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Singing Hills—A Model for Farmland Access Success + more!

By Bonnie Warndahl

Singing Hills: A Model for Farmland Access Success


I’d like to start this month’s newsletter with a throwback to 2022 when Renewing the Countryside (RTC) and American Farmland Trust (AFT) executed a Buy-Protect-Sell transaction with Singing Hills Dairy owner Lynne Reeck in Nerstrand, Minnesota. Twin Cities PBS covered the story titled A Small Farm Gets a New Owner in a Land Preservation Deal by Kaomi Lee which you can/read watch here.

How did it work? AFT purchased the farm from Lynne at market value, then placed an Agricultural Conservation Easement (ACE) on the property to restrict its use (basically removing development rights) and therefore reducing the value of the land. AFT then sold the farm to Kue and Bao Lor at a price they could more comfortably afford. RTC and partnering organizations worked together to raise the funds needed to cover the difference in cost after the easement was implemented.

Buy-Protect-Sell is one tool in the farmland access toolbox to ensure that retiring farmers can get what they need from the sale of their farm, incoming farmers can better afford land, and farmland stays in agricultural production.



A similar Buy-Protect-Sell transaction is currently in play with Hoch Orchard & Gardens in La Crescent, Minnesota. This 60-acre property and organic orchard is still looking for successors but in the meantime AFT is working on a purchase agreement and implementing an ACE to make the farm as affordable as possible for an incoming orchardist.



If you are an orchardist interested in learning more about the Hoch Orchard opportunity please contact bonnie@rtcinfo.org!




 

The Farmland Summit Is Almost Here! Only 2 weeks left to register!

November 14 & 15, 2023 | Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, Chaska, MN

Register today for the 2023 Upper Midwest Farmland Summit and grab your spot while they're still available! Details and schedule here.

The 2023 Farmland Summit will bring together farm leaders, change agents, policymakers, and practitioners from around the upper Midwest to talk about getting and keeping more farmers on the land, protecting farmland for future generations, and ensuring responsible stewardship for a healthier future for all. The Summit will feature plenary and panel presentations, storytelling, and a full day of participatory and participant-led sessions of a wide variety of formats.

More info and registration here! Subsidized registration and travel are available for those seeking support to attend (based on our availability of funds).

Interested in sponsoring the Summit? Learn about sponsor benefits and make a payment.

The Summit will be held at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum in Chaska, MN and hosted by the Farmland Access Hub, a consortium of entities working together to improve farmland access for emerging farmers. Email Catie at catie@rtcinfo.org with any questions.


 

New Policy Working Group and Listserv, Wisconsin

The Wisconsin Regional Hub Steering Committee, under the broader umbrella of the Farmland Access Hub, has begun work on advancing solutions to farmland access issues in our state. The first of these initiatives is to address the lack of policies that can support emerging and transitioning farmers—particularly around the upcoming farm bill. To do so, we are forming a Farmland Access Policy Working Group.

In addition to the working group, we have also created a listserv to discuss Wisconsin Farmland Access Policy issues and solutions.

If you would like to participate in this working group, have an interest in being considered for a position on the steering committee, or would like to be added to the policy listserv, please contact Bonnie Warndahl at bonnie@rtcinfo.org.



Breaking Ground—New In Her Boots podcast by Marbleseed

Recently, Lori Stern, Executive Director of Marbleseed, hosted a new mini-series on the In Her Boots Podcast. This two-part special titled Breaking Ground outlines the very real dilemma emerging farmers are grappling with around accessing land. It is a sobering and passionate conversation around what I believe to be one of America’s most pressing issues.

From the podcast:

“In Her Boots presents: Breaking Ground, a two-part audio story from Marbleseed that follows a journey for farmland financing with farmers Dria Price and Halima Salazar and their diversified farming operation, Justevia Teas. Alongside farming food system advocates, Breaking Ground uncovers the barriers and solutions that can help get new and beginning farmers on the land. Marbleseed is a Midwest organic farming resource org. This podcast was made possible by the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, Regenerative Agriculture Foundation & Beginning Farmer & Rancher Development Program.”


A Farmland Access Success Story

In each Farmland Access Hub newsletter we've been trying to share a success story. This particular story by Kate Edwards, shared with me by Martha McFarland at Practical Farmers of Iowa, provides some deep insights around the emotional rollercoaster many farmers experience in striving to access farmland.

Parts of this story echoed deeply with me, paralleling my own challenges with accessing and staying on land, like how—after trying to negotiate a longer contract and only getting another 1-year lease; and after prior discussions of selling her some land—Kate’s first landlord (and family friend) terminates her lease mid-season. The way she describes “gasping for air internally”... I know that feeling. I know many farmers do. A farmer’s livelihood is tied to the land. When the land is taken away it causes an upheaval of not just a business, but a person’s whole life. Or in many cases, lives. The chaos and stress of finding another place to farm is challenging enough—”a full time job,” to quote the author. It also generally means having to start over—break new ground...set up fencing, irrigation and other systems all over again. Not to mention working around possible fertility issues, hidden weed pressures, and a whole host of potential “unknowns.” It’s a set-back at a minimum.

Kate’s story is unique to her but not unusual. This is a story that those of us who work in farmland access personally witness every day. While Kate's ended in successfully purchasing a farm, many of the clients that come through the hub are bobbing in that uncomfortable (or even desperate) space of waiting for an opportunity—any opportunity. Her writing reflects the hard truths of today’s land access climate. I found this paragraph to be especially poignant:

“And in September of 2019, on our first wedding anniversary, a month after we sat at the kitchen table negotiating, Derek and I electronically signed a purchase agreement for the farm, in the field, on my phone. We were on a break from digging potatoes in some ground I’d recently expanded to on a neighboring farm. A year later that potato field became a housing development.”

It’s a hefty read but a good one. I hope you can find some time to enjoy Kate’s autobiographical account of her journey to land access.


Farm Opportunity—Berlin, WI

By Brooke Patrick


Peter Johnson of Berlin, Wisconsin currently has 23 cows, 19 yearlings, and 15 calves along with heritage hogs including 8 sows, 2 boars, 17 piglets, and roughly 400 acres of land. Ideally, he is looking for someone who has farming experience and ambitions to grow their operation alongside his, using regenerative ag practices—in particular rotational grazing.


A little background on the land: Seven years ago it was severely depleted cropland. Using intensive managed grazing (moving cattle 2 to 3 times in one day) he has converted portions of the land to lush, beautiful pasture. In total, there are roughly 400 acres of land with a mixture of pasture, forest, hay ground, cover crops, and wildlife food plots.

In addition, the original farmhouse is available for the lessee to live in exchange for reduced rent for work. The farmhouse is being completely renovated inside as we speak! By the farmhouse there are several fruit trees and grapevines and a chicken coop—truly a homesteader's dream.

If you or someone you know would be interested in learning more about this opportunity please have them contact me at brooke.patrick@goldensandsrcd.org. In the email please give some background information about your current operation and goals.



Interested in transitioning your farm?

Are you a landowner interested in transitioning your farm to the next generation? You may want to consider featuring your farm’s profile on the new “Transitions” page on the Farmland Access Hub website. It is our hope that this page will become a central resource in the Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Iowa tri-state area for farmland owners hoping to connect with interested farmers regarding the transfer of land and farm businesses. If you would like to have your farm’s profile added to the transitions page please contact Bonnie Warndahl at bonnie@rtcinfo.org or 612-462-9311.


Thanks for reading and we hope to see you at the Farmland Summit in November! It's time to really dig in and create solutions for a better farming and food systems future!





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