Farms Forever: A partnership approach to increasing farm transfer and succession in southeastern Massachusetts

Final Report for LNE07-259

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2007: $122,212.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2009
Region: Northeast
State: Massachusetts
Project Leader:
Bridget Alexander
Southeastern Massachusetts Agricultural Partnership, Inc.
Sarah Kelley
SE Mass. Agricultural Partnership (SEMAP)
Jay Coburn
Southeastern Massachusett
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Project Information


SEMAP created and implemented the Farms Forever program and hired a coordinator. Farms Forever increased access to and supported one-on-one transfer planning assistance for 13 exiting producers and 11 entering producers. Transfer planning packages were awarded to eight Southeastern Massachusetts farmers and developed into five new farm operations. Additionally, a listserv of 61 entering farmers looking for farmland in Southeastern Massachusetts was created. A referral network of 19 service providers was created and utilized. Three “Where Do I Start?” decision guides were developed and 200 were disseminated. For the past three years, Farms Forever organized transfer/tenure workshops for the annual One-Day Farm Conferences, attended by a total of 176 producers.


The agricultural community in Southeastern Massachusetts faces a loss of critical mass. Under SARE CNE06-010, SEMAP conducted planning for a local program to enable new and second-generation producers to begin farming in our region through increased farmland transfer and tenure arrangements. We identified two beneficiary groups with clear needs: exiting producers, who do not know how to take the first step in farm transfer planning, and entering producers, who want to connect with exiting farmers and non-farming landowners to explore farm structures that do not involve land ownership. A third group, non-farming landowners who want their land farmed, do not know how to find farmers or understand their tenure needs. We identified many organizations and publications that could help producers in our region, notably Land For Good (LFG) and Farm Transfer Network of New England (FTNNE). However, despite these resources, producers feel stuck and unconnected. What is missing? We believe it is a local, on-the-ground catalyst for producer action, referrals, networking, and follow-up.

To fill this gap, SEMAP implemented a regional program, Farms Forever, to catalyze producer action on farm transfer planning by:
• Leveraging existing funds to offer LFG “packages” in our region,
• Creating local peer examples and outreach,
• Implementing a referral network to service providers (linked to FTNNE and Included land trusts),
• Providing a local communication hub and ongoing follow-up,
• Conducting outreach to non-farming landowners, and
• Helping connect land trusts and the ag community.

Farms Forever has become the central, local catalyst and resource to give a clear answer to the question: “Where Do I Start?” Farms Forever was implemented by working closely with LFG, The Trustees of Reservations, and Farm Credit East.

Performance Target:

Our performance target was at least eight exiting and/or entering producers completing one of several farm transfer/tenure scenarios, resulting in the creation of eight viable, new farm entities in Southeastern Massachusetts. Scenarios include:
a.) Partial or complete transfer or sale of exiting grower’s farm to 2nd-generation or unrelated entering producer,
b.) Long-term lease of a farm property by an entering producer (property may be owned by a non-farming landowner, retiring grower, or land trust), or
c.) Sale of a farm property to a land trust, which hires an entering producer to establish a farm enterprise on the land (by February 2010).

After two years of work and extensive outreach, eight packages have been completed. Five packages have developed into new farm operations. Three of those five operations are still working on the legal structure of ownership. However, that did not impede them from beginning the new farm operation. One of the packages did a transfer with no new farm operation developing. Two of the eight packages could not move forward, even after lengthy discussions and meeting with LFG and SEMAP. Each package had very different reasons for why the next step could not be taken, including family concerns and land price.

Although two of the eight operations were not able to move forward and develop into new farm operations, we feel that they were successful. By utilizing the LFG packages, these two farms were able to avoid major losses because the packages clearly pointed out serious issues - revealing that the planned operation would not work at this time. This conclusion saved both families from launching operations that, for different reasons, would not be sustainable.


Click linked name(s) to expand/collapse or show everyone's info
  • Jennifer Holske
  • Kathy Ruhf


Materials and methods:

The method identified for Farms Forever was a local on-the-ground partner to catalyze initial early producer action, be a first point of inquiry, connect partners and resources, and serve as a central point for on-going follow-up.

To identify participants for the packages Farms Forever sent out a mailing to 600 area farms, which included a letter announcing the packages and a package application. A press release was sent out in the fall of 2006 and 2007 introducing Farms Forever and announcing the packages. On the SEMAP website, the Farms Forever page included information on the packages and a downloadable package application. The package announcement was also sent out through pertinent, ag-related newsletters, such as MDAR’s Farm and Market report and the Massachusetts Farm Bureau Newsletter.

