This story about Tim, a vegetable farmer in New York, shows how a farmer can successfully navigate the financial decisions related to land access by planning ahead, asking for help, and considering how partners with aligned values can make acquiring farmland more affordable.
For more lessons about land conservation and farm viability, visit our Land Access Case Study Library.
To begin planning for your own land access journey, try our Finding Farmland Course.
Tim started farming in his mid-20s. He was drawn by the opportunity to steward the land; work with people, plants, and animals; and provide a tangibly needed product–food.
He worked on CSAs in eastern and central New York for seven years — the last four as a manager.
While managing these farms, Tim also started looking for his own land.
After a broad regional search, he decided to focus on Saratoga Springs, where he has family.
In the first year of his search, Tim looked for ways to make farmland affordable. With around $10,000 saved and few other assets, affording land in Saratoga Springs seemed impossible.
Tim connected with land trusts and farm service providers who helped him learn about local land markets, available properties, conservation easements, and other land access resources.
When seriously considering a property, Tim contacted the local land trust to assess the likelihood, terms, and timeline for conserving the farm. He used a spreadsheet to compare the different scenarios.
Tim hoped to find his farm within a year, but he couldn’t afford a down payment or find the right farm to lease. To keep farming while seeking land, he began managing a friend’s farm in central NY.
After two years, and having acquired some equipment for his future farm, he decided to move home to Saratoga. He felt living where he was seeking land would increase the chances of finding his farm.
Tim took off-farm work in Saratoga, dedicating his increased income to his farm search. He also devoted a lot of his time to drafting a 6-year business plan, including monthly cash flow estimates.
He considered each possible property, asking: What infrastructure would I need to build? What are the soil types? What school district is this property in? Does this location work for my future CSA?
Tim also reviewed any potential properties with his local land trust, Saratoga PLAN, to assess zoning considerations and the likelihood of receiving a conservation easement.
Knowing he would not be able to buy a farm at full market value, Tim began contacting land access organizations, such as Equity Trust and Local Farms Fund, to consider how these partners could help him afford farmland.
After nearly a year of discussions, Tim partnered with a farmland investor, the Local Farms Fund (LFF). LFF agreed to purchase the farm and provide a lease-to-own contract once Tim found the right farm.
Over four years into his search, Tim and his wife had visited, contacted, or considered 75-100 properties. In 2015, with the help of their friend, a real estate agent, they found the right farm.
The farm had a home in decent shape, good soils for vegetables, access to water, and outbuildings. The initial asking price was almost $500,000, but after negotiations, LFF was able to buy the farm on Tim’s behalf.
The lease-to-own agreement allowed Tim to pay $1,750/month in rent until exercising his purchase option in 2020. Meanwhile, he could grow his business and prepare for a loan with lenders.
Tim was prepared to conserve the farm. Six months into his lease, he worked with Saratoga PLAN and LFF to apply for NY State farmland protection funding. Their project was awarded a grant for an easement in 2016.
In 2019, Saratoga PLAN purchased an easement on the property that includes a preemptive purchase right (PPR)
, funded by Equity Trust, ensuring the property’s long-term affordability and access to farmers.
The PPR immediately lowers Tim’s rent payment to LFF, and will drastically reduce the property price from its original listing price when Tim exercises his purchase option.
To help pay for expenses associated with the farm’s conservation and purchase, Tim secured support from Hudson Valley Agribusiness Development Corp, a grant for new small farms in New York, and a personal loan from LFF.
Until his purchase option triggers in 2020, Tim can use the Finding Farmland Calculator
to estimate if his growing business income will be sufficient to finance his farm purchase.
Throughout his ongoing land access journey, Tim invested effort and time to find the resources and people that helped him access land. He also built his farm business, which had its first full year CSA in 2017.
He feels like all the planning has been paying off, and is grateful for the people he’s worked with. Soon, Tim hopes to become a landowner and for his family to enjoy many years to come on their farm.
Discover your own story
Use the calculator
to build out a land access story of your own. Find more case studies in our Library
or brush up on your financial literacy in our Resource Center
Navigating relationships with landowners - whether they are a retired farmer or have never farmed - is key to accessing land. Having a clear idea of your needs and goals before talking to landowners helps both parties achieve desired outcomes. Agriculture-focused mediation organizations can help facilitate conversations.
Click here for more on certified ag mediation programs.
Land trusts are non-profit organizations founded to protect natural resources, such as farmland, from development or damage. Land trusts may be able to help you locate land, provide you with a secure lease, or reduce the cost by purchasing an easement.
Read more about partnering with land trusts in Young Farmers’ guide, Finding Farmland: A Farmer’s Guide to Working with Land Trusts.
Farm service providers
There are many organizations that provide land access and farm succession assistance to farmers. Young Farmers maintains a list of land linking sites, which can be found here. The USDA’s New Farmer Discovery Tool can help link you to organizations working in your region as well. More information here.
Farmland investors vary greatly in their mission and scope of work. In many cases, we advise proceeding with caution.
For more information about these groups and how they might help you, see Land for Good’s report.
Lenders vary greatly in their experience. Farm Credit and the USDA Farm Service Agency have a lot of experience with agricultural loans and land access. Other worthwhile lenders include banks, credit unions, or community development financial institutions.
To learn more, speak with a local farm service providers or read Young Farmers’ guide, Farm Service Agency Loans: The Ins and Outs of Growing a Farm with Federal Loans.
Who is Tim working with at this step?
Farm service providers