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‘Eating local’ starts with farmers & their ability to access land

August is “New Hampshire Eat Local Month.” So of course we want to spotlight our farmers! Farmers have spent their lives feeding us. But continuing to provide us food and fiber—and to sustain our state’s farm economy into the future—depends largely in farmers’ abilities to gain secure access to farmland in New Hampshire. Accessing land that is affordable is a top challenge for beginning farmers in New Hampshire and nationwide.

At the same time, transitioning farmers want to see their land remain in farming but face their own set of challenges in planning their farming legacy. Land For Good, a regional and national leader in farmland access and transfer, is addressing these challenges.

A strong regional food system and healthy rural communities requires that we keep land in farming and continue to grow viable farm businesses,” says Jim Hafner, LFG’s Executive Director. “If where your food comes from matters to you and your community, then you need to be concerned about keeping the farmers who produce that food on the land in a way that they can plan for the future of their businesses—and for how they will secure their farm’s legacy as a working farm for the next generation.”

Data from the USDA 2017 Census of Agriculture measured a 10% decline in the amount of land in farms in New Hampshire, along with a decrease in average farm size to under 49 acres. Despite this, there are indications that these smaller farms are more profitable on average due in large part to a reliance on more diverse, niche crops serving local markets. These trends are consistent with the loss of commercial dairy farms and established farms that may be transitioning out of farming on the one hand. And on the other, a high percentage of farming operations are part-time activities for their operators, where farm revenues make up just part of a more varied household income. The inability to access sufficient land on the part of new and scaling-up farmers is a contributing factor.

There is help for New Hampshire’s beginning farmers. A 2018 $600,000 USDA beginning farmer grant to LFG is funding the next phase of a Land Access Project (LAP3) to help over 2,500 New England farmers through education, training, advising, connecting farm seekers with landowners, and guiding transitioning farmers through the farm transfer planning process. The grant is part of $18M awarded nationally by USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program.

Project partners in New Hampshire include Vital Communities, Southeast Land Trust, University of NH Extension, Monadnock Conservancy, as well as other partners across New England.

For more on New Hampshire Eat Local Month, read what others are doing in the Monadnock Region, and across the state, to strengthen our local food system at nheatlocal.org.

 

LAP3 is supported by a grant from the USDA/NIFA Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (NIFA # 2018-70017-28531).

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