In addition to the marketing efforts, the Farms Forever coordinator conducted personal outreach to the three groups. This one-on-one interaction was key for Farms Forever to build trust with local farms. In the winter of 2008 the coordinator went to eight Agricultural Commission meetings to discuss the packages and discuss farm transfer and tenure. The coordinator presented at events that had an agriculture focus and would be attended by producers.

With LFG, three separate “Where Do I Start?” decision guides were created for exiting/entering producers and non-farming landowners:
• Exiting Producers- “Transferring The Farm: Where Do I Start?”
• Entering Producers- “Acquiring Land To Farm: Where Do I Start?” and
• Non-Farming Landowners- “ Making My Land Available For Farming: Where Do I Start?”
These guides were designed and printed as a short, paper-based booklet that could be filled out at the kitchen table with the family or as a starting point with the Farms Forever coordinator.

Research results and discussion:
Milestone 1

Milestone 1: UNDER SEPARATE FUNDING: 600 producers receive applications for reduced-cost “Transfer the Farm!” package from Land For Good. 20 farms apply; 10 are selected. These 10 farms begin LFG packages in Jan. 2007 or later, continuing for 6 months (7 farms) or 12 months (3 farms). Each recipient conducts at least 1 outreach activity to other growers (serving as case study, writing op-ed, presentation, or other). (Nov.-Dec. 06).

Our initial expectation was that we would have more applicants for these packages than we would be able to serve, and that we would have to conduct an application and review process. Instead, we generally found the opposite. After two years of work and extensive outreach, we ultimately awarded eight packages.

Work towards our first project milestone was underway in early 2006 through funding from the A.D. Makepeace Neighborhood Fund. SEMAP’s grant from this funder provided partial support for the eight awarded farm transfer planning “packages” (a six -month consulting process) from our project partner, LFG. Makepeace grant funds allowed us to offer these packages, at least a $500 value, to farms for just $150, and they provide individualized, one-on-one service – something local growers told us was very important during focus groups we held to help plan Farms Forever. It should be noted that all package recipients have been extremely pleased with the package opportunity, and we are very pleased with the dedication of all package families. We discovered that convincing families to take the first concrete step in farm transfer planning is very difficult, even when we are offering support that matches as closely as possible to the kind of support farms initially told us they would like.

Farm transfer planning is a hard issue to confront, and as such, we found that the package recipients were not comfortable participating in outreach activities. Prior to becoming the Farms Forever coordinator in late 2007, Katie Cavanagh was a package recipient. She was able to complete the majority of the outreach requirement herself by discussing her own experience of being the 5th generation on her family farm and the issues that she and her family have faced transferring the farm and starting a new farm business.

After the close of the application process, the Farms Forever coordinator continued to refer farms to LFG for non-subsidized packages, including some more customized versions of LFG’s services. Additionally, the Farms Forever coordinator contacted a group of concerned farmers in a Southeast Massachusetts community and organized a meeting with LFG and the community group. As a direct result, a partnership was formed and a study is currently underway to show the impact that identified threats could have on the rural farming community.

Milestone 2

Milestone 2: 200 exiting producers and 100 entering producers hear about the project from the point of view of other producers through outreach activities by farms receiving LFG packages (articles, presentations, case studies, etc). (By Dec. 07).

Despite the slower-than-expected response to our initial program offering of the LFG packages, which also slowed our progress on creating opportunities for producer outreach activities through Farms Forever, we feel that we satisfactorily reached this Milestone in March 2008. As mentioned above the coordinator, Katie Cavanagh, was able to discuss her own experience with this issue. She was able to reach 227 exiting producers and 185 entering producer through 11 presentations and one-on-one meetings.

Milestone 3

Milestone 3: 30 exiting producers and 30 entering producers contact SEMAP to request further information, next steps, and/or a referral to a service provider. (By Dec. 07).

As mentioned above, progress towards this milestone occurred concurrently with progress towards Milestones one and two and further Milestones below. It was sometimes difficult to determine whether a contact should be classified as an exiting or entering grower – for example, it’s often the case that the younger generation will contact us, but the inquiry is primarily about issues relating to the exiting older generation. We’ve generally grouped them based on the status of the person who contacted us.

In total SEMAP has been contacted by:
• 30 exiting producers – exiting and/or established
• 51 entering producers - next generation and/or seeking land
• 13 landowners – seeking farm managers or people to lease land

Milestone 4

Milestone 4: 20 exiting and 20 entering producers follow up with service provider in our referral network to prepare for farm transfer activities. (By Feb. 08).

