Category Archives: Farmland Protection

Preserving Clean Water and Viable Farms in the Mid-Atlantic: An Interview with Jim Baird, Mid-Atlantic Director, American Farmland Trust

What brought you to American Farmland Trust (AFT) and has kept you engaged over the past five years?

I don’t have a farm background but I did overseas work for a long time in sustainable agriculture and community-based things was always part of that. Then I began working more in conservation and sustainability. Working in the Chesapeake Bay region at this point in time has been a profound experience. I see it as a challenge of figuring out how we work and play and grow food and live in this area yet still maintain an estuary that actually functions. It is a civilizational problem. It’s all over the world at the mouth of every major river basin. In this region we are at the cutting edge in figuring out how we do this.

I’m always struck by the amount of respect that comes with me into the room when I say that I’m with American Farmland Trust. I think our partners see us coming with good ideas, well thought through. Obviously we have a constituency and we advocate for them, but I think that we’re seen as honest brokers, people who are trying to make good policy, good decisions, make good things happen, not just advance our side of things. It’s really critical because farmland touches all of those interests so our partnerships are hugely important. A farmer we work with recently said that AFT is able to rise above the local politics that often derail good ideas because we have a national focus and a long perspective. We want what is best for farmland and farming over all.

As part of a coalition in Pennsylvania, AFT helped stop cuts for farmland preservation funds proposed by Governor Corbett. Can you expand upon that accomplishment?

It was a real victory. State budgets are tight everywhere and you look around and see other states where cuts were made yet Pennsylvania survived. The reason I think we were successful is because AFT has helped to build and support a very strong, broad coalition of farmers, agricultural groups and environmental people who are concerned about water and woods and the environmental side of things. And we all got together behind a Save the Farm coalition. We were well-organized and just had a good campaign. It resonated with Pennsylvanians who have shown their commitment to the idea and to pay to protect farmland for 30 years. We got them to speak up, write letters and make calls. We had a great response in the press. Ultimately the legislators listened and make a strong showing to the governor to say that this isn’t ok.

What are some big challenges AFT has faced in the Mid-Atlantic region over the past year?

I think we really need to nail down this issue of having farmland be adequately represented in the solution to this big issue of how do we live on the land in a way that is sustainable? And we need a new look at that because while all the reasons we have identified through the years for why farmland is important are all still true, we also have this heightened concern  about water quality.  We need to understand what role farmland and farmers plays in this realm and we articulate to people. They need to understand how much agriculture is part of the solution for this issue, too. And so this last year I’ve been working on making the case that farmland is essential for water quality so we can make it part of the policy solution.

There are so many uses for land and there are so many more near-term uses that seem more important like housing and transportation, stuff that people have to do on a daily basis. It feels to most people that the food, and the open space and the other benefits are just going to be there and there’s enough land. And we don’t realize how thin that is. That great animation we have about the earth being an apple and how thin, how precious and tiny the part that is farmland and the productive soils that we need are in comparison to the whole earth.

What was another great accomplishment of 2012?

One of the best things was getting a big acknowledgement for our work from the head of Penn State Extension [Dr. Doug Beegle], who is a renowned agronomist and soil scientist. He has been promoting sensible practices that help farmers meet their business need to be profitable and have good yields by being more precise and efficient in how they use nutrients, which helps clean the water. The approach that AFT uses, which we call the BMP Challenge, allows farmers to try out new practices risk free. They work with an expert person in the field to set up a comparison of this new practice compared to what they’ve been doing. Then if they lose money on the new practice, we promise to pay them the difference. It’s a guarantee that lets them sleep well at night because they know that they can try this thing, they can learn from it, and it’s not going to be a big loss for them economically. Having the head of extension at Penn State say, “I think this approach of AFT, this BMP challenge, is the perfect thing to use to get farmers to try out this soil testing practice,” that was great.

What do you think is one of the most important things to note about AFT’s work in the Mid-Atlantic region?

The thing that I keep coming back to is that people really need to have a better appreciation for what farmers are really thinking about and what goes into their decisions and how complex and nuanced those are. It’s a technical, complex profession. It’s just wonderful to sit in meetings with these farmers and hear them discuss their decision-making process. They really care about it. Obviously, it’s their livelihood but they’re working with nature every day and it’s complex. One of the things that I try to do is to get farmers in front of non-farmers and have them hear that.

It’s a highly technical and sophisticated knowledge-based career and it’s risky. You have got to be out there making decisions and spending money and going out on a limb for the whole year, and it’s only when you harvest that yield that you get your paycheck. You have so little control over most of what is important, which is rainfall and temperature. Whew, talk about living life on the edge!


Jim BairdAbout the Author: Jim Baird is Mid-Atlantic Director for the American Farmland Trust where he works to help maintain viable farms and clean water through the adoption of nutrient-related conservation practices and ensuring that farmer concerns are reflected in policy and program discussions.

