The goal of our Farmland Access Program is to provide farmers with opportunities to purchase or lease affordable farmland so that they can start up or expand agricultural businesses. Supporting local communities, local food production, and the long-term productive use of farmland are all objectives of this program.
Why did we create this program?
Gaining access to high quality, affordable farmland is one of the most difficult obstacles for beginning farmers and expanding agricultural operations. The challenge is especially acute for enterprises that depend on being near Vermont’s economic growth centers—areas where land values remain strong even in the current economic climate.
As more farms are put up for sale as a result of an aging farmer population, the question of whether the land will be farmed or will remain available for local food production is a growing concern. In response to this concern, we developed our Farmland Access Program in 2004.
How do we accomplish this work?
We approach the issue of farmland access from many directions, using creative approaches adapted to each situation. Below are several examples of how we have accomplished this work so far.
Purchasing farms and re-selling them
When a good opportunity arises, we will purchase a farm, request interested farmers submit proposals for their use of the farm, and later, obtain funding and conserve the farm, and finally sell the farm at an affordable price to the farmer whose proposal was chosen.
Connecting people with farms as they come on the market
Purchasing conservation easements to make farms affordable
We use the sale of conservation easements to help defray the costs of purchasing a farm. We will seek funding for the easements from the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board, foundations, and community members.
Exercising rights reserved in our conservation easements to ensure land continues to be owned by farmers
Provisions written into many of our farm conservation easements include the right of first refusal or the right to purchase a farm if a potential buyer is a non-farmer. We have exercised these rights when we thought a farm might be sold to someone who wouldn’t use the land for farming. When this has happened we have re-sold the farm at agricultural value to farmers with solid business plans.
Expanding farm-leasing opportunities
We are beginning to expand our work with leasing opportunities on both land we own and on previously conserved farmland owned by private landowners.
Providing technical assistance
In conjunction with some of the approaches outlined above, we will help farm seekers secure business planning services through the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board Farm Viability Program, and assist in securing appraisal work necessary for land purchases. We also work with farm lenders to evaluate opportunities, help facilitate farmland transactions, and assist farm seekers through the process of purchasing a farm.
Who is qualified to participate in this program?
Minimum qualifications require candidates to have three years of farming experience, strong agricultural references, plans to develop an agricultural enterprise that would gross $100,000 per year within 5 years of start up, and sufficient financial resources (or the ability to be financed) for start-up expenses. Our primary focus is on farms producing food and fiber that would use at least 25 acres of productive land.
Who we work with
Our program staff works with organizations throughout Vermont to provide assistance to farm seekers and farmers in transition in an effort to secure access to affordable farmland. These organizations include the University of Vermont, local and regional food hubs, the Northeast Organic Farming Association, the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board, and the Vermont Agency of Agriculture.