Project objectives from proposal:
During the past ten years, Equity Trust has focused on “whole farm” protection, developing and testing a unique model that protects farm affordability and ensures active farming. We’ve created the legal documents for this two model (posted for free on our website with commentary at www.equitytrust.org) and have tested our model with a variety of CSA farms. We have now successfully completed 13 “whole farm” protection projects with small and medium-sized CSA farms, and have provided technical assistance to many more farms still working to gain security. Working with the Maine Department of Agriculture and the Maine Farmland Trust, we are undertaking a project called “Gaining Ground in Maine”, which will make our two models accessible and comprehensible to farmers and land trusts in Maine. We will use our experiences working in Maine to replicate this targeted training in other states.
Here’s how our model works: People who rely on the farm’s produce help carry out a one-time fundraising campaign that raises the money to permanently remove the farm from the real estate market. Their local land trust either acquires an agricultural conservation easement for the farm, or it acquires title to the farm's land and provides the farmer with a lifetime, inheritable lease. In each case, the farmer retains ownership of the farmhouse, barns, and the farm business. Positive covenants are always placed on the land requiring that it continue to be actively farmed, and restrictions are placed limiting the price for which the house and barns can be sold. This ensures that the farm will remain affordable to future generations of farmers.
Our model will:
• Provide working farmers with secure access to land, enabling them to confidently invest in the farm’s soil fertility, infrastructure, and business;
• Limit the purchase price of the improvements to their appraised agricultural value, so the farmer only assumes the amount of debt that she can comfortably service earning her income by farming that particular piece of land;
• Keep the farm’s infrastructure connected to the farm’s land, and prohibit selling the farmhouse away to someone who doesn’t farm;
• Provide farmers with the opportunity to build equity through their ownership of the farmhouse, barns, and other infrastructure on the farm;
• Protect the community’s need for access to locally-grown food;
• Enable generation after generation of older farmers to retire, passing their farm’s land, house, and barns on to younger farmers at a price that is affordable.
We ask “What are the farmer’s needs now and for the future?” and “What are the community’s needs now and for the future?” Our model focuses on fairly allocating rights and responsibilities between these parties, and creating an ownership structure for the farm that protects the needs of both farmers and eaters. The models we use address the core relationship between farms, farmers, and their communities. Our goal for the “Gaining Ground in Maine” project is to provide farmers with secure, long-term land tenure, and the opportunity to gain equity. Further our goal is to keep farmland actively producing food.