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Protecting Farmland by the Acre—and the Inch—in the Midwest: An Interview with Mike Baise, Midwest Director, American Farmland Trust

What first brought you to American Farmland Trust (AFT) and what has kept you engaged in your first year with the organization?

I grew up on a grain and livestock farm in central Illinois and worked in agriculture in Illinois and Indiana most of my professional career. Shortly after graduate school, I began working at the Illinois Department of Agriculture where they had programs involving farmland protection and soil conservation. I became aware of AFT through the Department in the early 1980’s and respected their work and found it appealing. I also viewed agricultural policy as being driven more and more by environmental concerns and I thought of AFT as being a bridge between the agricultural and environmental communities. I still think that is an important function of the organization and I am interested in being a part of that effort.

I think most folks who have heard of American Farmland Trust immediately think about preserving acres of farmland. If you’ve ever flown over or driven through Indiana, Illinois and Iowa, you know there are a lot of acres of farmland also with prime soils. I’ve thought about AFT’s work and approaches to promote the AFT brand in the Midwest and the best visual idea I’ve come up with is preserving both precious acres of farmland and precious inches of topsoil.

What would you say was one of your favorite or fondest memories from the past year?

Early in the year, I think it was probably the first weekend in February, John Hardin, who is on AFT’s board of directors and a Purdue Trustee, asked me if I wanted to attend the Purdue Ag Alumni Fish Fry with him. It’s a big event in Indiana agriculture and anybody that’s anybody in Indiana agriculture attends it. I happily went along and was delighted to find out that the luncheon speaker was a guy named Howard Buffet. Howard is the son of financier Warren Buffet and also is an Illinois farmer and has a charitable foundation.  His message that day struck me as being perfect for the Purdue alumni audience. It was all about food security, not just U.S. food security, but global food security and the importance of soils and soil health and tillage systems and cover crops. It was a fascinating speech and I was really jazzed by his remarks.

Also later that same month, I had an opportunity to attend a meeting at Purdue Research Farm about cover crops, the growing crops you put on the land after the corn and soybeans are harvested. They’re not commodity crops; they’re considered something that prevents soil erosion and adds to organic matter and other wonderful things that help with the health and the conditioning of the soil.

I would say those two events probably did more than anything else to shape my thinking about what I might be able to do with AFT in Indiana and Illinois.

In Illinois, AFT is working with partners to host Lady Landowners Learning Circles. Could you talk a bit about that project?

For many years I worked for the Indiana Farm Bureau, an organization that represents the interests of agriculture, farmers and farm families. One thing I observed was that as farm couples age, typically women live longer than men. After they become widows, women are frequently in charge of a very valuable asset, meaning the farmland, and they may or may not have been engaged in dealing with government programs or some of the institutions that impact the farmland itself. I thought there’s an opportunity here, a niche for American Farmland Trust to play in helping educate and empower women who own or control the land. Through conversations with my new AFT colleague, Anne Sorensen, I found that we both had that same thinking in common. So we are making the case those women landowners have a lot of influence on who rents the land and whether or not conservation will be applied to the land.

My father and mother were a team in their farming career. Their goal in life was to buy a farm, own their own land and raise and educate their two sons. And they were successful in that both of their sons have college educations and they bought and paid for a modest farm in west central Illinois.  My dad passed away in 1993. My mother, as a widowed land owner, was fortunate in that she had a son as her tenant. But a lot of other women in that same circumstance don’t have a son or a daughter or that trusted tenant. There’s this challenge of women having enough information and knowledge to be able to deal with their tenants in an empowered way. When your partner passes on, there’s the immediate shock of the loss and then there’s the secondary shock of, “Well, what am I going to do? How am I going to manage? How am I going to take care of this asset that we spent our entire lives building?” They need information and confidence to make informed decisions and there could be a role for a national organization like AFT.

What do you think are the most important steps for AFT in the Midwest in the coming year?

First, I would say the cultivation of women landowners. Accelerating of adoption of cover crops would be important. Also, I had a recent and interesting phone call with the Champaign County Soil and Water Conservation District. They had been contacted by the Urbana- Champaign Sanitary District, the water treatment utility. They are really interested in exploring work with farmers to reduce phosphorus and nitrates in surface waters so that they might avoid having to build a large and expensive addition to their water treatment plant. Their thinking parallels our Ohio River Basin Water Quality Trading pilot in the states of Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky.

If other Illinois municipalities were to decide to support on-farm conservation to address surface water nutrient loading that could be a significant new source of conservation funding. If a city like Chicago were to support conservation practices being applied over land in the Illinois River Valley that would be a very big deal. If we can be successful in the Ohio River Basin and have a couple good examples to go to big municipalities like Chicago, maybe we can sell them on a way of cleaning up the water in the Upper Mississippi River Basin.


About the Author: Mike Baise joined American Farmland Trust in January 2012 as the Midwest Director. Baise’s primary responsibilities include managing projects that help farmers improve water quality, engaging stakeholders to develop policy, and finding practical solutions that result in viable farms and an improved environment.

