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Reflections from New Vermont Farmers

http://www.uvm.edu/newfarmer

By: Jessie Schmidt, UVM Extension New Farmer Project coordinator

At a recent farm tour Garland Mason noted, “Each farm is so unique, and new farmers are often discouraged because they think they can’t replicate the markets, land access, or financing of the successful farms they see. But I’m realizing those unique opportunities are all over Vermont. Farmers keep finding a way to make it work.”  This insight was sparked by tour host Cedar Mountain Farm—on land leased as part of the Cob Hill Co-housing Community in Hartland, which then provides a direct market relationship with Cob Hill Cheese.  

Mason has direct ties with many unique farm businesses as the new farmer coordinator for the Rutland Area Farm and Food Link (RAFFL) and has helped compile stories for the Vermont New Farmer Project (VNFP). Funded by a USDA Beginning Farmer & Rancher Development Grant, the Vermont New Farmer Project is a collaboration between statewide and regional organizations working to coordinate resources and services for Vermont’s beginning farmers. The partnering organizations—UVM Extension, the Intervale Center, the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont, RAFFL, Vital Communities, the Student Conservation Association, and the Association of Africans Living in Vermont—have developed new strategies to help aspiring farmers get their farm businesses off to the right start and have helped established farms scale-up to meet personal and financial goals.

This growing season’s erratic weather, with weeks on end of too much rain and tropical heat, found some new farmers in a tough place. Flooded fields and pastures meant new farmers had to trouble shoot with less income than anticipated and higher costs. Farmers’ markets performed below expectations too, as well as visits to plant nurseries and farmstands. But despite the immediate troubles, stories of innovative strategies and creative partnerships that support farm resiliency shone through. Land access is one of the biggest challenges new farmers face, but many farmers are finding a successful farm start with leasing.

Farmers incubating farmers: Lindsay Arbuckle & Scott Courcelle started Alchemy Gardens in 2010 on land leased from veteran farmer Greg Cox of Boardman Hill Farm in Shrewsbury. The unique agreement allowed Lindsay and Scott to start their operation with low overhead and an experienced farmer on hand to mentor them. Access to equipment, refrigeration and processing areas made for a successful first season. The farming arrangement continues, allowing Lindsay & Scott to build their business and markets while looking for a farm of their own.

From leasing to ownership: Old Gates Farm in Castleton began with a short-term land lease. Farmers Adam and Kris Jacoby Stevenson thought they would have to uproot their operation as their lease agreement was coming to an end. Instead, their landlord approached them with an affordable purchase price for the property. 

Established market supports ownership option: Lila Bennet and Dave Robb established Tangletown Farm on leased land in Middlesex. The diversified livestock operation developed strong markets in the Montpelier area for ethically raised meat, but it was a struggle to manage animals in multiple locations around the town. This spring, Tangletown Farm started the new season in West Glover on a farm purchased with a loan from CSA members. 

Individual land access challenges are unified with the capacity for farmers to work within their community to access land for their businesses. The Vermont New Farmer Project is supporting these strategies with its online Land Access Toolshed. The Toolshed includes resources such as the Vermont Land Link website which streamlines the connection between farmland owners and farmland seekers, and The Guide to Financing the Community Supported Farm, which explores non-traditional methods for funding farming operations.

As the outdoor growing season comes to a close, the Vermont New Farmer Project will be offering ongoing farm business development classes and individual farm business coaching throughout Vermont.  To learn more about the resources and services available to Vermont’s new farmers and read more new farmer profiles, visit http://www.uvm.edu/newfarmer.

For further reading on land leasing read the recent article in Vermont’s Local Banquet and a compelling op-ed in The New York Times

photo: Old Gates Farm courtesy UVM Extension New Farmer Project