The process of tracking producers’ response rate to referrals that the Farms Forever coordinator made was harder to track than anticipated. Due to confidentiality constraints of the service providers, service providers could not confirm whether they were contacted by the producers we referred. The Farms Forever coordinator would then follow up with the producer to inquire whether they had followed-up, but this was not always the most effective way to measure activity. The eight package recipient farms have completed this step. Since all the package recipients have two generations involved in their discussions, this means that 8 exiting producers (or couples) and 8 entering farms have actually completed these steps, for a total of 16. Katie has worked with five additional farms (three with an identified next generation) to complete this milestone. SEMAP also offered transfer/tenure workshops at the One Day Farm Conferences where we brought the service providers to the target audience. See data on the three one-day farm conferences held in March 2008-2010 in the “Publications/Outreach” section below.

Milestone 5

Milestone 5: 10 exiting and 10 entering producers meet individually with potential farm transfer partner(s): entering/exiting grower, family member(s), non-farm landowner, land trust. (Apr. 08).

Due to the issues discussed above, Milestone five was completed later than expected. However, we were able to exceed the goal set for this milestone. The eight package farms have completed this step, for a total of approximately eight entering and eight exiting farms as described above. While continuing to work towards this milestone we met with five additional farms. Bringing the total to 13 exiting and 11 entering producers.

Milestone 6

Milestone 6: 8 exiting and 8 entering producers engage in an intensive one-on-one farm transfer planning process with service providers and a farm transfer partner. (By Jan. 09).

The eight package farms have completed this step. As described above through continued outreach we have surpassed our goal with 11 entering and 13 exiting farms engaging in an intensive one-on-one farm transfer planning process with service providers and a farm transfer partner.

Participation Summary


Educational approach:

• Farms Forever developed a listserv of 61 entering farmers that have contacted Farms Forever looking for available land in Southeastern Massachusetts. Whenever the Farms Forever coordinator is contacted or hears of land that becomes available either for sale, lease, or through a Request for Proposals a notice is sent out to the listserv.

• Service Provider Meetings: we continue to use the summer (a very hard time to meet with farmers) as a meeting time with service providers. This year we expanded our referral network to a total of totaling 6 Land Trusts; 4 Farm Business Financers; 4 Lawyers; 2 Farm Transfer/Tenure Experts; and 3 Farm Business Planning Consultants. Katie made a total of 66 referrals this year.  

• Online land listings: We are continuing to develop our website so we will be able to streamline our listings for available and wanted farmland. Please see the Google group link that we’re currently utilizing with our partner Farm Fresh RI to post such listings. Katie posted 28 listings on this Google group (15 land to lease or buy and 13 other).  

• “Where Do I Start” Guides: We finished the “Where Do I Start” Guides and were able to unveil them at the March 09’ Conference. Katie utilizes them when she does farm visits. Attached are the three separate PDF versions of the “Where Do I Start” Guides.

• March 2008 Farm Conference: One Day Farm Conference (Fuel Your Farm’s Future)  – organized with Bristol County Conservation District (BCCD) 115 people attended. Farms Forever sponsored a three session workshop titled “Farm Transfer and Tenure Workshop,” with 85 people in attendance. We broke this two-hour session into three 30-minute workshops where the audience moved from workshop to workshop. Presenters were Cheryl Loranger, Farm Family Insurance; Kathy Ruhf & Bob Bernstein, Land For Good; Jon Jaffe & Briana Sheldon, First Pioneer Farm Credit; Neal Satran, Satran Law.

The day also included production-oriented workshops on season extension and bio-diesel production, a “grants room” where producers received information on many state, federal, and nonprofit farm grant programs, a vendor fair, and lunch and networking time.

We received 75 evaluations with specific questions targeted at Farm Transfer Planning:
Farm Transfer Planning:
1. I am an established farm owner intending to pass on the farm someday.
2. I am a next-generation member of a farm family.
3. I am currently farming on or looking for rented farmland.
I am interested in:
1. Getting 1-on-1 help to plan for my farm’s future.
2. Finding out about available farmland either for sale or lease.
3. Finding a farmer who would like to lease my land.

The Farms Forever coordinator followed up with 24 attendees that were looking to find available farmland; 26 attendees that were interested in receiving 1-on-1 help; 3 attendees that were interested in finding a farmer to lease their land. Through this follow-up the coordinator added 24 people to the looking for farmland listserv and made 15 referrals.

