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Snapshot of Rhode Island Agriculture

Farming on the Edge: Rhode Island Farmland in the Path of Development


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The Apple As Planet Earth

Do you know how much of the earth is suitable for farming? Watch the video and learn why protecting our farmland is so important.

Rhode Island
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Every minute, America has been losing more than an acre per minute - much of it our best and most productive farmland near where most Americans live. In Rhode Island and across the nation, American Farmland Trust is a vital link between farmers, conservationists and policymakers, working to protect the best farmland, direct growth away from agricultural resources, provide healthy local food to all citizens, and help communities sustain local farms and farming.


Rhode Island Bond Referendum Proposes $3 Million for Farmland Acquisition

A $75 million Clean Water, Open Space, and Healthy Communities Bond Referendum proposed by the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management includes $3 million to protect working farms and keep it in the hands of farmers. The bond envisions the state purchasing the land, followed by restricting and affordably selling or leasing the land to qualified farmers.  “AFT applauds this initiative by the Chafee Administration,” said Cris Coffin, American Farmland Trust New England Director. “Access to affordable farmland is one of the greatest challenges facing new and established farmers alike in New England.”  The bond also proposes $500,000 to continue to fund the Department’s new Local Agriculture and Seafood Act Program.

American Farmland Trust’s Forums Examine Ways to Address Land Access and Affordability

Farmer and son in free stall barnKeeping New England farmland in farming and ensuring its availability for the next generation of farmers is the focus of two upcoming American Farmland Trust forums. Later this month, American Farmland Trust's Working Lands Alliance and other Connecticut partners will hold a day-long conversation to address one of the biggest barriers for new and established farmers—access to affordable farmland. In November, American Farmland Trust will convene its 80 Farmland Advisors for a two-day immersion in the topic, exploring how advisors can work with farmers and farmland owners on farmland transfer and tenure options. “If we want land to stay in farming,” notes American Farmland Trust’s New England Director Cris Coffin, “we need multiple strategies and a better understanding of what will motivate farmland owners to sell or lease land to a next generation farmer. By sharing information about what works and what more is needed, we can build New England’s capacity to keep farmland in farming from one generation to the next.”

New England Webinar and Listening Sessions on Food Safety Modernization Act

Farmers market spreadThe new federal Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) will significantly impact how food in New England and around the country is grown, handled and processed. Farmers, consumers and organizations that support farms and farmland conservation all have a stake in how FSMA is implemented. You can help make it a workable law that improves food safety and supports the type and scale of agriculture that is prevalent in New England.As part of American Farmland Trust’s Regional Policy Project, we recently collaborated with partners to host a webinar about the FSMA, in advance of three listening sessions that will take place in New England on August 19, 20 and 22. “Thanks to our region’s excellent Congressional delegation, we have a chance at these listening sessions to weigh in with our thoughts and concerns,” said American Farmland Trust's New England Director, Cris Coffin. “Let’s make the most of this opportunity.”

New England Project Highlights Programs and Policies to Promote Farmland Access

Young farmer in fieldFinding affordable land to lease or to buy is one of the major challenges facing the next generation of farmers in New England. Two new reports produced by the Land Access Project—a regional project in which American Farmland Trust participated—offer recommendations on ways that states, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, farm and conservation organizations, land trusts, and private investors can help to improve access to land for new and beginning farmers. The Farmland Access and Tenure Innovations report focuses on strategies to encourage public and private landowners to sell or lease their land to beginning farmers. The second report, Does the Option at Agricultural Value Protect Farmland for Beginning Farmers, analyzes a legal requirement—used by both the Massachusetts and Vermont farmland protection programs, as well as some land trusts—that farmland under conservation easement be sold at its agricultural value rather than market value. This would ensure the affordability of protected land for farmers, particularly beginning farmers. 

Regional Convening Considers New England’s Farmland Future  

Rows of crops on small New England farmLast month, in partnership with Land For Good and in collaboration with the six New England state Departments of Agriculture and state USDA-NRCS offices, American Farmland Trust convened 85 of the region’s farm and conservation leaders in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, to discuss New England’s farmland future. Topics ranged from strengthening farmland protection tools, to expanding farmland access for new and established farmers, to improving farmland resiliency in the face of climate change. Participants explored opportunities for collective action and utilized a series of maps, produced in collaboration with the Massachusetts USDA-NRCS, to explore trends in farmland protection, development and conservation. “The convening helped identify some important opportunities and challenges around the region,” said Cris Coffin, American Farmland Trust’s New England Director. “We hope these materials and findings will help inform farmland-related work around the region and spur new projects and collective action.” 

Farmland Advisors Spring into Action in the Northeast

Farmland-Advisors.jpgAmerican Farmland Trust and Land for Good’s Farmland Advisors program is educating agriculture service providers to help the next generation of farmers access land and help farm families facilitate the transfer to the next generation. Farmland Advisors started in February with a webinar for the program’s 80 participants, from New York and New England. The program is funded by a grant from the Northeast SARE Professional Development Program and support from a Farm Credit Northeast AgEnhancment grant. Participants represent land trusts, beginning farmer organizations, extension offices, lending institutions and local and state agencies.

