It's probably the biggest challenge for those who want to farm.

By Bridget Shirvell
September 21, 2020
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two women farmers holding trays of plants
Credit: Natana Roots

Like many farmers, Susan Mitchell sold out of shares for her summer 2020 CSA (or community supported agriculture) this year as the coronavirus pandemic increased demand for local food. The Connecticut-based organic farmer grows more than 30 types of vegetables from June through mid-November for her roughly 100 CSA members. While she would like to increase Cloverleigh's offerings and the number of available farm shares, she can't do it without more land. "The biggest challenge facing new farmers and first generational growers is the ability to find accessible farmland," she said. A former science teacher, Mitchell, currently rents two acres of land in Mansfield, Connecticut but said that since starting her farm in 2014, she's been looking for more land.

Mitchell's story is far from unique. Current and aspiring farmers and those who have stopped farming cited land access as their number one challenge in a 2017 survey conducted by the National Young Farmers Coalition. "The way that our private property system is set up means there are very few ways to value land for its agricultural uses," said Holly Rippon-Butler, the land access program director at the National Young Farmers Coalition. "Yet land security is such a big need for farmers because they’re making term investments in the land."

People 65 and older own 40 percent of the nation's farmland, according to American Farmland Trust, and 97 to 98 percent of farmland, according to Rippon-Butler, is owned by white people. As farmers begin to retire, a massive transfer of land will happen that has the potential to dramatically affect our ability to solve some of society's other critical issues, including the climate crisis, food security, and racial equity. A growing number of individuals, organizations, and businesses and working to make farmland affordable and accessible to new farmers, many focused on helping Black and other people of color. Here are some that you can support those efforts.

National Young Farmers Coalition Land Access Program

Not only does the National Young Farmers Coalition raise awareness about land access, but they provide direct services to farmers helping them understand how to access farmland and the financing available. They work with land conservation groups to help provide farmers with access to land and works on policy at the federal and state level to that would help to incentivize land transition, prioritize public funding for farmland conservation and more.

Land Trusts

"Because they're community-based, have access to public funds, and access to a lot of tools to do conservation easements, land trusts are a big part of tackling the issue of farm affordability," Rippon-Butler said. There are land trusts of varying sizes all over the country. Below are a few to check out.

American Farmland Trust works at national and state levels to help new farmers to navigate the complexities of getting access to land and senior farmers to think through the options of what happens to their farmland when they retire. "We really look at both sides to provide opportunities to new farmers and to help senior farmers identify the vision they have for their land," said AFT New York Regional Director, Erica Goodman. In New York, AFT and its partners have connected about 200 farmers to farmland since launching their statewide farm link program in 2018.

Sustainable Iowa Land Trust works to permanently protect Iowa land for sustainable farmers, the trust uses conservation easements and helps new farmers lease farmland. Similarly, The Northeast Farmers of Color Land Trust works to secure land for Indigenous, Black, Latinx, and Asian farmers and land stewards and provides farmer training and other resources.

In California, there's CA FarmLink: Working with several partners, including farm training programs, public agencies and investors, this California-based nonprofit helps farmers access land and build wealth. And in Detroit, there's Detroit Black Farmer Land Fund. Eestablished by the Black Community Food Security Network (DBCFSN), Oakland Ave. Urban Farm, and Keep Growing Detroit, this new fund, raises capitals and distributes it through an application system to help black farmers within Detroit purchase land.

The National Black Food and Justice Alliance is focused on food sovereignty, land. and justice. This coalition of Black-led organizations works to increase land ownership among Black people and support Black food leaders.

40 Acres and a Mule Project, which was founded by Adrian Lipscombe, chef-owner of Uptowne Café & Bakery in La Crosse, Wisconsin, earlier this summer, is another great one to look into. The project's goal is to raise money to buy agricultural land for Black farmers in southwestern Wisconsin.

Last but not least is the Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund: This nonprofit cooperative association of Black farmers, landowners, and cooperatives works to protect and expand land access to Black farmers in the southern U.S.

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