Looking Forward: Working Together to Save the Land that Sustains Us All

David Haight

This post is co-authored by Erica Goodman, New York State Deputy Director at American Farmland Trust.

Farms matter.  

This isn’t an earth-shattering realization. 

The role farms play in growing food is vital to everyone. American Farmland Trust’s bumper sticker makes this point simply: “No Farms, No Food.”

Farms also provide jobs and are closely connected with thousands of food businesses and professions from truck drivers to carpenters, and others who buy and sell goods and services with farmers.  Indeed, the economic security of many communities, both in New York and around the nation, is inextricably tied to the strength and viability of local farms.

Farmers, and the ‘working landscape’ they manage, are increasingly being asked to do more to help our society fight climate change and protect clean water. By recent estimates, natural and working lands in this country could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by up to 20 percent if managed wisely. 

These public benefits farms provide – healthy food, jobs, clean water, fresh air – are a big deal.  But farms can’t provide these critical benefits to society if farmers can’t make a good living from their land. 

Last year, AFT released research showing our country destroyed 31 million acres of farmland between 2002 and 2012. Even more shocking, this is twice the rate previously estimated. 

These trends reflect many factors, including the tragic challenge many farmers must address as they face difficult times and see no alternative but selling their farm to whomever will pay them the most – often a real estate developer. 

Our society can’t continue to take farms for granted.

The good news is there are examples of where we are doing the right thing. 

Here in New York, public leaders are taking action. Towns across the state are taking steps to ensure our most productive farmland and our ability to grow food are not damaged while they site new solar energy facilities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Such actions by public leaders are vital.  They are made even more powerful by complementary action taking place out of government. 

Last year, Governor Cuomo and State Legislators created powerful new programs to help K-12 schools buy more food produced by New York’s farmers, while launching Farmland for a New Generation New York to help a new generation of farmers looking to find land across the state.  At the same time, New York allocated the greatest amount of money to protect farmland in the state’s history. 

We continue to be inspired by the potential for genuine collaboration by partnering organizations. 

Partnerships and cooperation are frequently talked about, but working together in meaningful ways requires time and close attention in order to be effective.

But when the right partners unite with a shared vision – the fruits of shared labor are even sweeter when enjoyed together.

In 2018, 15 partners celebrated the four-year anniversary of the Hudson Valley Farmlink Network, which has already helped 140 farmers find a place to farm in the Hudson Valley. 

Similarly, our partners in Farm to Institution New York State helped leverage decades of grassroots efforts to achieve dramatic new steps forward in helping K-12 schools and other institutions buy more food grown in New York. 

These partnerships have accomplished great things in a short period of time. They include diverse organizations – some protect land or feed New Yorkers in need, while others train farmers. What unites them is a shared recognition and grounding that farms matter deeply to things that New Yorkers care about the most. 

As we look forward to the year ahead, we hope New York’s elected leaders will continue to prioritize farms in their agendas. 

And, we hope partnerships and collaboration will drive sustained action in support of local farms. 

It matters.