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Planning for Food and Agriculture in New England: An Interview with Cris Coffin, New England Director, American Farmland Trust

What brought you to American Farmland Trust (AFT) and has kept you engaged in your work over the past 11 years?

I was first introduced to AFT when our former president, Ralph Grossi, along with AFT Special Advisor Norm Berg, came to discuss Farm Bill conservation programs with my then boss, Senator Herb Kohl.  I was impressed that AFT clearly cared about both the environment and farmers—not just one or the other.    I continue to feel that way.  AFT fills an important niche in bridging the divide between the agriculture and environmental communities, and we are able to do that, in part, because we have a staff that knows and understands agriculture.   I have great colleagues,  and their  expertise and commitment to those things that AFT works on makes it a wonderful organization to work for.

What would you say one of your greatest accomplishments at AFT was in 2012?

This past year has been one where AFT has focused our work at the regional level.  We embarked on an exciting regional policy project with the Northeast Sustainable Working Group and the Conservation Law Foundation.   We finished a regional milkshed study that looks at ways consumers and policymakers can support our region’s dairy farms.  We organized a regional farmland protection convening attended by our land trust and state and federal agency partners around the region, and started planning for a larger regional farmland convening in 2013.  And we continued our work with Farm to Institution in New England to build new markets for New England farmers and spur investment in the region’s food system infrastructure.

It’s been an exciting year, with so much interest and energy around the region on building New England’s food system infrastructure and fostering economic development in agriculture.   And with each of the  New England states focused on planning for agriculture and the food system, it’s a great opportunity to think holistically about the region’s farmland base and what it will take not only to stem the loss of productive farmland, but to put additional land back into production to grow the region’s food production capacity.

Brian Donahue at Brandeis University is working on an exciting vision about New England’s food future that imagines New England meeting at least half of its food needs in 50 years.  Since we now produce only 10 percent of the fruits and vegetables we eat in New England, and less than 50 percent of the dairy products, this would be an enormous change, but one that could have a very positive impact on our food security, our economy and our environment.  How much land will we need to get to this type of vision?  And how do we work as a region to keep farmland in farming, reclaim land for agriculture in an environmentally sustainable way, and recognize that agriculture can play a critical role in our region’s economy and environment?

What are some of your most relevant findings thus far in AFT’s efforts to identify policies to improve regional food resilience?

Our two-year regional policy project with the Conservation Law Foundation and the Northeast Sustainable Ag Working Group is looking across the food system to identify both the most significant challenges and the policy levers that are going to be the most impactful. There are a few I would point out.

One significant challenge—and this is not new—is farm profitability.  There are some very significant hurdles that farm businesses face that we simply have to address if we want to encourage a next generation of farmers and increase food production in the region.  Farm labor is a huge hurdle.  Increased and complex regulations around food safety are another.   Reducing costs and increasing efficiencies—in energy and other farm inputs, in processing and distribution—are others.

We are also looking at opportunities to make land more accessible and affordable to both established and new farmers.  A lot of landowners, including towns and land trusts, rent land to farmers but don’t always appreciate that some of the constraints they put on the use of that land make it challenging to farm.  A lot of land that is protected in this region is protected in such a way as to make it difficult to farm.  And for young farmers especially who don’t often have the resources to be able to purchase land, are there ways that might allow them to build some equity in a farm business on land that they may not own?  There’s a lot of good thinking being done on this issue through Land For Good’s regional Land Access Project which we’ve been involved in, and we want to use this policy project to highlight and gain traction on some new policy ideas and tools. .

What are the most important steps moving forward in 2013 for your work in New England?

One of the things that we are very excited about is having a regional convening in the first quarter of 2013 around farmland specifically.  The convening offers an opportunity to brainstorm around   regional collaboration and to showcase state and regional policies and projects that are making a difference that we think might be replicated across the region.  That conversation, and the work leading up to it and coming out of it, I hope will produce a needed action plan for the region around farmland.

Similarly, our new Farmland Advisors program, which we are doing jointly with AFT’s New York office, will be gearing up with webinars next spring and a conference next fall.  This program will be training 80 participants—agricultural service providers, state agency staff, and land trust representatives—about farmland access and farm transfer tools and strategies.  This is a way of taking what we’re learning from our regional policy project and the Land Access Project and getting information into the hands of the people who are working directly with farmers and landowners.

We will also stay involved in 2013 in both state and regional-level food system planning.  We’re excited that Massachusetts is about to embark on a statewide strategic food system planning effort, and that Connecticut will be rolling out its first recommendations associated with its agricultural planning efforts. Farmland loss has been significant in both these states, and we see these planning efforts as critical to building momentum for policies and investments that will help keep farmers on the land.

What do you think is one of the most critical parts of your work in New England?

