Theme of collaboration at the Southeast New England Agriculture Conference

On February 4, 2024, Land For Good attended the Southeast New England Agriculture Conference and Trade Show (SNEACTS) at Bristol Agricultural High School in Dighton, Massachusetts. This conference was organized in collaboration between agricultural organizations in the region, spearheaded by the Southeast Massachusetts Agricultural Partnership or SEMAP, our regional “buy local” group.

It’s likely that you’ve never heard of the SNEACTS event, because it never existed before 2024. SEMAP traditionally ran this annual conference independently. An interruption in the occurrence of the annual in-person event due to COVID-19 presented an opportunity to re-think the event, and this year SEMAP Staff and Board of Directors decided to take a new approach. With leadership from Executive Director Susan Murray and her tiny, but mighty, staff of Shannon Hickey and James Lerner, the conference was planned with new partnerships including Northeast Organic Farmers Association of Rhode Island (NOFA-RI), Buy Fresh Buy Local Cape Cod, Cluck and Trowel Farm, MA Farm Bureau Federation, OASIS on Ballou, Plymouth County Extension 4-H, Pocasset Pokanoket Land Trust, and of course Bristol AggieThis approach effectively extended the reach, expanded content, and engaged a broader audience with the conference. Topics ranged from improvements to vegetable, livestock, and aquaculture production systems to business planning, regulations, marketing and new enterprises, to mechanics, tools and body care, to seed sovereignty, soils, youth and community engagement, and, of course farmland.

Within the theme of collaboration, Land For Good moderated a panel titled “Conservation Tools to Secure Land for Farming” designed to enhance participants’ understanding of some of the common pathways of land conservation which can be used to protect farmland as well as make it more affordable to the next generation at the time of transfer. Audience members included individuals looking to start farming and purchase land, farmers looking to purchase land they are already farming, farmland owners, and community members with interest in food security and farmland preservation. Land For Good kicked off the workshop with an introductory presentation about what we do and who we serve. We gave some background information, for example that the vast majority of senior farmers in Massachusetts have no identified successor, and that farmland value is cited as a major limiting factor for the entry of new farmers.

With some of the most expensive farmland in the nation, Southern New England farmers must often get creative in purchasing farmland and transferring it to the next generation. Most entering farmers depend on leased land, and many recognize that they will never own their farms.

Next we turned the mic over the Jamie Pottern of American Farmland Trust, who shared information about the rate of farmland loss. At the current rate of loss, MA, CT, and RI will lose about 130,000 acres of farmland by 2040.  She talked about farmland protection using the Purchase of Development Rights and talked about the many partners involved in preservation. Nick Wildman from Dartmouth Natural Resources Trust shared his perspective on farmland preservation as the Executive Director of a conservation land trust. He expressed his concerns about the rate of farmland loss, and clarified that while conservation organizations can be helpful in fostering preservation, they also have to be mindful of who they serve, namely their members, sponsors, grantors and partners. Delia Delongchamp and Jay Rosas from Massachusetts Department of Agriculture’s APR, or Agricultural Preservation Restriction Program, tag-teamed at detailed presentation about the process of entering land into the APR program and what is looks like to farm on land that is under protection with APR.

It was a very informative and information-packed session, bolstered by many follow-up conversations back at the trade show! We were happy to be part of this newly imagined event!

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