Community Farmland Connections through a Targeted GIS Identification and Outreach Approach

Project Overview

CNE12-100
Project Type: Sustainable Community Innovation
Funds awarded in 2012: $14,953.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2014
Region: Northeast
State: Massachusetts
Project Leader:
Jennifer Hashley
Trustees of Tufts College / New Entry Sustainable Farming Project

Annual Reports

Commodities

Not commodity specific

Practices

  • Education and Training: networking, workshop
  • Sustainable Communities: community planning, infrastructure analysis, local and regional food systems, new business opportunities, partnerships, public participation, community development

    Proposal abstract:

    Within a resurgence of interest in local food and farming, accessible farmland remains a key barrier to small-scale beginning farmer enterprises. In Massachusetts, 90% of farmland lost since 1982 is due to residential development concentrated in the 495 belt and Pioneer Valley. These are the same areas where farmland is sought by new farmers today. Building on a 2011 pilot project, New Entry will use local partners, GIS technologies, and our farmland data base and land matching programs to identify smaller parcels of land (2-5 acres each) connected to homeowners or commercial interests in six peri-urban communities. Typically, such plots have not been considered as part of the farmable land base, yet are well-suited to beginning producers wanting to farm and direct market in their own communities. Land owners will be encouraged to make their land available to interested local producers. Workshops will explain the specifics of leasing land and farming on small plots to all parties. Zoning and other concerns will be addressed by partners to facilitate each community’s approval process. New Entry and local partners will help match landowners to land seekers, addressing access, infrastructure needs, leasing terms, and any factors that arise. Resource Guides will be developed for communities, landowners and new farmers in these and other communities to expand the process statewide. A database will track the land base in each community, interested farmers, and successful match-ups. This initiative will help solve a key barrier to the development of more sustainable community food systems.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    What will your methods be? This six community project combines GIS-based land identification, local partnership outreach, and farmer landowner education and land matching. Activities and timelines are as follows: – March – April 2012: Attend the statewide Association of Agricultural Commissions annual meeting and the Massachusetts Association of Land Conservation Trusts annual meeting (both held in March 2012). Describe the 2011 pilot project in Groton in order to spark interest in developing this work in new towns. Establish new community connections and develop a roster of interested communities to follow up with, in coordination with Ag Commission organizers, Pete Westover (Western MA), and Cheryl Lekstrom (Eastern MA). Many members of the agricultural commissions include active farmers who will be consulted in this work. – April – June 2012- Develop a farmer survey to target small-scale growers seeking land resources and work with partner organizations to receive at least 150 responses. Analyze New Entry’s current list of farmers looking for land to focus and target the GIS studies and outreach. The farmer survey will elicit a better understanding of how much land farmers want, and other technical assistance areas and topics that could be offered as educational workshops to prepare farmers to use smaller land areas for commercial production. Three towns in Western MA and 3 towns in the 495 belt, where farmers are looking for land and where Ag commissions are ready to work with us, will be identified as the focus of this project. – June – July 2012 – For each target community, we will conduct the GIS land assessment and write a report on the town’s agricultural landscape (see attached example report for Groton in Supplemental Materials section). This process will allow us to figure out which local organizations and groups to reach out to, and to identify possible roadblocks to agriculture in the town (such as zoning restrictions). We will work with Ag Commissions, and other relevant players (such as conservation commissions, sustainability commissions, and Buy Local groups) to identify the proper outreach strategy for landowners and established farmers. – August – September 2012 – We will begin outreach to target landowners in each community through the identified methods in that community. A sample flyer from the Groton landowner outreach project is included in the Supplemental Materials. Regular meetings will be conducted with the town’s Agricultural Commission, local farmers, and other key stakeholders including the farm seekers who are actively seeking connections to farmland. – October – November 2012 – We will schedule and conduct region-based information sessions for landowners on topics such as (a) what does leasing farmland in your backyard involve? (b) how do you find the right farmer? and (c) basics of leases, relevant legal matters, and relevant environmental/regulatory concerns. We will use the landowner resource guide developed as part of the Land for Good’s