We’re at an exciting point in time where policymakers and the general public want to support local farms and farming. We absolutely need to make the most of this opportunity.  We need to demonstrate that agriculture really can be an economic driver. We need to explain how investments in agriculture and farmland can be good for both the environment and for public health.  And in this age of competing demands on state, federal and private resources, we need especially to be strategic. How can we best leverage resources within and around the region?  What state and federal policies can we revamp to encourage smarter growth and less conversion of farmland? And what will really make the biggest difference in keeping farmers on the land over the next ten years? Fortunately, AFT has many great partners around New England, along with members and donors who share our vision and goals.  We look forward to working with them all in 2013!


About the Author: Cris Coffin is the New England Director for American Farmland Trust, where she leads efforts to promote farmland protection, farm viability and conservation practices in New England through research, outreach, advocacy and policy development at the local, state and national level.

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Spreading the No Farms No Food® Message in New York: An Interview with David Haight, New York Director, American Farmland Trust

What brought you to American Farmland Trust and what has kept you here for 13 years?

New York farmer walking through field with sonsI grew up in a very rural part of Upstate New York in a community that was dominated by dairy farms and apple trees. What I always appreciated growing up was the importance of helping to protect the natural environment but also to do it in a way that would allow people to make a living from the land. I saw it first-hand in the work that my neighbors were doing. American Farmland Trust is a national leader in finding ways of protecting the land but also supporting the people that are making their living from that land. So AFT was a natural fit.

Part of the reason I am still here is the people. I very much enjoy the people that have worked for American Farmland Trust. The commitment they have for the mission of this organization is very deep. We also work with some tremendous partners here in New York and we have the opportunity to see people that are really having an impact on the lives of a lot of New Yorkers.

Every day is a little different. No two days are the same and I think there are incredible challenges here and that makes coming to work fun.

What was one of the greatest accomplishments in for American Farmland Trust in New York in 2012?

I think it was a pivot year for AFT and our work in New York. Let’s face it, the last four years have been really, really tough. A lot of the public funding sources that we rely on for our work have been decimated. I think that in 2012 we saw that perhaps we are starting to rebuild some of the things that have been hurt so deeply. For example, our state farmland protection program got a boost in funding in 2012, up to $12 million. That program permanently protected 20 farms in 2011-2012. Those are 20 farm families and it is 6,000 acres of farmland that is now going to be permanently protected in this state.

We also really are at the earliest stages in, I think, some of the most exciting projects we’ve had here at AFT in a long time. Diane Held’s work with the New Generation Farmer initiative in helping new farmers find land in helping the senior generation transfer their farms successfully, I think the work is phenomenal. The Farms to Institutions in New York State initiative has just tremendous potential for AFT. I’m very excited about some of the work that Laura TenEyck is doing with an engagement campaign and hopefully in 2013 we’re going to take significant steps forward in getting more New Yorkers personally involved in helping stop the loss of farmland. I see the potential being very bright for AFT and our work in 2013.

Could you share an inspiring or memorable moment from the No Farms No Food Rally and Lobby Day?

I have the mental image of our Lieutenant Governor [Robert Duffy] joining us, talking about Governor Cuomo’s commitment to food and agriculture as an economic development priority. He was the mayor of the city of Rochester when American Farmland Trust gave Rochester the America’s Favorite Farmers Market award. He has seen personally how agriculture has such economic development potential in New York and how that can mean new jobs and new opportunities. He spoke very eloquently about that.

So did Robert Morgantheau who was our keynote speaker and a former Manhattan district attorney. It was a very heartening thing to see Mr. Morgantheau there with his son Josh, who is now managing their family farm in the Hudson Valley, pointing to the connection that farms have to our history, talking about Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill visiting their farm. But then he quickly moved into how their farm is helping to bring fresh produce into different communities in Brooklyn and Manhattan and the new CSA that they have. This connection with our history and our legacy in the Hudson Valley but also a lot of the interest in better diet and public health and some of the other connections we have here in New York. Those two people saying some of the things that they did really stood out for me. Laurie what comes to your mind when you think back?

Is there anyone that has inspired the way you thought about a challenge or approach with your land transition and next generation farmer work in New York?

We held two next generation farmer forums here in New York, one in Hyde Park last fall and one out in east Aurora. Matt Schober (Cool Whisper Farm) spoke, a farmer from Columbia County who was dealing with a farm transfer problem and wanted to get into grass-fed beef. The family had a small dairy farm in the Hudson Valley. His dad wanted to bring him back home to the family farm but he couldn’t afford to just gift the farm to his one son that wanted to come home. He didn’t feel it was fair. And the son was grappling with, “How do we make this work?”

For me, Matt just crystalized so much of the challenge for that senior generation, for his dad, but then also for him, as somebody that wanted to continue this family farm but was just struggling with the same sets of issues. Even though he grew up on a farm, he had gone off to school and he knew agriculture. It wasn’t a new experience for him but the challenges were so real. We need to be talking about both sides of the story. I think sometimes you get caught up in the young person that’s getting into agriculture. I think that’s a compelling story but we can’t forget the other side of the equation.

What are the most important steps moving forward in 2013 for your work in New York?

