How to Make a Neighborhood Farm for an Entire Metropolis
ATLANTA – Joe Reynolds and Judith Winfrey, the married couple who founded Love Is Love Farm 13 years ago not far from downtown Atlanta, are part of a generation of landless American farmers who grow food in leased fields.
They don’t have a family farm to inherit. They work around two acres, growing enough food to sell to a handful of restaurants and around 200 patrons who pay for subscriptions to seasonal produce. It is not a business model that generates enough income to buy your own farm.
The Working Farms Fund aims to change that. The couple are the first beneficiaries of an ambitious new program that buys large tracts of farmland in danger of being developed and leases it to farmers, helping them save enough to buy it – with the guarantee that local institutions like universities and hospitals will buy as much food as farmers want to sell.
The program is part of a new national crop year from the Conservation Fund, a non-profit organization that balances environmental conservation and economic development. Since its inception in 1985, the fund has protected over eight million acres.
The new program aims to bridge the gap between small urban farms and large, highly industrialized farms – along with what is often referred to as middle agriculture, the mid-sized regional farms that once fed most of the country but have started to decline in the 1950s and 1960s.
In their wake, urban farms began to appear in almost every part of the country, and a greater appreciation for locally and organically grown food.
“What we haven’t figured out is how to extend this model now that we realize we need a strong, strong food system around urban centers,” said Mindy Goldstein, who heads Turner Environmental Law. Clinic at Emory University, which provides the legal infrastructure for the project. “Instead of a farm of a few acres that feeds the neighborhood, we need to think about how these farms can feed cities like Atlanta or Chicago.”
In its early efforts, the Working Farms Fund purchased 20- to 500-acre plots within a 100-mile radius of the Atlanta metro area and limited them to agricultural use through a conservation easement. He will lease the land to farmers who have worked with the fund to develop business plans that include savings to buy their farm within 10 years.
An agricultural easement has unique advantages for farmers. Since the value of a property can drop as much as 60% when it is taken off the commercial market and becomes farmland, it becomes the most affordable.
The goal is to buy at least 12,000 acres of farmland near Atlanta, help start 150 farm businesses and support four or five strong rural farms over the next 20 years, said Stacy Funderburke, advisor. Regional Conservation Fund which developed the program. for a decade.
Farm trusts that help young farmers buy land aren’t a new concept, but the Working Farms Fund has taken the idea even further. Farmers are part of a network to help them create a financially healthy farm, which includes contracts with institutional clients.
In Atlanta, Emory University and its hospital system have agreed to sign food purchase agreements with farmers, who can then use those contracts to get loans to improve the farm. In return, the farms are helping Emory move closer to its goal of using locally grown and sustainably grown food in 75 percent of its college meals and 25 percent in its hospital system.
“Anything they grow, we’ll buy it,” said Dave Furhman, senior director of campus life at Emory, which serves more than 6,000 meals a day.
The Working Farms Fund uses grants from foundations and the United States Department of Agriculture, as well as funds from the Conservation Fund, which has set aside $ 2 million for the project. The money from the rent and eventual sale of a farm will be fed back into the program to purchase additional land.
Recruiting minority and first generation farmers who have historically been unable to own land is a priority. Global Growers, a collective of refugee and immigrant farmers from Atlanta, is the second group to lease a farm under the program, and the Georgia Korean American Farmers Association is just behind.
Cattle ranchers Will and Charlsy Godowns are in the process of acquiring 300 acres. Another farm, Pride Road, is run by the Muhaimin family who moved to Atlanta after losing their farm to Hurricane Katrina in 2005. They are considering a 25-acre site to grow hibiscus for teas, sodas and jams.
“It only works for farmers and farm groups who want to own their own land,” Funderburke said. “It is not designed to install farmers with a cushy lease for a long time.”
The fund’s next target is Chicago, which has a high concentration of young farmers and minorities in Illinois and millions of acres of farmland within a 100-mile radius. Much of this land has either been used for chemical-intensive agriculture of commodities like maize, or lacks the kind of infrastructure needed to grow and process fruits and vegetables.
“All the ingredients here are so ripe for this type of vehicle,” said Emy Brawley, Great Lakes regional director for the Conservation Fund. “We have a ton of farmers and a ton of land, but it needs to be redeveloped into land that can support food production. “
The owners of Love Is Love Farm will continue to operate part of the four acres they lease in Atlanta until the end of the year, but are looking to their new land. They lease about 70 acres in the small town of Mansfield, about 50 miles from town.
A packing shed and seasonally resistant polyethylene structures called high tunnels need to be built, and farmers have only recently completed digging a well in the center of a field. They planted their first crop last month – sweet potatoes that will end up in Emory’s kitchens in the fall.
Their new land also opened the door to other opportunities. Ms Winfrey and Mr Reynolds, both in their 40s, joined with three other young farmers in turning Love Is Love into a worker-owned cooperative. The idea is to create something that can be passed on.
“Joe and I are the seniors here,” Ms. Winfrey said. “Because we have land that is under conservation forever and we have a technical structure that can last forever, we can go out when we’re ready and know someone new can come in and keep going. “
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