On a cold November morning I completed the last leg of my journey to the Farmland Access & Transfer Conference from Connecticut. Working remotely, I appreciate every chance I get to connect with farmers, as well as our partners and colleagues on a personal level.
As a farmer myself, I was eager to attend my first conference in an official capacity with Land For Good to network and hear stories of farmers’ experiences in our region. I am grateful to have started my day hosting a panel discussion of Maine farmers called Affording Farmland. The panel was comprised of Brenna Mae Thomas-Goggins of Patch Farm, Ben Whalen of Bumbleroot Organic Farm, and James Gagne of Dickey Hill Farm. While young farmers across our region, and country, struggle to afford farmland, each of these farmers shared their unique cocktail of strategies that allowed them to purchase their farms.
Unique Farmer Strategies
After consulting with Land For Good’s ME Field Agent on different paths to ownership, Brenna Mae and her partner, Brandon, of Patch Farm utilized lease-to-own in order to build equity before they were able to afford the purchase of their farm. With this equity, they were then able to leverage some personal savings and an FSA loan to finance the purchase of their farm. Brenna Mae and Brandon had a three year lease-to-own agreement that allowed them to meet the standards necessary to qualify for an FSA loan. Please follow these links for more information on FSA loans, lease-to-own, and Brenna Mae and Brandon’s story.
Ben Whalen along with his wife, Melissa Law, and another farmer-couple purchased Bumbleroot Organic Farm together, pooling their collective resources in order to lower the barrier of affordability that often inhibits farmland access. In addition, their farm was protected through a conservation easement by Maine Farmland Trust. The easement included the Option to Purchase at Agricultural Value (OPAV), an additional tool that ensured the farm would be affordable for the Bumbleroot farmers as well as future generations of farmers. Finally, the farmers at Bumbleroot financed their purchase with the help of CEI, a financing and business advising firm that specializes in sustainability and food systems projects in Maine.
James Gagne and Noami Brautigam of Dickey Hill Farm reached out to Land For Good for help when they were presented with an opportunity to purchase farmland from a couple in their fifties who wanted to see the land they owned managed as a sustainable farm. Land For Good’s ME Field Agent walked James and Noami through traditional and non-traditional transfer models so that they had a strong knowledge base against which to analyze the transfer model proposed by the landowners. With these models in mind, James and Noami entered into a complex LLC transfer. After a two year trial period in which both couples got a chance to know one another and James and Noami got to know the land, they began making equity payments in lieu of traditional rent that will gradually transfer ownership via shares in the LLC of the land over a twenty year period. At any time, James and Noami may sell their shares or choose to buy out the remainder of the shares from the original landowners. More information about this innovative model, as well as a template of their LLC agreement, is available for farmers and landowners seeking land access strategies.
Inspiring Presentations and Takeaways
Energized by this inspiring discussion, I was eager for the rest of the day’s programming. Benneth Phelps of Dirt Capital Partners gave a wonderful overview of how they help to orchestrate farm business transfers with an innovative investment model in which Dirt Capital works with a qualified farmer, identifies and purchases a suitable farm, leases the farm to that farmer for up to nine years, and provides the farmer an opportunity to purchase the farm twice during the lease term. I immediately thought of several of my Connecticut clients who might benefit from their services.
A colleague and I then attended What Could Go Wrong in Farm Transfer/Estate Planning? presented by attorney John Lambert, whose narrative presentation style seemed to combine every possible pitfall of farm transfer planning into one humorous (and fictional) succession tale. The takeaway? It is never too early to start your farm transfer and estate planning with the help of Land For Good.
Impacts of Land Justice
Looking back, the most impactful session of the day was the conference’s plenary, Land Justice: Acknowledging Our Past, Changing Our Future organized by Land in Common, which brought together the voices of leaders, thinkers, and practitioners from the state of Maine to discuss the history of injustice that it is interwoven with the land. Four individuals from the Wabanaki Nation, the Latinx community, the black community, and the impoverished white community shared the stories of their own lives and of the communities they belong to, with land anchoring both the past traumas and the hope that drives their work forward. Though the differences in the panelists’ experiences are distinct and important, listening to and understanding one another, as well as forming solidarity around issues of land access are powerful strategies for reshaping our agricultural system.
Putting into Action in Connecticut
Attending conferences is generally galvanizing for me to jump back into my work with new skills and new perspectives, and the Farmland Access & Transfer Conference was no exception. The panelists I was lucky to host in my Affording Farmland presentation, and the bold, transparent plenary speakers, reaffirmed why the work that we do at Land For Good is so crucial for agriculture in New England.
The conference gave me the tools and ideas to improve our efforts for increasing farmland access back in my home state of Connecticut.
Funding was provided in part by the Land Access Project – Phase 3 (LAP3) that is supported by a grant from the USDA/NIFA Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (NIFA # 2018-70017-28531).