There are a few things that we’re going to be rolling forward with in 2013. We have one of our biggest water quality projects on eastern Long Island. We started to work with 10 farmers in helping them reduce their use of fertilizer to help protect Long Island Sound. I think we’re poised in 2013 to really ramp that up a notch and expand the number of farmers we work with and start looking at other types of crops that farmers are growing.

Our plans are to launch in 2013 this Greater Hudson Valley FarmLink network which will be a combination of a website, a series of training programs, and a network of supporting match facilitators to connect people that are looking for farms and have farmland available. So that is, I think, a very exciting program for 2013.


About the Author: David Haight is New York Director of American Farmland Trust and aids state and federal legislators as they work on agricultural and land conservation legislation. He has helped coordinate projects that have permanently protected more than 4,000 acres of New York farmland.

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Advocating for Farmland Forever in the Pacific Northwest: An Interview with Dennis Canty, Pacific Northwest Director, American Farmland Trust

What brought you to at American Farmland Trust and has kept you engaged during your two years here?

I’ve actually known about the organization since the early 1980’s and I’ve had a pretty strong interest in farmland preservation and rural conservation issues since then. I first got to know AFT when I was in graduate school and since 2003 had a really good opportunity to work with my predecessor, Don Stuart, who is just a great guy. He knows everybody and pretty much everything about farmland preservation out here. And so I was really inspired by Don’s leadership and interested in trying to continue his work out here.

Over the past year, what were some of the greatest accomplishments for AFT work in the Pacific Northwest?

Back in February, we released a report on farmland preservation programs around Puget Sound that is a comparative scorecard of how county governments are doing on farmland preservation. As part of that, it identified a few of the counties (three of the 12) that are really doing excellent work in terms of land use planning and purchase and transfer of development rights. We recognized those three with awards this spring and that was very well-received by the counties. One of the best things about the project is that, right after we released the report on the results, we had a couple of counties call up and say, “hey, how do we improve our score?” which is just the kind of thing that we like to hear. Right now we are working actively with a couple of counties to improve their land use planning related to agriculture. It’s exactly the kind of impact that we were hoping to have.

Mid-summer we revived Pioneers in Conservation, which offers small grants to farmers to do conservation work on their farms. Out here the focus is mostly on salmon recovery. People are doing is riparian restoration, but it also has tremendous water quality benefits. AFT had a breakthrough moment in the Snoqualmie Valley, just east of Seattle, where we came in with a very, very small pot of money, $35,000, but had the flexibility to allocate it to conservation projects that wouldn’t have been funded through other sources. As a consequence we were able to leverage a lot of funding both from nonprofit organizations and from NRCS. In the process we went from a $35,000 program to a program that’s now funded at about $400,000. And we’ll be doing riparian restoration on more than three miles of critical salmon reaches and farm communities out there. So that’s a pretty big deal. It’s also been called out by USDA out here as a great example of the kind of work that they want to see done around Washington State, particularly in the Puget Sound basin. So it has been a real hit.

Then I guess the last thing that I want to discuss is the Farmland Forever campaign. We have a really significant problem with farmland loss here in the Puget Sound region. We’ve lost about 60 percent of our farmland here since 1950, and of course this is near and dear to our mission as an organization. One of the things I’ve been interested in doing since I got here is to try to develop a strong campaign for farmland preservation in the Puget Sound region, particularly where the rates of loss have been high. We actually have a pretty significant grant from an organization called the Washington Women’s Foundation and we were the only grantee in their environmental category this year. We hope that this campaign is going to result in the protection of more than 100,000 acres of additional farmland here in the region.

What will be an important step in 2013 for the Farmland Forever campaign?

What I think that we’re finding in ramping up the Farmland Forever campaign is that there are a tremendous number of organizations that have an interest in farmland preservation but for whom this is not their primary focus. We need to develop a workable coalition among all those organizations. It’s quite an interesting mix of both agricultural and environmental organizations. Out here people do appreciate the role of farmers in preserving water quality and restoring habitat so there is a pretty strong appreciation for farmland preservation among the environmental community.

Can you think of a champion of farmland that has either inspired some of your work or changed the way you thought about approaching the challenges that you’ve faced?

Don Stuart. He’s a very self-effacing guy; he can be quiet and deferential. It’s amazing as I’ve gotten into this job to know just how far into this field he was active and what a huge difference he had made in farmland protection throughout the region.  I’ve just been humbled by it, to think he was really effective on so many different levels. So he really is one of my heroes in this regard.

Any last thoughts about AFT’s work in the Pacific Northwest?

We recognize that we are a very, very small organization with a very, very big mission and that we couldn’t get our work done without partnerships all over the place. It’s been wonderful as I get into this job, knowing how willing people are to partner with AFT based largely on a 30 year history of success in this area. And people lean into these activities. So I feel like we’re standing on other people’s shoulders doing this work, people that have gone before and done excellent work for AFT over the years.


