Bringing Firsthand Experience to Farmland Protection

Suzanna Denison

I joined American Farmland Trust this fall as program manager for the national “Farms for the Next Generation” initiative. As a passionate advocate for farmland access and succession, I am excited to join AFT’s efforts to save the land that sustains us.

I grew up on a large wholesale vegetable farm in Bowdoinham, Maine, which transitioned to organic in the 1990s. I remember well those early days of organic production on the farm. This included proto-fish emulsion fertilizer, which in Maine meant having a truckload of decomposing local fish and seaweed dumped at one end of a field and placed under a tarp for a couple of weeks before spreading. I remember the massive piles of fish and seaweed were several times higher than me, but mainly I remember the smell!

In the early 2000s, my family bought another farm and moved to New York state. Working with the Agricultural Stewardship Association, we protected our new farm with an agricultural conservation easement. Through this experience, I learned firsthand about farmland protection and I see this as the underlying drive behind my work today. Today, I am impressed by the on-going shifts in agriculture, especially the impacts of the local food movement. Currently, my family’s farm operates a mid-scale certified organic vegetable farm with a 500-member CSA, which also sells produce wholesale and at two local farmers markets.

Before returning to New England, I directed the Western North Carolina FarmLink program.  Like many other farm link programs nationwide, WNC FarmLink is a partnership which facilitates successful relationships between farmland seekers and landowners who want to keep their farmland and forest land in agriculture. During this time, I became a certified farm succession coordinator through the International Farm Transition Network. I also was one of the 25 land access trainers selected to participate in AFT’s “Farmland for the Next Generation” train-the-trainer project.

Now at AFT, I manage this project and get to develop and deliver curriculum to help beginning farmers and ranchers, or BFRs, secure land from retiring farmers and ranchers as well as institutional and non-operating landowners. I am working with the LATs to pilot a comprehensive draft curriculum with BFRs across the country, helping to evaluate their success and developing train-the-trainer programming. Toward this end, I am also working to create a national network of farmland navigators to sustain the project and provide ongoing support to BFRs seeking to secure agricultural land.

I am thrilled to have joined the national leader in farmland protection and viability. I am ready to strengthen AFT’s expanding programming that works both for the next generation of farmers and ranchers and the preservation of America’s farmland.

Want to learn more about American Farmland Trust’s Farmland for the Next Generation project? Click here.

If you are interested in learning more about Farm Link programs, click here to read an interview with me while I was working for WNC FarmLink.