Farming is known as a challenging business, with farmers more often motivated by the love of the land than the lure of high profits. One of the earliest, and last, problems they face is finding land to farm, or securing a way to pass their farm on to the next generation.
That’s where Land for Good comes in… throughout the region, the organization is available to assist and advocate for these farmers. They work on both individual and industry levels to help new farmers acquire land and older famers exit, hold training sessions, conduct outreach to community stakeholders, advocate for farmer-favorable laws and more.
“Farming is not just about jobs and profits, but part of the broader New England landscape,” said Jim Hafner, executive director at Land For Good. “What would the impact be if farms went away? Growing appreciation and demand is what will allow these farms to grow.”
The image of rural New England holds a close association with small farms and open fields, beautiful leaves and maple syrup, farmers markets and handmade goods, many of which come from farm products. Tourists come to the area seeking this experience, and it hurts more than just famers if the brand is lost. In that sense, farming plays a vital role as part of the larger regional ecosystem.
With strong farms helping to make a strong community, Land for Good works with real estate agents, for example, on issues like helping agents realize the agricultural potential of a property and market it as such to attract future farmers, or with estate planners who don’t typically work with farms.
This outreach has been part of the larger three-phase Land Access Project that Land for Good has been implementing since 2010. Another goal was the creation of the New England Farmland Finder (newenglandfarmlandfinder.org) website, which, as described by Hafner, is kind of a Craigslist-style site where farmers looking for land and those with farm property can find each other.
“Our one-on-one work with farmers is important, but it is not going to change the system,” he said. “We need to work on lowering barriers.”
On a micro level, finding the right piece of farmland can present a tall obstacle. Land for Good works with almost any type of commercial farm. Hafner said they’ve assisted everyone from vegetable and berry farmers to someone who was looking to farm pigs in an oak forest. They’ve heard from flower farmers, livestock farmers, dairy producers, microbreweries looking to establish a farm-to-table experience and even someone seeking to raise deer. The consistent thing, according to Hafner, is the energy and creativity each farmer brings to their business.
“With the farm seekers some aspire to own a farm but don’t have experience. Others have experience but they don’t have a business plan,” he said. “We can help them find the resources and gain clarity and understand their capacity.”
In New England, where housing costs tend to be on the high side, it can be a struggle to find the right piece of land that can support the desired farm type, plus be a reasonable distance to market and be of a value that is within budget. This is especially difficult, because unlike almost all other industries, the farmer is not only seeking a site for the business, but it will likely be their home as well.
“We had a female farmer who first reached out to us in 2010 who just signed a lease-to-own agreement, and in her owns words, said that she wasn’t even aware that was an option,” said Lisa Luciani, Land For Good’s communications manager. “She entered a journeyman program and in 2019 found the land and just signed for it. It can be a long journey and the barriers can be lack of knowledge and lack of resources.”
Because of the length of time and patience that getting into – or even getting out of – farming can take, Land for Good recommends planning early to reach goals.
“With farmers, the image is that they never retire. It’s their life and it is what they do,” Hafner said. “They don’t take vacation; they work 24/7. That is their identity. So many have the idea that they will farm until they can’t, so exit planning gets put off.”
Many of the senior farmers in the area work large farms focused more on dairy and hay that have been in their families for generations, so selling the farm is also akin to selling not just their family home, but a legacy as well. For many, if they are not going to pass the land on within the family, they wish to see it stay farmland.
“Our mission is to help farmers get on farmland and to keep land in farming,” Hafner said.