Dennis CantyAbout the author: Dennis Canty is the Pacific Northwest Director for American Farmland Trust. Before joining AFT, Canty founded Evergreen Funding Consultants in 2001, a Seattle firm that focuses on funding strategies for environmental projects.

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Stories of Farmland Protection Help Steer Future of Wisconsin’s Farmland

From tales of struggle and triumph passed down through generations of a farm family to accounts of new beginnings for those venturing into agriculture for the first time, the stories shared by farmers are as rich and diverse as the fields they sow. These stories mark the history of a farm family and, as was recently witnessed in Green Bay, Wisconsin, can also help chart the path for their future.

In early June, members of Wisconsin’s agricultural and conservation communities lent their stories to the Board of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, a policy-making body within the state’s Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection. The department was tasked in 2011 through the state budget appropriations process to review and evaluate its investment in the fledgling Purchase of Agricultural Conservation Easement (PACE) program. Through the PACE program, landowners can apply for state funding to help purchase the development rights of their working lands and help protect it from non-agricultural development. The board meeting in Green Bay was the latest in the fight for continued PACE support.

There is no off-season in agriculture and the spring and summer months can be particularly demanding. Nevertheless, speakers came from farms across the state, each leaving much work waiting for them back home, to share their stories and to make the case for PACE. Several farmers detailed the economic development benefits tied to PACE funding. They identified incentives to buy more land, expand operations and provide opportunities for young family members: When they reinvested in agriculture, their employees and local communities also benefited.

As young farmers Christa Behnke, Zoey Brooks and Kyle Zwieg explained, the PACE easements on their families’ properties have provided them certainty for the future and the opportunity to carry on the family business. Zwieg added that he and a brother would probably be working off the farm had it not been for their farm’s PACE easement.

The power of these farmers’ voices—just a sliver of the approximately 37,000 farm operators across the state—illuminated the numerous benefits of PACE. As a result of their efforts, the board took decisive action. After reviewing the recently released PACE report in the afternoon, the board recommended to the Wisconsin Legislature that the PACE program be continued and a source of funding be identified. The motion passed unanimously.

This good news is the latest in American Farmland Trust’s ongoing work to help protect Wisconsin’s critical farmland. Along with our partner, Gathering Waters Conservancy, we have been on the ground in Wisconsin since 2008, working to secure essential policies and programs through the Campaign for Wisconsin’s Farm and Forest Lands. Together, we organized and coordinated a sizeable and influential coalition in support of creating two new farmland protection and farm viability programs — PACE and the Agricultural Enterprise Area Program — that were adopted and funded by the state Legislature in 2009.

However, then newly anointed Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker targeted the PACE program for elimination in his inaugural budget package in early 2011. Through the “Friends of Farmland Protection” campaign, American Farmland Trust and Gathering Waters Conservancy coordinated key supporters from the farm, local government, land trust and planning communities to reach out to lawmakers, the governor and other key leaders to voice strong grassroots support for farmland protection in Wisconsin. In the end, the Legislature listened to the stories shared about the importance of PACE, removing the proposal that would have eliminated the PACE program and restoring funds for the first round of approved applications.

Altogether, the land protection and conservation involvement of American Farmland Trust and our partners in Wisconsin have made progress while overcoming significant hurdles since 2008. The impact has been the designation of 340,000 acres in 17 Agricultural Enterprise Areas and 75 applications covering more than 20,000 acres to the PACE program. But our work is far from complete. Through collective action and shared stories, we continue to help steer efforts to protect Wisconsin’s farmland for generations to come.


About the author: One of the nation’s leading experts in Farmland Protection, Bob Wagner celebrated his 25th year at American Farmland Trust in 2010 and has worked in the field of farmland protection since 1981. In his current position, Wagner helps states and local communities nationwide build support for and create policies to protect agricultural land.

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Report Charts Progress Toward Achieving California’s Agricultural Vision

California agricultural leaders are making progress on a broad front to address major challenges to the industry’s sustainability, guided by goals established by the State Board of Food and Agriculture. And they are doing so by collaborating with environmentalists and representatives of other groups with an interest in the food system. These are the conclusions of a new report by American Farmland Trust (AFT) on the progress of California Agricultural Vision.

California Farm Fields on cover of From Strategies to Results report

The report, From Strategies to Results, stems from a process that was started in 2008 by the State Board and the California Department of Food & Agriculture. California Agricultural Vision (Ag Vision) was designed to identify and promote actions that farmers, ranchers and others in the food system should take to assure a healthy population, a clean environment and a profitable industry.

From Strategies to Results documents more than 40 initiatives being taken to implement the recommendations of an earlier AFT report, Strategies for Sustainability, published in late 2010. Those recommendations emerged from a two-year process of engaging more than a hundred stakeholders, which was facilitated by AFT at the request of the State Board. A blue ribbon Ag Vision advisory committee of twenty leaders representing agriculture, the environment, hunger and nutrition, farm labor and other interests, formulated the final recommendations. Co-chaired by former AFT president Ralph Grossi and Luawanna Hallstrom, a member of the State Board, it continues to meet periodically to track progress and encourage broader participation.

