America has been losing more than an acre of farmland per minute - much of it our best and most productive farmland near where most Americans live. In Vermont 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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Building on work done
through the New England Commission on Land Conservation and its Farm and Food
Security Initiative, American Farmland Trust is bringing together farmland
experts from around New England to explore ways in which the region might work
collaboratively to keep farmland in farming. The six New England state “Chief
Agricultural Officers” and the six state USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service Offices are key partners in
this effort, as is Land For Good. The
project will include a “shop talk” for farmland protection practitioners and a
convening for farm and conservation stakeholders, federal and state agencies,
and public and private funders. Cris
Coffin, New England Director at American Farmland Trust, believes that regional
collaboration is critical to retaining and growing the region’s farmland base. “Every
state in the region is in some stage of farm and food system planning and, not
surprisingly, land access and availability are emerging as key and common needs,” says Coffin. “We will be better able to tackle these challenges at the
state level if we learn and work together as a region.”
The Northeast is home to nearly 64 million people, with a population
density five times the national average. According to a just-released Farm
Bill Agenda for the Northeast [PDF], this urban influence has made
federal conservation programs critically important in the region. The agenda
includes four major priorities for the Conservation Title of the Farm Bill,
including adequate conservation technical assistance; continued robust,
mandatory funding for conservation programs focused on working farms and
forests; appropriate conservation program flexibility to address state and local
resource concerns and priorities; and continued funding for on-farm energy
efficiency and renewable energy production. American Farmland Trust collaborated
with the Northeast Sustainable Agriculture
Working Group (NESAWG) and other state and regional farm, food and
conservation organizations on developing the Agenda’s conservation priorities.
Come join American Farmland Trust at the 2012 Slow Living Summit to be held in Brattleboro, Vermont, May 30 to June 1. Cris Coffin, our New England Director, will speak June 1 on Farm to Plate: What Opportunities are Needed to Grow It. On this panel, Cris and others will highlight the challenges and opportunities in determining consumer need for local and regional foods and how to make regional food policy more competitive and scalable. Summit registration is now open. Join us for an inspiring and information-filled conversation about Food and Agriculture policy in New England. We hope we will see you there!
The proposed Working Lands Enterprise Fund, an initiative focused on boosting Vermont agriculture as part of the state economy, has improved its prospect for passage thanks to recent actions from two state legislative committees. The House Appropriations Committee set aside $2.1 million to be considered for the Working Lands Enterprise Fund if enacted, and the Senate Economic Development Committee voted favorably to report the bill out after making changes to it. The proposed fund, and the board that would oversee it, would have three focal points: grants and loans to land-based and value-added farm businesses that are new or want to grow; wrap-around services for the growth phases of start-up working lands enterprises; and necessary infrastructure to support cluster development and spur business success and rural prosperity.
As Congress begins the farm bill reauthorization process, we’re partnering with other New England organizations to help demonstrate how this bill affects food, the environment and communities in the region. At the recent Let’s Talk about Food event at the Boston Museum of Science, we discussed the importance of farm bill conservation programs to New England’s environment, economy, communities and public health. We also took part in Farm Fresh RI’s Local Food Forum, where we were honored to join Congresswoman Chellie Pingree (D-ME), one of four House Agriculture Committee members from New England, who talked about her Local Farm, Food and Jobs Act. This legislation, introduced jointly with Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and sponsored by Senators Leahy (D-VT), Sanders (I-VT) and Shaheen (D-NH), would improve federal farm policy and programs that support local and regional food systems.
We were pleased to welcome Kip
Kolesinskas to our New England office as our new Conservation Scientist. Kip
joins us from a long and successful tenure with USDA Natural Resources
Conservation Service for Connecticut and Rhode Island. From 1995 to 2011, he
managed the federal Farm and Ranch Lands Protection program in Connecticut,
which contributed $38.6 million to protect more than 10,000 acres of
A bill to create a Vermont Working Landscape Enterprise Investment Fund and a board to oversee it will be heard on January 18 by key state legislative committees. The bill also proposes a national marketing campaign to celebrate and promote Vermont’s working lands economy, and planning tools to support enterprises related to farm and forest products. The measure would implement many of the steps outlined in Investing in Our Farm and Forest Future, an action plan developed by the Vermont Working Lands Partnership.
Another year has come to pass and with it a list of successes—and challenges—impacting farms and food across New England. 2011 was marked by unusual weather, underscoring the need for effective policies and programs to keep farms thriving despite the inherent risks and to help support strong local food systems.
This year, we worked with a wide variety of partners throughout New England to promote the critical importance of farms and farmland to New England’s economy, environment, public health, community character and livability. Here are a few highlights from our work across the region. Read more about our accomplishments from the past year in New England and see a snapshot of what lies ahead.
We recently welcomed Leah Mayor to our New England Office, where she will serve as the Working Lands Alliance Project Director and New England Project Manager. Mayor brings an extensive background in education and community leadership, as well as experience with sustainability initiatives focused on food and agricultural systems. Her work has focused on leveraging enthusiasm of a growing local foods movement to protect farmland, natural heritage and artisanal traditions. Mayor is also the founder and principal of Taking Root, an ecotourism initiative devoted to stimulating local economies, building community viability, and celebrating our connections to food and culinary history. Please join us in welcoming Leah!
