The Future of Local Farms
By Gini Bramlett
Who will farm your land when you retire or are no longer able? What if your children are not interested? And, if they are, how will you plan the future so both you and your children are legally protected, and that your wishes are carried out?
How can we help to ensure that our local family farms will continue to produce healthy, fresh food and other products and at the same time protect our farmers’ legacies?
The subject was addressed on Saturday in Brownsville at a conference conducted by Harry MacCormack, president and founding board member of Ten Rivers Food Web, a three-county local food systems organizing effort.
Here are the facts: In our present economic climate as many as 65 percent of small farms are now being operated by people 55 years or older. If you do the math, without young farmers to step into these shoes, small farms will go the way of the dinosaurs within the next 10-15 years.
On the other hand, there are numbers of young people graduating from universities with degrees in agriculture-related fields. These young graduates have enthusiasm, ideas, and the desire. They are more than ready to put into practice what they’ve learned, but with most leaving college with staggering student loans to pay, they simple don’t have the capital to buy land. “It’s vital the young people continue to provide local food,” said MacCormack.
Therein lies the problem. What if there was a way to connect the two. Rogue Farm Corps, based out of Ashland, OR is a grassroots community organization dedicated to training the next generation of farmers and ranchers. An option for farmers is to host interns. RFC’s educational program provides the legal framework for on-farm training. RFC’s training programs provide real world experience for folks who want to start and/or run a farm. To contact them, visit www.roguefarmcorps.org.
All over the world, conferences like this one are looking for ways to help make this connection. And if farmers and ranchers do connect with someone interested in taking over, how do you ensure your wishes to continue growing food or raising livestock are heeded, and that all parties get a fair shake in the bargain?
Farm transference takes many forms, but whatever legal framework you choose, it should clarify how the farm must be maintained over time. The details of this can be overwhelming, but it has been done quite successfully in some areas and in some countries.
Succession planning must be talked about with the entire family and possible successors who are not family. The more you talk about what you’d like to see happen, the more likely it will happen.
It’s also important that you put into accessible forms all kinds of information pertaining to the farming practices that typically resides in note books, folders or in your head. The more information you can pass on, the more likely your farm will continue in the direction you set for it.
Financial records are important to successors too. That includes income and expense records, taxes, licenses, certifications, insurance policies and more. Detail your practices, whether it is organic or not, wildlife practices and conservation practices. They should all be spelling out so others can understand what your desires are for the future.
Food records for animals, crop records, soil tests, water tests and residue tests should be available. Maps such as plumbing, electrical, switches, underground lines and pumps are all essential to add.
And more importantly, a good lawyer is crucial. They can help you navigate the legal waters making sure all the bases are covered.
Tem Rivers Food Web is in the process of determining how they can help farmers though this process. To contact them, visit www.tenriversfoodweb.org.
Anyone interested in learning more about farm transference and/or how to connect with potential young farmers, contact American Farmland Trust at www.farmland.org or 202-331-7300, International Farm Transition Network at www.farmtransiton.org/netwpart.html or Land for Good at www.landforgood.org or 603-357-1600.