A Comparative Assessment of Land Link Programs in the Northeast Region
In a turn from the historical decline in farm entry by young and beginning farmers, the burgeoning opportunities in sustainable, local and regional agriculture are prompting many people to consider a farming career for the first time. As beginning farmers face significant barriers to accessing land and capital, land linking programs have emerged as an organizational response to this challenge. Over the past 20 years, at least 47 land linking programs have been established nationally, with over one-third located in the Northeast SARE region. Little research has analyzed the program histories and activities, the outcomes they achieve, or who the primary beneficiaries of these programs are. This applied research project is collecting data on the 21 land linking programs in the Northeast region through interviews with key program staff and surveys of participating farmland seekers and owners. Data on the opportunities and constraints facing these programs and their participants will contribute to the development of a promising practices model and benchmarks for land linking program outcomes. This research will evaluate the potential for land linking programs to support the sustainable transfer of land to the next generation of farmers through tenure arrangements which suit their needs, are affordable over the long term, and yield secure terms which foster stewardship of the land. Results will be distributed to the participating programs, and published on extension and land linking program websites as a resource for beginning farmers and organizations across the country who manage or are considering establishing land linking programs.
Objective 1. Gather relevant background information and organizational evolution of all land link programs in the Northeast region to understand and characterize land link activities and identify factors associated with organizational success or failure.
The initial proposal had identified 16 land linking programs in the Northeast region, but through contact with these programs and further web searching, an additional 5 programs have been identified. Thus, there are now 21 programs in the target sample. Background information from web searches has been collected on each of these programs, 14 web-questionnaires have been filled out by program staff, and 15 interviews of between one to one and a half hours have been conducted with key representatives of 17 of these programs (one person served as the key informant for 3 programs). One additional program was unable to participate due to staff time constraints, but answered a few short questions via email. Thus, only 3 programs have not participated because we have been unable to get in touch with them. We will continue to try to contact them for an interview, but as is, this is a very good response rate at 15 interviews covering 17 land linking programs.
To date, 5 interviews have been transcribed, totaling 120 pages of transcripts. Once transcription of the remaining 10 interviews is completed, there will be an estimated almost 400 pages of interview data for this project. Thus, a substantial amount of data has been generated through this project so far. Collection of this data has been a few weeks behind the target timeline due to difficulties in connecting with interview participants and finding times when they were available to be interviewed, but we are still overall on-track with the project.
Objective 2. Characterize and compare farmland seekers and owners within and across Northeast land link programs to assess and measure patterns of program participation, satisfaction, concerns, tenure outcomes and generational goals.
The next stage of this project will be to distribute a web-based survey to the participants (both land seekers and land owners) of the land linking programs in the Northeast region which are in the study, in order to gather the data outlined in objective 2. The key informant interviews are helping to inform the drafting of survey questions, which is currently underway. When those are completed, they will be piloted with participants of the Center for Rural Affairs’ Land Link, which is not a study participant, but has committed to collaborating on this research by piloting the survey. We are on schedule to run the pilot in late January and distribute the live web survey to participant programs in the Northeast in February-March.
Objective 3. Develop evidence-based recommendations for promising practices and benchmarks for new or expanding land link programs so that programs can evaluate their own progress and demonstrate the contribution of their programs to communities, participants and funders.
The study timeline plans for meeting this objective during the summer months, after data collection and analysis are complete.
August-September 2012: Background information was collected on all the land linking programs in the Northeast region. A semi-structured interview guide was developed for conducting interviews with key informants at the programs. A short web-based questionnaire was also developed for collecting basic data about the programs, such as staffing and budget sizes. IRB approval of both of these instruments was obtained.
October 2012: Recruitment emails were sent to each program. After agreeing to participate, a link to the web questionnaire was sent to each participant.
November-December 2012: Interviews commenced, and transcripts were made from completed interviews. Fifteen interviews have been completed to-date. It had been planned that interviews would be finished by Thanksgiving, but this proved to be too short of a timeline. Program staff are very busy running their programs, and it was challenging to connect with each person and then find a time when they were available. Ultimately, almost every program contacted has very graciously contributed time to this study.
December 2012: Draft web survey questions for program participants are now being written.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
No impacts have been realized to-date as we are still in the data collection phase. Anecdotally, a few program staff indicated in their interviews that they are happy that this research is being conducted, and almost every program said they will be very interested to see the results.
graduate student researcher
The Pennsylvania State University
231 Amblewood Way
State College, PA 16803
Office Phone: 4022187838
Professor of Rural Sociology
The Pennsylvania State University
University Park, PA 16802
Office Phone: 8148638628