The Finding Farmland case studies take a look at the different ways real farmers were able to make purchasing farmland a reality.
The first story is about Tim, a vegetable farmer in upstate New York.
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.
He worked on CSAs in eastern and central New York for seven years — the last four as a manager.
While managing the farms, Tim 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 had begun exploring ways to make his future farm affordable.
He got in touch with every land trust and farm service provider wherever he looked.
When seriously considering a property, he would contact the relevant land trust to assess the likelihood of its conservation, the length of that process, and the possible dollar value of an easement.
Tim had hoped to start farming in Saratoga Springs after a year, but that turned out to be overly optimistic. In the meantime, he took an offer to manage at a friend’s farm starting up in central New York.
After two years, he decided to move to Saratoga so he could advance his search without working long hours and making little money a couple hours away.
Tim started drafting 6-year business plans with extensive cash flow estimates.
He considered each possibility, asking: What if I built this? Added a sewer? Put up a greenhouse?
As he identified properties, Tim brought them to land trusts and other groups to assess factors like soil quality and ‘farmability’, zoning considerations and the likelihood of receiving a conservation easement.
Occasionally these groups would also recommend properties, as a result of Tim’s constant outreach.
Tim had to develop a strong sense of the numbers and their accuracy for financial planning, so he could quickly identify dead ends and find the tough questions to ask (in a friendly way, of course).
Over four years into the search, Tim and his wife had considered 75-100 properties, and finally found the right one.
They located the farm using a real estate multiple listing service (MLS) with the help of their friend, a realtor.
Tim had partnered with a community impact farmland investment fund, who purchased the property on his behalf with a lease-to-own agreement.
When his lease’s purchase option is triggered in 2020, Tim can try to get a farm ownership loan to purchase the property.
Throughout his search Tim had been exploring the potential of selling a conservation easement. Now he was ready.
New York has special farmland protection funding, which isn’t available in every state.
Six months after the purchase, Tim submitted his application with a local land trust, giving him access to this state program, which in turn opened up county funding.
An easement with preemptive purchase rights has been awarded but not yet granted, which means it is not guaranteed.
Tim also secured funds from a regional agribusiness development corporation, an initiative for new small farms in New York and a nonprofit financial services organization.
He can apply these funds to legal fees and stewardship costs associated with the easement.
Discover your own story
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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.
Farm service providers
There are many organizations that provide land access and farm succession assistance to farmers. NYFC 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.
Local farm investment fund
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 lending to farmers. Farm Credit and the Farm Service Agency are two organizations that have significant experience making loans for agriculture and land access.
Who is Tim working with at this step?
Farm service providers
Local farmland investment fund