Saving farmland, generating questions
by Kristin Vogel, Communications & Education Associate
This article was originally published in June 2010
This saving farmland business, it’s complicated stuff. In essence our mission is simple, but realizing it is fraught with complexity. There is the enormity of the task, of course: attempting to save farmland from inside a giant system that does not, generally speaking, value farming. But what might not be so apparent is the slew of elaborate philosophical issues that also surround this work.
For example: from what, precisely, are we rescuing farms? Is it always development that endangers land? Often there are other factors involved, such as a landowner trying to finance a livable retirement, or different ideas about what a farm is — or should be, or should produce. According to the American Farmland Trust, the average age of a U.S. farmer is 57; within the next 15 years, 70 percent of our nation’s farmland will change hands. The resulting challenge of matching land with producers raises more uncertainties, and is becoming a much larger part of our work.
One of the fundamental questions we face continually is simply how to decide which farmland is the most threatened. Do we base our criteria on the quality of soil; existing infrastructure on land; the proximity to wildlife corridors or salmon-bearing streams? Or do we respond to the most immediately threatened land? Who decides the urgency of a threat — and which community’s land is preserved first?
Then there are dilemmas we’ve come across more recently, including the acreage of a proposed project. What is too big, or too small? How do we best use the organic certification process, and which kinds of agricultural practices make sense in each situation? As we work more collaboratively with other organizations and communities, we continually are asking ourselves how best to address the needs and desires of each grower, family, county and region.
We find ourselves in 2010 with many proposals on our agenda and a steady stream of phone calls from farmers, brokers and others. There’s an ever-increasing need to prioritize and analyze each project for pros and cons, merits and pitfalls, and to be realistic about our ability to meet each challenge with the staff, resources and time we have available.
Ultimately, these questions are really the kind of “problems” we want to have: an abundance of people and projects connecting to our unique help and services. It is your support that has enabled us to come so far, and it is your continued support that enables us to take our work to this next level, reaching more farmers, endangered acreage, and those in a position to join us.