what you need to have a great farm while making profit off of it.” - Brian Emadi of Little Bexar Farm in China Spring, TX
"First, working on a farm is a great way to get experience and see first-hand the way someone else negotiates managing their farmland and farm relationships. Second, think through what you ultimately want out of your farm business. Do you want to just farm? Own land? Make a certain amount a year? Retire in farming? Have a family?" - Joe Reynolds of Love is Love Farm at Gaia Gardens in Atlanta, Georgia
Tap into Your Purpose
“If you look across North America, sadly sometimes urban farming comes hand and hand with gentrification which displaces lower income people from food and housing. Are you starting an urban farm because you want to shine a light on the lack of representation of Black and Indigenous growers for example because we face the highest amount of food insecurity in Canada? Or do you want to start an urban farm because you’ve noticed youth in your neighborhood have taken an interest in working the land?
My biggest advice is understanding that food is political and critically thinking about your place and your power and privilege in the food system before you start your urban farm.” - Cheyenne Sundance of Sundance Harvest in Toronto, Ontario
Learn the History of the Land and People
“Go out and meet the elders and leaders of the First Nations in your area. Make connections, build relationships, and ask questions about how you can get into the right relationship as descendants of settlers, invaders, and as guests on these lands. Learn about treaties, learn about who you displace and how you can make reparations. Can you offer free land access to your neighboring tribes? Will you?” -Letty Chichitonyoloti Martinez of Flying Dogheart Farm in Chinook Territory also known as Portland, Oregon
Use Your Local and Regional Resources
“I started farming by doing "handshake" leases on smaller acreage properties here in Deschutes County. It's a great way to get farming under your belt and work out the kinks a bit before jumping right into land purchasing, etc. I would highly recommend volunteering or doing an internship first so you can get firsthand experience. Using your local extension office, farm support networks, and the USDA funding sources are an excellent and positive way to get yourself established for the wonderful journey of farming.” - Spring Alaska Schreiner of Sakari Farm LLC in Bend, Oregon
“For people looking to farm as a career, 'trying it out' through volunteer programs, internships, and jobs located where you want to farm is a great way to plug in! We've found internet resources (such as ATTRA, MOSES, government sites, Craigslist, etc.) definitely have their place, but nothing has been as useful for us as committing to a place and getting to know the people there. Connecting with our NRCS Agent, folks who ran local community gardens, and local small farmers has not only saved us time and prevented a few easy mistakes, but also energized us to keep growing.” - Kate Friesen of Singletree Farm LCC in Goshen, Indiana
"My advice to young farmers seeking farmland it to seek available lands and not only 'farmland'. Be willing to be flexible in the beginning. Start in a small/micro space. Also, focus first on access, the ability to use a parcel of land. Second, seek out verbal or preferably a written agreement to use land. Lastly, secure a long term lease agreement or ownership." - Howard Allen of Faithfull Farms in Chapel Hill, North Carolina
Lean on Your Community
“Look for ways to work with others-- there may be different community-based models that spread the risks and costs of finding and maintaining farmland in a more sustainable way, but that still give autonomy.” - Sara Rostampour of Brookwood Community Farm in Canton, Massachusetts
“Another piece of advice for farmers looking for land is to get creative. Especially if you're doing smaller-scale vegetable or flower production, many people are open to sharing or renting out yards, side-lots, or larger sections of community gardens. You can pack a lot of flowers or veggies in a small section of land, and often people are happy to share, especially if they receive some of the bounty!” - Kate Friesen of Singletree Farm LCC in Goshen, Indiana
To return to Part 1 of this series, visit Farmland Transitions Part 1.