Legislation introduced by Governor Peter Shumlin to grow jobs in agriculture has been enacted by the Vermont legislature. House Bill 287 (full text version) begins the process of addressing barriers and opportunities identified through Vermont’s Farm to Plate Strategic Plan. The bill creates a grant program to help farmers obtain Good Agricultural Practice certification,
and another grants program for capacity expansion at livestock slaughter facilities,
among other programs. Additionally, it establishes a local food coordinator position and creates an education loan repayment program for large animal vets.
Farm Credit East, Yankee Farm Credit and CoBank are offering a new program to address a major hurdle for new farm businesses—initial access to capital. Farm Start is a beginning farmer loan program that will provide investments in working capital of up to $50,000 to farmers, forestry producers, fishermen and farm related service businesses and cooperatives in their first three years of business. A business plan is required, and participants will have up to five years to repay the loan.
The University of Vermont, in partnership with the Intervale Center, has created a five-month intensive program for aspiring farmers and food systems advocates that provides a hands-on, entrepreneurial approach to sustainable farming. The full-time program offers participants the unique opportunity to manage their own growing site, take classes from professors and farmers, and rotate as workers and learners between successful, diverse farms at the award-winning Intervale Center in Burlington, Vermont. The program will provide an intense, supportive experience where participants leave with a Certificate in Sustainable Farming, a deeper understanding of agricultural management and small-scale farming, and the entrepreneurial skills to start their own operation.
Legislation recently enacted in Rhode Island gives the Rhode Island Attorney General new authority to enforce conservation easements, making Rhode Island the eighth state in the country to give its attorney general explicit enforcement power. The statute also permits courts to award attorney’s fees in easement enforcement proceedings, providing a potential avenue for the state and land trusts to recoup legal costs incurred while defending conservation easements against violations. Initiated by the Rhode Island Land Trust Council, the statute is expected to deter violations of easements, which can be an expensive enforcement problem for land trusts and other entities that hold easements.
Initiatives underway in Vermont and New Hampshire are quantifying the economic impact of their states' farm and food sectors and identifying opportunities for future growth. Vermont's Farm to Plate initiative has drafted "20 Big Goals for 2020" based on months of public input and data collection; the 10-year strategic plan will be finalized by the end of the year. Home Grown, a soon to be released report from the University of New Hampshire, estimates the economic impact from NH's local food system and explores how an expansion of the system could spur job creation and economic growth.
Changes to Vermont’s "Current Use" Program—which helps promote the use of land for agriculture and forestry are likely to be considered early in the 2010 legislative session. In response to a challenge by the legislature to find ways to produce $1.6 million in savings or revenues through the program in FY2011, seven statewide farm and conservation organizations developed recommendations that are likely to form the basis for legislation debated this year. Recommendations include increasing the program’s dwelling exclusion for certain landowners, which would raise the needed state revenues.
A Northeast grocery chain has become the first retailer to join forces with the New England Dairy Promotion Board and New England Family Dairy Farms Cooperative to bring the concept of “fair trade” milk to consumers. Hannaford's 71 stores will promote the benefits of local dairy farms—including stewardship of the region’s farmland—and offer shoppers an opportunity to directly support dairy farmers through the “Keep Local Farms” dairy campaign. Cris Coffin, American Farmland Trust’s New England Director, is excited by the Hannaford announcement: “Educating shoppers about the value of our region’s dairy farmers will hopefully encourage them to donate to the campaign and help farmers receive a better price for their milk.”
FACT: New England has approximately 1,880 dairy farms; dairy farmers are currently receiving about .97 cents per gallon of milk while it costs about $1.80 a gallon to produce.
Thirty-six conservation groups, farm organizations, local governments and others across the Northeast have joined together requesting that Congress and the Obama administration take quick action to address the crisis facing dairy farmers. Dairy farmers in the Northeast and around the country are facing severe and prolonged low milk prices—prices that are well below the farmers’ costs of production. This sustained price slump has caused the loss of some dairy farms already and threatens the future of thousands more in the Northeast.
U.S. Rep Peter Welch of Vermont described the situation to members of the House "The depth of this crisis cannot be understated," Welch stated. "Vermont's farmers, government leaders and agricultural experts agree: Our state's dairy industry is on the brink of total collapse [PDF]." The Congressman has introduced the Dairy Fairness Act of 2009 (H.R. 3166) which would increase support to farmers through the Milk Income Loss Contract (MILC) program.
In response to Governor Douglas’ proposal to eliminate all funding for land conservation, members of the Vermont Housing and Conservation Coalition (VHCC) and conservation supporters announced the launch of a new campaign: “Conservation Can’t Wait.” Through the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board, Vermont now has the opportunity to protect at least 40 farms and thousands of acres of forests; without state funding, Vermont may loose its opportunity to access federal Farmland Protection Program funding. As a member of the coalition, AFT is urging Vermont lawmakers to reject the governor’s proposed budget cuts and to continue to invest in a program that improves farm profitability while protecting productive farmland for future food and energy production.
FederAl Farm Policy and the farm bill
What’s in the farm bill and why is it important? Find out what’s next for the farm bill and how we can make sure the legislation's promises are turned into programs on the ground.
More Vermont News
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