Rhode Island and Maine Voters Approve Farmland Protection Funding

Maine-hayfield.jpgThe November 6 election brought welcome news for New England’s farmland owners, as voters in Rhode Island and Maine overwhelmingly supported ballot initiatives to finance state farmland protection programs. In Rhode Island, nearly 70 percent of voters approved $20 million in “Environmental Management” bonds, including $4.5 million for farmland protection. And in Maine, voters approved a $5 million bond replenishing funding for the Land for Maine’s Future Program, which has permanently protected more than 7,300 acres of productive farmland around the state. “Landowners continue to rely on these programs to finance retirement, transfer the farm to the next generation or expand the farm business,” says Cris Coffin, New England Director for American Farmland Trust. “Voters clearly understand that these programs are good investments in our environment and economy.”  

Farmland Protection Retreat Focuses on New England Opportunities & Challenges

New-England-dairy-farm.jpgA recent retreat organized by American Farmland Trust brought together more than 50 of the region’s leading farmland protection practitioners, including state agency staff, USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) State Conservationists and program managers, and land trust representatives, to brainstorm farmland protection challenges and strategies and discuss the federal Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program (FRPP). Joining the group were New Hampshire Commissioner of Agriculture Lorraine Merrill, Connecticut Commissioner of Agriculture Steve Reviczky, and three guests from the national USDA-NRCS office, including Richard Sims, NRCS Regional Conservationist for the Northeast, and Jeremy Stone, the national FRPP program manager. Cris Coffin, American Farmland Trust New England Director, notes that AFT is working to make this retreat an annual event. “This kind of regional shoptalk is invaluable both in helping to strengthen relationships and in advancing farmland protection innovations around the region,” remarks Coffin.

Fate of Farmland Protection Funding Rests with Rhode Island Voters

Rhode Island state capitolVoters in Rhode Island have a chance to support farmland protection when they head to the polls on November 6. Question 6 is a referendum for $20 million in Environmental Management bonds, including $4.5 million to protect farmland. This funding will help the state leverage an equal amount of federal funding through Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program funding, as well as municipal and private funds. With only one-fourth of the state's farmland permanently protected, the funding addresses one of the key goals identified by farmers in the five-year Vision for Rhode Island Agriculture– stopping the loss of productive farmland. Says American Farmland Trust New England Director Cris Coffin, “Our studies show that investments in farmland protection are typically plowed back in to the local economy by farm families who use the proceeds of the sale of development rights to expand their farms, grow their businesses and add jobs.  A YES on Question 6 is good for the environment and the economy.” 

Farmland Advisors Training Program Now Accepting Applications in Northeast

Allen Family on farm in Easton, New YorkThe transfer of farms to a new generation is one of the biggest challenges facing agriculture in New York and New England.  Farmland Advisors is a training program to help agriculture and conservation professionals become an effective resource in helping farmers and farmland owners as they seek access to land and navigate the complexity of farm transfers. “Participants will learn about everything from farm succession planning to farm linking, lease options and land conservation as a farm transfer strategy,” said Diane Held, Senior New York Field Manager for American Farmland Trust. “Land access and availability are increasingly impacting farms and food systems in the region,” added New England Director Cris Coffin, “Working with professionals across the Northeast will help to meet these challenges at the state level.”  Applications are now being accepted. The deadline to apply is October 31.

Regional Project Seeks to Foster Supportive Public Policy Environment

farmer-and-carrott-picking.pngA vibrant and viable food system in New England requires a supportive public policy environment. For this reason, American Farmland Trust is teaming up with the Conservation Law Foundation and the Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Working Group to identify the policy levers that will support improved farm profitability, expanded food production and the agricultural infrastructure needed to improve regional food resiliency. Drawing upon expertise and experience of leaders and practitioners across New England, this two-year project will focus on federal, state and regional policy arenas, analyzing policy barriers and gaps in five key areas and recommending where change is most needed, at what level and scale, and what kinds of advocacy might be most effective.

Vision for Rhode Island’s Agriculture

A Vision for Agriculture in Rhode IslandLast winter, we were hired by the Rhode Island Agricultural Partnership—a collaborative of farmers, food producers, farm agencies, commodity organizations, agricultural non-profits, and state and local agencies in Rhode Island—to facilitate the development of a five-year Strategic Plan for the state’s agricultural sector.  

At Rhode Island's Agriculture Day on May 12, we helped to present A Vision for Rhode Island Agriculture: Five Year Strategic Plan to Governor Lincoln Chaffee and state lawmakers. Thanks to the leadership of the Rhode Island Agricultural Partnership and the van Beuren Charitable Foundation, Rhode Islanders now have a plan that lays out how consumers, communities, lawmakers and state agencies can build a stronger and more resilient food system and agricultural economy. We are pleased to have been part of this process, and look forward to working with our Rhode Island partners and members in the months and years ahead on implementing its strategies, helping to make their vision a reality.

Read more about A Vision for Rhode Island Agriculture.


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Contact Us

New England Field Office

Cris Coffin, New England States Director
1 Short Street, Suite 2
Northampton, MA 01060-3952
(p)413-586-9330 ext. 29

American Farmland Trust