We would like to hear from you!

Read California Agricultural Vision: Strategies for Sustainability (2010)

Read the new From Strategies to Results and share in the comment space below what you believe are the most important and promising of the more than 40 initiatives described in the report.

Vote for your top priority Strategy for Sustainability

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Ed ThompsonAbout the Author: Edward Thompson, Jr., California Director at American Farmland Trust has been with the organization since it was founded 30 years ago, serving in multiple positions and helping initiate a wide variety of projects.

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The Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program: A Partnership for Saving the Land

Since 1996, the backbone of federal support for farmland protection has rested in the Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program, or FRPP. By bridging federal funds with state, local and private dollars to help these government and private partners protect more than 810,000 acres of rich, agricultural lands.

Development encroaching on farmlandEfforts around the country to protect farmland reflect a deep public commitment to agriculture, to today’s farmers, and to sustaining the land base for future generations of farmers. Supporting these efforts is critical. The USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service reports that, from 1982 to 2007, more than 23 million acres of agricultural land—an area the size of the state of Indiana—was permanently converted to non-agricultural development. The continued loss of productive farmland to development threatens the viability and future of local agricultural industries, communities and economies across the nation. It is critical that the federal government continue to be an important ally and partner in efforts to reverse these trends.

As Congress debates the next farm bill, the Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program, along with many important conservation programs, will be reviewed and re-assessed. Congress should note that the program has proven to be a cost-effective contributor to locally-driven strategies to protect farmland and support farmers and their communities. Thanks to the local partnership structure, 66 percent of the funding for the Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program projects has come from non-federal sources, while administrative costs have also not fallen on federal funding sources.

In order for the Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program to continue to be an effective partner in such local efforts, it is essential that it retains key core components. The Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program should:

  • Use program funds only for permanent agricultural conservation easements;
  • Continue to be aimed at protecting working farmland for active agricultural production; and
  • Be based on recognizing state and local governments and private land trusts as vital partners and providing matching funds to these partners to purchase agricultural conservation easements.

In addition to these key program elements, an effective Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program—one that will ensure a productive and healthy future for American agriculture—will require adequate funding. The 2012 Farm Bill comes at a time of high-profile congressional battles over the federal budget. In fact, last fall’s attempt to address the deficit through the Joint Select Committee forced approximately $23 billion in farm program cuts over 10 years, with more than $6 billion coming from conservation programs. The Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program received disproportionate cuts—nearly 30 percent—when other conservation programs saw 10 to 20 percent reductions. All of this, at a time when demand for farmland protection is on the rise, including a steady backlog of existing funding requests and growing interest from the western ranching community.

As the 2012 Farm Bill negotiations move forward, Congress needs to have a clear picture of the critical need to protect the nation’s farmland. You can help American Farmland Trust share this message by contacting your member of Congress.  Let them know that the Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program must not see unfair cuts in the farm bill.


About the author: One of the nation’s leading experts in Farmland Protection, Bob Wagner celebrated his 25th year at American Farmland Trust in 2010 and has worked in the field of farmland protection since 1981. In his current position, Wagner helps states and local communities nationwide build support for and create policies to protect agricultural land.

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No Farms, No Food® Rally 2012: Better than Ever!

Farm and food advocates from around New York State laid solid groundwork for legislative funding to protect farmland, and sustain the business of agriculture, at American Farmland Trust’s third annual No Farms, No Food® Rally, held February 15 in Albany.

Our latest Rally brought together more than 100 individuals, representing 70 supporting organizations, and sent a powerful message to Governor Andrew Cuomo, Commissioner of Agriculture Darrel Aubertine, state legislators, and other New Yorkers. That message? We must strengthen our farm and food economy, protect farmland and the environment, and increase access to nutritious food grown in New York. Many participants described the day as “the best No Farms, No Food® Rally yet.”

An Administration Committed to Supporting Farms

2012 No Farms No Food Rally Participants

Jeff Jones, Land Trust Alliance; Janet Thompson, Tug Hill Tomorrow Land Trust; Fred Huneke, WAC; Stephen Kidd, Urban Garden in Harlem; Terry Wilbur, Oswego County Legislature. photo credit: Dietrich Gehring

Key state leaders underscored their commitment to strengthening New York’s farm and food policy. Lieutenant Governor Robert Duffy, along with state agriculture committee chairs Senator Patty Ritchie and Assemblyman Bill Magee, joined us at the Rally and spoke in support of our pro-farm agenda.

Robert Morgenthau, former Manhattan District Attorney and Special Counsel to American Farmland Trust, introduced Lieutenant Governor Duffy. In his opening remarks, Morgenthau, who owns a family farm in Dutchess County, explained the state’s commitment to farmland this way, “There’s bad news and good news. The bad news is that the state doesn’t have a lot of excess money around, and in past years the protection of farmland has not been a priority for the state. The good news is this administration is committed 100 percent to supporting farms.”

