Concord's Agriculture Committee is hosting a workshop with New Entry Sustainable Farming Project on Leasing Land to a Farmer. Why? Read on...
We are in the midst of an exciting period of opportunity for local agriculture due to a resurgence of interest in locally-produced foods. A weak link in the revival of regional agriculture is access to land for the beginning farmer. New farmers are critical to sustaining our agricultural base and to replacing an aging farmer population. Those interested in starting agricultural careers are increasingly challenged as barriers to entry are significant, especially in eastern Massachusetts where development pressure is high and farmland has dwindled over the years.
Much of Massachusetts’ prime agricultural sites have been developed for residential use. The state has lost over 100,000 acres of farmland since 1982. And at upwards of $12,000 per acre, Massachusetts land is among the most expensive in the nation. Thanks to the popularity of the local food movement, however, skilled farmers can grow vegetables profitably on as little as 1-4 acres. Though these small acreages can still be prohibitively expensive to buy for a new farmer, leasing can offer a good alternative. But how can they find such small plots of land to lease?
The Concord Agricultural Committee has been developing an inventory of farms and farmland in the town to determine where there is opportunity to expand land opportunities for existing and new farmers in Concord. This summer and fall they partnered with New Entry Sustainable Farming Project (New Entry), a beginning farmer training program, to further their inventory. New Entry has been assisting agricultural commissions to inventory their farmlands using GIS technology. The Agricultural Committee and New Entry sponsored a mailing to all the landowners and on October 10th they will host a workshop for landowners on leasing land to a farmer at the Concord Town House. Concord Workshop Flyer
Identifying potential agriculture sites is one thing; persuading landowners to lease their property to farmers is another. Last year New Entry worked with the Groton Agricultural Commission to inventory the town’s farmland and reach out to landowners. Through the landowner outreach and the educational workshop, they found a handful of landowners who were eager to see if a leasing arrangement could be made on their land. The landowners who were interested all had large fields, quite literally, in their backyard. Groton’s minimum zoning is set at two acres and some landowners feel it their parcel is more than they can use. The landowners were also interested in supporting the local food movement and making their land productive. Some landowners were also happy to have a farmer help take care of the maintenance of their fields and field edges, receive a share of the produce produced on their land, and take advantage of the educational opportunities that having a farmer on local land provides. If the landowner had at least five acres, they are even eligible for lower property taxes in MA if their land is used for agriculture, under the 61A program. (photo by Adrien Bisson)
It’s not all easy, however. For land to be a viable option for a farmer to lease, they must have a reliable source of water, good soil, and often space to build structures like a hoop house, washing station, or equipment shed. Because the farmer isn’t guaranteed long-term access to the land, in many cases landowners are responsible for the longer term investments that the farmer can’t take with them. But it’s worth it to many. Susan Shay, resident of Groton, rented her backyard to Seona Ngufor, a farmer originally from Cambodia, last season. Shay has only positive things to say about the relationship. She was very inspired over the growing season to see the abundant produce coming from her land and to receive a weekly share of vegetables from Seona. Though some landowners think that agriculture is messy and smelly- many small vegetable farms can look more like large gardens. Though weeds can make things look messy, most landowners, like Shay, are happy to see the rows of cabbage and eggplant adding color to her yard. (photo by Adrien Bisson)
Can this happen in Concord also? Probably. There are many residents here who are eager to support the local food movement but may not have the time or knowledge to start growing food on a large scale. Leasing open land can be a great option for landowners who are willing to share their land, invest time and possibly money in forming a good relationship with a farmer, and who will appreciate the local bounty in return! Come learn more about how this can work on your land at an informational workshop on October 10th at Concord Town House starting at 7 pm.