• March 2009 Farm Conference: One Day Farm Conference (Energize Your Farm’s Future)  – organized with BCCD 130 people attended. Farms Forever sponsored 2 workshops: 1.) “How to Save a Million Dollars” with Attorney Neal Satran. 40 people in attendance 2.) “Farmland Leasing” with Land For Good Kathy Ruhf. 23 people in attendance. The workshop titled “How to Save a Million Dollars” emphasized the cost savings possible through early farm transfer planning. Land For Good presented a workshop on farmland leasing (under their separate funds). We offered one workshop specifically targeted to exiting growers and one for entering growers, which helped us to identify and build new relationships in both groups.

The day also included production-oriented workshops on season extension and grass-fed meat production, a “grants room” where producers received information on many state, federal and nonprofit farm grant programs, a vendor fair, lunch, and networking time.

We received 52 evaluations with specific questions targeted at Farm Transfer Planning:
Farm Transfer Planning:
4. I am an established farm owner intending to pass on the farm someday.
5. I am a next-generation member of a farm family.
6. I am currently farming on or looking for rented farmland.
I am interested in:
4. Getting 1-on-1 help to plan for my farm’s future.
5. Finding out about available farmland either for sale or lease.
6. Finding a farmer who would like to lease my land.

The Farms Forever Coordinator followed up with 9 attendees that were looking to find available farmland; 14 attendees that were interested in receiving 1-on-1 help; 1 attendee that was interested in finding a farmer to lease their land. Through this follow-up the coordinator added 8 people to the looking for farmland listserv and made 10 referrals.

• March 2010 Farm Conference: One Day Farm Conference (Enhance Your Farm’s Future) – organized with BCCD 80 people attended. Because of a scheduling conflict we had to offer it at the end of the month versus the first weekend this caused problems for farmers that would have liked to attend. Farms Forever sponsored a two-session workshop “Purchasing Public Land” with attorney Matt Thomas. 28 people in attendance. The workshop focused on general principles of the RFP process and strategies for both the farmer looking to bid on land and the municipality selling the land.  

The day also included production-oriented workshops on agri-tourism and soils, a “grants room” where producers can get information on many state, federal and nonprofit farm grant programs, a vendor fair, lunch and networking time. We found this combined approach very successful last year and believe it helped us reach many more producers that would have attended a stand-alone farm transfer workshop

We changed the format of the evaluation from the previous years to open ended questions in hope of getting more specific feedback, but found that most people did not fill them out. We believe that because participants did not receive the evaluations until the end of the last workshop many felt rushed to fill them out and did not take time to respond to the open ended questions and only circled their response.
The questions were as follows:
What kind of farm do you operate?
What do you hope to do with your farm operation?
What kind of assistance would you be looking for?
We received 10 evaluations rating the workshop as “excellent”.

No milestones

Additional Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

Impacts of Results/Outcomes

We have learned that the transfer/tenure process tends to be a much slower process then initially thought when developing this grant. We have also identified that cost is not the only issue holding farm families back from addressing the future of the farm. Our idea of a local-on-the-ground catalyst turned out to be about more then just following up with farmers, it was about the personal relationship and trust Farms Forever was able to build over time. We came to learn that when dealing with the future of a farm it can be a very painful process, especially when multiple generations are involved.

Farmer Adoption

The Farmers response to the project has been very positive, but this remains a very slow process for many farm families. As we experienced with the packages, the issues facing these farm families were not always as straightforward as referrals to a lawyer to draft ownership or a better business plan. Often the farm decisions are based on a careful maneuver of interfamilial relationships and family tradition. If this last sentence sounds confusing that is because it is. Often the simple act of asking family members what they think the future of the farm should be can start a conflict. Through this process there were a lot of stopping points either personal apprehension about the next step or simply the actual work of farming needed to take priority. Many of the farms that we worked with needed to pause from there planning when their season started.

In March 2009 the Farms Forever coordinator began using the “Where Do I Start Guides?” as part of her outreach efforts. The feedback that we have received has been very positive.

“I have reviewed your guide and feel that it covers what you need to know to help people find land. I like the resource list at the end.” ~Entering Farmer

“I think it is an good guide to have to start the process. I just wish there were always answers to the questions. Unfortunately money is often such a deciding factor as it is in our case. I do think the pamphlet is excellent and should help farmers at least organize themselves and help them get the answers and info they need. Good job.” ~Farmer

“I was able to look it over and it's very straight forward and easy to use and understand. It's a great tool to get started with the process.” ~Landowner

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Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.