Lieutenant Governor Duffy, in his remarks, praised New York State agriculture. “Not only do we have the greatest state in the nation, but we have the greatest agricultural state in the nation. Agriculture is a $4.7 billion industry in the state. That is huge.”

Duffy was emphatic about Governor Cuomo’s support for agriculture. “He gets it, he understands, he listens,” said Duffy. The Lieutenant Governor also spoke of  his own personal interest in visiting farms and talking directly with American Farmland Trust, farmers and other supporters of New York’s farm and food systems, and about ways the state can help farmers build our farm and food economy.

Buy Local

Senator Patty Ritchie, Chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee, told an enthusiastic crowd that “eating local matters.” Ritchie represents one of the largest-dairy producing regions in the state.  It includes Oswego and Jefferson Counties, as well as the western half of St. Lawrence County. Ritchie is working with the state Office of General Services and Governor Cuomo to look for ways to bring more New York-produced food to Albany.

Rally participant Bhavani Jaroff of Long Island, and host of the Progressive Radio Network’s iEat Green, recorded her show from Albany on the day of the Rally.  She stressed to listeners and those in attendance that New York must “allocate enough money to keep farmers from needing to sell their land to developers in order to retire, and to make it possible for them to transition their land to a new generation of farmers.” Jaroff went on to say, “We all need to eat, and if we want access to fresh, local, sustainably raised fruits, vegetables and dairy, we need to support our farmers.”

Building Relationships

It is imperative that the voices of pro-farming, pro-farmland advocates ring throughout Albany in the days immediately ahead, as New York State leaders negotiate a budget and review pieces of legislation key to farming’s future.

Visit our website, to see great photos and media stories about the No Farms, No Food® Rally 2012. We encourage you to share the images and articles on your own websites and through social media to help spread the No Farms, No Food® message!

The deadline for a final state budget is March 30, though Governor Cuomo is shooting to have it completed even sooner.  Be sure to sign up for our email updates, if you haven’t already, and we’ll keep you updated during budget negotiations and as legislation we support makes its way through the legislature.

Last but certainly not least, remember that developing relationships with your elected leaders is critical!  Invite them to your farmers market, CSA or land trust event. Ask them to meet your town board or food co-op or take a tour of your community. They must not ever forget—No Farms, No Food®!


David Haight About the Author: David Haight is New York Director of American Farmland Trust and aids state and federal legislators as they work on agricultural and land conservation legislation. He has helped coordinate projects that have permanently protected more than 4,000 acres of New York farmland.

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Farm and Food News 3/2/12

Conservation Practices Show Dual Benefit in Maryland

The Maryland Department of Agriculture recently reported their findings related to the benefits of farmers utilizing cover crops. This year, the practice was used on 429,818 acres of farmland, resulting in better soil quality and reduced agricultural runoff.

A County’s Oral History of Farmland Protection

In the early 1960s, predictions of explosive population growth in California’s Napa Valley led to the founding of the Napa Valley Agricultural Preserve. A recent book, “Oral Histories of Napa County’s Agricultural Preserve,” captures some of the voices who first launched the farmland protection movement in the region.

Documenting Life on the Farm

Four farmers in western North Carolina have been documenting their daily lives since July 2011 through a series of online videos. Part of a longer film-in-progress, the project of Carolina Farm Credit, is offering the farmers’ stories to connect food and community.

New York State Funds Agricultural Development Projects

In an effort to boost economic development in New York, the Empire State Development agency challenged communities last year to compete for funding through its Open for Business Program. Of the $785 million in grants awarded in 2011, $4.3 million was split among 14 agriculture projects, including an Agricultural Enterprise Park on Long Island.

California Community Continues Farmland Protection Legacy

For the past three decades, the Brentwood Agricultural Land Trust has battled development pressure to help protect more than 750 acres of farmland surrounding the city of Brentwood in California. In praise of the organization’s work—accounting for the most easements from any community in the state—one farmer explained, “My father, Stanley, was a farmer. I’m a farmer and my family will continue to farm here.”

House Agriculture Committee Announces Hearings

This week, House Ag Committee Chair Frank Lucas (R-OK) announced field hearings taking place across the nation in preparation for the next farm bill. The first hearing will take place on March 9 in Saranac Lake, New York, with the series closing April 20 in Dodge City, Kansas.

Calling All Food Warriors!

Real Time Farms just announced the summer 2012 application opening for the Food Warrior internship program. Running from May 1 to August 20, Real Time Farms is looking for help in Boston, Chicago, Denver, Providence and Washington, D.C.

Upcoming Food and Farming Conferences

As part of Chicago’s Good Food Conference, the Good Food Financing Fair on March 15 will provide an opportunity for farmers and foodies to meet one-on-one with investors, economic development specialists, and other strategic partners to develop relationships and potentially work together.

The first Appalachian Food & Agriculture Summit will take place March 23 to 25 in Blacksburg, Virginia. Farmers,  students  and interested community members are invited to register.

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