Good things happen when 50 people spend the day sharing and learning! Service providers from six states gathered in December to continue work on task force and state-based planning as part of our Land Access Project (LAP).
We reminded ourselves about LAP’s purpose, objectives and structure as a learning community. Task Forces focus on specific deliverables, and state groups work to coordinate and improve programs and policies. Our theory of change is grounded in asking how rights, responsibilities and benefits are distributed among land holders, land users and communities.
While measuring progress and outcomes is a challenge, the project’s evaluation data show that we are on target to meet our promised results – such as the number of beginning farmers making informed land access decisions, benefiting from improved linking programs, and achieving secure land tenure. Convening attendees were asked their opinion about progress on their expectations as recorded at the project launch. Most participants think we are making “realistic progress” on goals, outcomes, and their contributions to the project with some areas still needing attention. Some ranked areas as “ahead of schedule.”
Thirty-eight educational events were conducted by LFG and 36 partner organizations, reaching nearly 1,000 participants in the Project’s first reporting year (9/1/15 – 8/31/16). Land For Good is meeting its LAP objectives, too, with over 350 direct service contacts during that timeframe. We registered over 2,100 downloads of educational materials from the LFG website, along with over 940 registered users of LFG’s Acquiring Your Farm (AYF) online tutorial.
Three Task Forces offered a summary of their projects and research.
- Listing and Linking Task Force formed the New England Land Access Collaborative, comprised of the region’s linking programs. Together they host New England Farmland Finder, a regional farm property website that has a new look and continues to get functional upgrades.
- Succession & Transfer Assistance Task Force is planning a two-day regional professional training for farm succession planning advisors (May 2017). For new and veteran attorneys, as well as other providers, the training is also designed to build succession assistance teams in each state. Members also created a three-session Farm Succession School which is being conducted in ME, VT and NH this year for nine farm families.
- Tenure Innovations Task Force‘s six committees (pictured at top) are capturing, analyzing and sharing program and policy innovations in New England and nationally. The committees are examining, for example, agricultural easements, affordable farmer housing, and urban land access. A convening focused on farmer and farm labor housing is planned for March 2017.
Public Policy plays an important role in our endeavors. With a new administration, and hearings starting this year for the next Farm Bill, LFG and others are working on federal and state policy proposals focused on land access and transfer.
National Conference 2017! In cooperation with USDA, LFG will host a national conference on farm and ranch access, tenure and transfer. Changing Lands, Changing Hands will take place June 13-15, 2017 in Denver, CO. Organized by a national planning team, the event features 35 workshop sessions, with over 80 invited presenters. Conference registration opens February 1st.
Lastly, hearing farmers’ stories and feedback is always a highlight for farm service providers (many of whom are also farmers!). A beginning farmer panel offered insights into four very different real-life experiences. Farmers also play an important role in “ground truthing” the Land Access Project. Four farmer advisors attended the convening to participate, observe and report back.
- Stacy Brenner of Broadturn Farm in ME noted she was impressed with the open sharing and how much work on these issues is going on in our region. Stacy also offered excellent feedback on the tenure “taxonomy” discussed by the Innovations Task Force.
- Cassie Tharinger of the Providence Neighborhood Planting Program, and co-founder of Urban Greens Food Coop of RI, said it was “reassuring” that so many people are working on land access tools, and urged LAP collaborators to make these tools accessible to diverse farmer audiences.
- Ryan Voiland of Red Fire Farm in MA recognized and noted the complexities of these transactions when multiple groups are involved.
- Susan Mitchell of Cloverleigh Farm in CT, and founding member of The New Connecticut Farmer Alliance, offered constructive feedback about New England Farmland Finder. She applauded the amount of expertise in the room and urged us to find even more effective ways to share and learn from others in our limited time together.