by Muphen R. Whitney
It is widely acknowledged that access to land is the biggest barrier that new farmers have when entering the agricultural sector. The Montgomery Countryside Alliance – through its Land Link program — and the Southern Maryland Agricultural Development Commission (SMADC) – through its Maryland FarmLink program — are tackling that problem head on.
“Our region has incredibly high land prices and an unceasing demand for locally grown food. The people who will grow our food can’t afford the thing you need to get started – land,” according to Kristina Bostick, the Senior Conservation Associate with the Montgomery Countryside Alliance’s Land Link Program. “My main mission with the Land Link program is to play matchmaker a bit and lead farmers and landowners to quality matches that link them to each other and to resources to ensure success.”
Farmers using Land Link – and the SMADC program Maryland FarmLINK – can buy the land they find a match to, but purchasing land usually is out of the question. The preferred method of accessing farmland is through a long-term lease to ensure that the work they put in will be worth the cost and effort.
The new farmers are not the only ones who benefit from these matching programs. According to Bostick the landowners also benefit because they will have income from the leases, tax advantages for keeping their land in agriculture, and – possibly even more important – they will have good stewardship of their land.
Shepherding a match through to a signed agreement is a process that Bostick enjoys and from which she receives a great deal of satisfaction.
“I make sure that farmers and landowners are listing themselves accurately, and I link the anonymous listings through email,” she explains. ”The best days running Land Link are when a new match happens and the farmers and landowners get in touch to share.”
The many successes of the Land Link program include Dodo Farms, which recently was featured on the Maryland Public Television program Maryland Farm and Harvest.
“Here is a successful farm that we helped create that is making their dreams come true and feeding local folks. It is so gratifying,” says Bostick.
Based in Poolesville, the Montgomery Countryside Alliance’s Land Link program accepts applications from all over. Information for prospective farmers and landowners can be accessed at http://www.mocoalliance.org/land-link.html.
According to Karyn Owens, Program Specialist with the Maryland FarmLINK program, the Maryland FarmLINK program’s website is in transition while undergoing an upgrade. Owens says that there will be a major relaunch this summer. In the meantime, other farmer resources are available at www.smadc.com.
Those who prefer to purchase rather than lease land often find that financing is a major obstacle. Resources do exist, however, to help new farmers finance and purchase land. That will be the subject of the next article.