Since the beginning of this century there has been a modest resurgence in the number of organizations whose mission is to encourage the preservation of farms and farmland and assist new farmers in acquiring land and gaining the knowledge to manage it successfully. Many young people are finding a career in farming satisfying in ways that cannot be achieved in other career fields. The pitfalls and obstacles this group faces are many and varied but help is available for those who know where to look. Land for Good will assist those who are searching for new resources to explore.
Land for Good (LFG) is an organization founded to provide assistance to individuals and families looking for land to farm. That mission statement sounds somewhat simplistic but for those who have been through the process knows that that there are many hurdles to leap before the dream becomes a reality. Founded in 2001 in Keene, NH this non-profit organization is devoted essentially to getting farmers and landowners together.
At this time the group’s activities are essentially confined to New England but down the road it is very likely that its boundaries will be expanded. Considered to be a national innovator on farmland access, tenure and transfer, Land for Good promotes the best of what is known to work and is always ready to explore new models and methods from lease provisions to farmland investors. A primary goal of the organization is to make as large an audience as possible aware of its goals and aspirations. Land for Good has ongoing programs in place to build the knowledge and skills of its audiences including that of the general public. Among the latter group, insuring that policy makers at the local and state levels are kept abreast of what they are doing is critical. Without their enthusiastic support possible needed legislative approval is difficult to achieve.
Land for Good sponsors farmland access workshops and training across the region, often collaborating with local or regional partners. The workshops target prospective farmers looking for land, landowners, transitional farm families and members of the general public who wish to learn more about farmland access and how to get involved. LFG staff members are called upon to make presentations in a variety of settings from conference panels and workshops to solo appearances. As one might expect online learning has proven to be an excellent method of educating potential candidates. An innovative program that was developed to fill a long unrecognized need is entitled Working Land which serves the needs of the large group of landowners but do not farm. Research done in part by LFG workers revealed that 88% of farm landlords are not farmers and that this group constitutes an important group when considering land acquisition. The most important part of this finding is that very little attention was being paid to their aspirations, needs and concerns as land stewards. A huge untapped resource as far as beginning farmer programs is concerned.
LFG goes beyond traditional methods of farm access and transfer. It researches, develops and implements innovative, alternative approaches to getting farmers onto the land. An example of this is the Farm Legacy Program that achieves more successful and timely farm transfers to keep farms in farming. It is estimated that 70% of the countries private farmland will change hands within the next 20 years. Insuring a smooth transition is one of the objectives of LFG. Unfortunately making plans for this inevitable transfer is one that can easily be put in the” jobs to do file” to be dealt with at some future date. This job can be accomplished with LFG’s knowledgeable staff at the ready with its expertise to assist in making this change happen.
One of the more common situations is when younger members of a family are ready to take over the operation of a given farm. In 2004 LFG developed its Farm Legacy program designed to assist retiring farm families pass their farms to the next generation or owner. LFG developed unique coaching approach to support this transition process making an often difficult process less stressful. Working the younger and the older generation through the take over process can be emotional and very likely involved Great care must be taken to insure that all of those involved are as satisfied as possible with the final arrangements. A large number of individuals may be ready to assume operation of a given farm and finding the right path to accomplish that goal is often a formidable task. Again the LFG staff is ready to assist the applicants in finding the best route to follow.
For an organization 15 years old it seems that the involved negotiations and settlements they been able to achieve is material for a study unto itself. This in particular when one considers the likely temperament and attitudes of some of the primary players. Executive Director Jim Hafner addressed this issue saying that it was a challenge to find people with the level of expertise on issues that the program demands. Jim went on to say that that most of the staff has found the learning curve to be steep and demanding even for those who have been involved in farming. One of the keys to success has been the ability of those involved to have a clear understanding of what they know and more importantly what they don’t know. This approach has led to frequent consultations with other professionals and resources so everyone is continually learning from others and from each other.
LFG considers itself an organization that collaborates with a large number of like-minded entities that have roots in the northeast. Among the many collaborative efforts with which it has been involved include the Land Access Project; Policy, Research and Investigation; Special population Farmers; Professional Training; Communities; Land Access training and Support and Farm Transfer and Succession. Land for Good has, in its short life, accomplished much and based on its brief history can be expected to accomplish much more in the years to come. This summary of its history and accomplishments to date only skim the surface, there is more to tell and it is hoped that at some point in the not too distant future the opportunity will present itself to tell, “the rest of the story”.