Exploring creative new approaches to supporting local agriculture.
What happens to a farm when the next generation doesn’t want to take over running it? What role can a land trust like BNRC play to help keep farmland in the hands of farmers?
These aren’t new questions, but they are taking on more urgency as the value of open land skyrockets.
Farms are disappearing faster than ever—from 2012 to 2017, the Berkshires lost 10% of its farmland, and 80% of what remains is not protected.
At the same time, there are new farmers in the Berkshires seeking land and investment to start a new farm operation. Some are coming to farming after a financially rewarding career elsewhere, and have the means to purchase a valuable property, but many do not.
There are also many organizations working to support agriculture, so BNRC has been asking the question: what can we do to help? Is there a role that only we can play?
The answer about BNRC having a role is yes. We have facilitated the protection of thousands of acres via Agricultural Preservation Restrictions (APRs). And we hold some agricultural land already that we lease to farmers for haying or other crops. Just a few months ago, a 150-acre property with farmland and forest in Richmond was donated outright to BNRC. We will be leasing a portion of it to a local farmer, while opening the rest to public access. But APRs don’t work for every farmer, and not every farmland owner is able to donate their land—in fact most certainly are not.
What can a land trust do? BNRC, led by Director of Community Programs Mackenzie Greer, has been researching this with great care, looking at examples from all over the region. Peer land trusts like the Columbia County Land Trust, Kestrel Land Trust, and Essex County Greenbelt are all pioneering a variety of creative strategies that BNRC could adopt or adapt.
For example, BNRC could buy a farm and conserve the fields, which lowers its resale cost and makes it potentially more affordable to a farmer who might wish to buy it. Or, we could explore owning a farm ourselves, and leasing it to a farmer who could build equity in the farm business and buildings over time.
These are just some of the strategies we intend to explore. All of them will need dedicated funding, expertise, and strong relationships with partners.
With the help of donors and supporters, BNRC can make a real contribution to ensuring farms and a farming community in the Berkshires stay viable— and that farmers can afford to live here and work the land.