BFRDP Land Access Project. We will conduct 2-4 outreach and educational sessions per community, depending on the locations of the identified towns and their vicinity to each other. These workshops will enable landowners to make effective decisions to offer their land available for farming. Individual meetings with landowners and farmland assessment visits will also be scheduled as requested. Additionally, we will advertise the available farmland on New Entry’s MA Statewide Agricultural Lands map and on Land for Good’s new regional website (in development) in order to let farmers know of the available land opportunities. – November – December 2012 – Conduct workshops and offer technical assistance to farmers about effective strategies for developing small plots for intensive agriculture and direct markets. This will enable farmers to be prepared to use small parcels of land for agriculture and help refine and shape their business and farm management plans. – January – March 2013 – Technical assistance will continue for farmers and landowners addressing lease agreements, regulations, insurance, infrastructure development, etc. in order to ensure effective relationships and working farmland agreements. – Summer and Fall 2013 – We will develop and distribute a follow up evaluation survey for farmers and landowners to see how the relationship worked, if the farming business was successful and met its stated goals, and to highlight any obstacles, challenges or success stories that the landowner or farmer experienced during the season. This will help us to further develop and refine the resource guides (or toolkits) for dissemination to other towns and farmers on how to best utilize these large-lot development parcels of land. We will also collect data on the overall development pace for farmers, including overall production and marketing outcomes (e.g.; crops grown, markets accessed; infrastructure developed, revenues generated and other factors.) – Fall and winter 2012-2013 – We will continue to collect data and compile case studies for development and completion of the Community Resource Guides (toolkits) to conduct GIS studies of land use in their towns and we will further develop and refine the Enterprise Planning Guides for farmers based on evaluation data, interviews with farmers, and ongoing feedback and guidance from farmers in the field. The two guides will be distributed broadly and posted to the New Entry and key collaborator / partner websites. How will you package and disseminate your results? 1. Process: The key to this program’s viability is in the specific tools, methods, and partnership strategies that in combination will produce the proposed outcomes. The success of this will depend on the commitments of owners, farmers and communities to work together. There are several components to the process, covering land identification; outreach to landowners and interested farmers; community partnerships; and farmland matching steps. These will be compiled into two resource guides – for landowners, communities and farmers – that can be used by state agencies, NGOs, and communities across the state or region to replicate this process. It will appeal in particular to agricultural commissions, conservation commissions, or other town stakeholders concerned with local food access, farmland, open space, farmers markets, CSAs, and similar priorities. The guides will describe the GIS research process in detail, the best mechanisms for town outreach, a good timeline to work from, and resources and possibilities for farmland tenure. An Enterprise Planning Guide will assist farmers to navigate this alternative land tenure scenario. 2. Outcomes: The results of this endeavor will be categorized in terms of land identification, local partnerships, landowners and farmers engaged through various outreach; farmland matching; and new farm production. Results will be different for each community. Therefore, a case study approach will be used to document the experiences and outcomes in each of the six participating towns. These will part of a report told partly as case study stories and also detailing the outcomes for each town and in aggregate. 3. Dissemination: We will include the following activities as part of communicating this project to wider audiences in Massachusetts and other states in the Northeast. • The two guides and final report will be posted on the New Entry website (www.nesfp.org). We will then notify others of its availability via our email lists and those of our collaborators, the Nefood listserv, and via PSAs targeted to ag commissions, farm groups, and other appropriate audiences. • We will offer 2 workshops (Eastern and Western Massachusetts) where the overall project is explained. It will target ag commission members, new farmers, landowners, and others interested in the innovative model we are piloting. • The guides and final project report will be distributed at 1-2 agricultural commission meetings, and at a land trust conference or at the MACC meeting, so that towns can take on this type of work more independently. • We will run a workshop at the summer NOFA conference and the Stone Barnes Young Farmer Conference to share with farmers what we learned about these types of high intensity, small-plot farming operations and have a venue to distribute the guides.

    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.