Almost five years ago, I started looking for land in upstate New York where I could start my own farm. I knew it would be hard to find affordable land that could fit my needs — but I didn't quite realize how hard.
I don't come from a farm background, but as a kid I loved being outside and I was in the woods all the time. I thought eventually I would like to work doing something related to the natural world and involving people — something vital.
It wasn't until several years after college that I started farming. First as an apprentice, and then as a manager for several "CSA" farms in New York. Our customers would buy annual memberships to receive a share of the farm's fresh dairy, vegetables, eggs, meat, fruits and grains.
The experience really solidified my interest in eventually starting a farm of my own. I found that I love farming. I've never done anything else that consistently makes me as happy. Part of what makes farming really difficult is also what makes it really interesting. It's so varied and complex.
But one of the most challenging aspects of getting started in farming is the difficulty in securing affordable land to lease or rent – the very land you need to get your business started can be extremely hard to come by.
During the years I spent looking for farmland, I landed a job at AFT's New York Office in Saratoga Springs, which is also my hometown. Through my work with AFT, I get to help other aspiring farmers in the same boat.
As AFT's New York Program Manager and Hudson Valley Farmlink Coordinator, I work with beginning farmers in the Hudson Valley who are searching for financing and affordable land. I also help retiring farmers who want to see their land passed on to the next generation of farmers. And, I work with landowners who may not farm themselves but who have farmland and want to see it protected and farmed.
AFT and our partners in the Hudson Valley Farmlink Network recently launched a website, www.hudsonvalleyfarmlandfinder.org, that helps connect owners of farmland with farmers looking for land. We also offer training programs and networking events and we provide one-on-one assistance.
There's a great need for the project. We get calls from farmers and landowners all the time. In a place like New York, we're in a terrific spot for farming, but there's also a lot of competition for land and a lot of development pressure.
Part of the challenge is finding just the right match between a farmer looking for land and a landowner, whether the property is for sale or lease or if it's a partnership or management opportunity. It takes preparation and hard work, managing and aligning expectations, patience and perseverance (and maybe some good fortune too!).
I love the opportunity to help beginning farmers who are undertaking the huge challenge of finding and starting their own farms. I'm able to use my own experiences to connect them to the right resources and I have a sense of the right questions to ask.
And I'm excited to say that my wife and I finally found a spot to call our own! We recently moved to a piece of beautiful farmland in Charlton, New York, that meets our needs of growing vegetables, raising animals and someday our family.
But for many other young and beginning farmers, the search goes on. If you're looking to get started farming in upstate New York, visit hudsonvalleyfarmlandfinder.org for resources that can help. You can also contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.