Connecting Land and People

Abandoned potato digger at the Groundswell Incubator Farm.
Photo by Devon Van Noble

by Devon Van Noble

In the past several years we have witnessed the Groundswell Center develop into a wonderful suite of programs for beginning farmers and food citizens. We thank all of you for making this momentum possible!
Recently Groundswell has begun to go beyond farmer training to engage in conversations about farmland access for aspiring farmers. Groundswell first touched on this conversation last fall in planning for the Farm Enterprise Incubator, which will offer access to land, infrastructure and support for diverse producers in the early years of their farm-based enterprise. However, the Incubator is only one piece in a community-wide puzzle of how to successfully connect new producers with land opportunities. For some of these land seekers, the Incubator will offer readily accessible infrastructure, training, and business development that they will need to get started. Others are prepared to seek independent land arrangements, but do not have the ability to create an agreement with landowners who could offer what they need.
As a community, it is important to find out how to best provide both land seekers and owners with the knowledge of how to make successful rental, transfer, and purchase arrangements, and possibly more critically, how to effectively build trusting and mutually beneficial partnerships between the diverse new producers in the area, and the current farmers and non-farming landowners. We know that there are a variety of ways that people have been trying to access and offer land for new enterprises, and we wanted to hear more about people’s experiences have been locally. Last week, we brought together members of the Groundswell community for a conversation on “Connecting Land and People”. A group of current farmers, “greenhorns,” and food citizens gathered to share their thoughts about the status of land access in the area and the actions that could be taken to enhance it.

Many people expressed interest in the municipal- and county-level policy measures that could help ensure the availability land for new producers, including farmland protection plans and innovative ways to set aside public land for production. We also discussed local investment in farm enterprises, such as the Cayuga LION and Slow Money Central New York Chapter, and how those, or similar models, could serve as a mechanism to connect new producers with investments for land access, as well as serve as a forum for meeting landowners themselves. Several farmers shared their experience with making land available for new producers; we learned that while some have had been able to successfully transition their farmland to the next generation, others have found that while “dating” with land seekers that they often lacked sufficient clarity in their plans. Regardless of the approach our region takes to bridge the gaps in farmland access, there is a clear need for relationship-building – both between landowners and diverse new farmers, and among the many organizations who address land issues in this region.
If you have ideas or input about facilitating land access for beginning farmers, we encourage you to send us your comments at info@groundswellcenter.org. We expect to follow up in future Advisor Meetings, and we hope you will consider coming to share your thoughts and experiences with the broader community.
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