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

2009 Annual 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

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


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 begin farming in our region through increased farmland transfer and tenure arrangements. We identified two beneficiary groups with clear needs: exiting producers, who say they don’t 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 and explore farm structures that don’t involve land ownership. A third group, non-farm landowners who want their land farmed, say they don’t 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). But 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, under this grant SEMAP is working to implement a regional program, “Farms Forever,” (FF) that will: catalyze producer action on farm transfer planning by leveraging existing funds to offer LFG “packages” in our region, create local peer examples and outreach, implement a referral network to service providers (linked to FTNNE and including land trusts), provide a local communication hub and ongoing follow-up, conduct outreach to non-farming landowners, and help connect land trusts and the ag community. FF will be a central local catalyst and resource to give a clear answer to the question, “Where Do I Start?” SEMAP is working closely with LFG, The Trustees of Reservations, and First Pioneer to implement Farms Forever. Our performance target is that at least 8 exiting and/or entering producers will complete one of several farm transfer/tenure scenarios, resulting in a viable new farm entity in Southeastern Massachusetts.

Since our last report in January 2009, we have nearly completed planning for our third year of workshops/networking event for retiring and beginning producers and non-farm landowners, in the form of our planned March 2010 3rd Annual 1-day farm conference. This event will build on the success of last year’s conference, which drew 130 attendees. We wrapped up the 8 farm transfer packages with Land For Good, which resulted in all 8 reaching milestone 6. (Our milestones overlap somewhat, that is, we may be in contact with some beneficiaries on an initial milestone while we are already working with other growers towards later milestones.) In partnership with LFG we completed the “Where Do I start” guides. Our Farms Forever Coordinator, Katie Cavanagh, continues to conduct extensive outreach, and continues working to identify farmland that may be available for the increasing number of inquiries we’re receiving from beginning farms who don’t have family land.

Objectives/Performance Targets

Of these 16 producers, AND 10 farms receiving LFG packages, at least 8 producers complete a farm transfer/tenure arrangement resulting in creation of a viable new farm entity in Southeastern Massachusetts. Scenarios may 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).


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).

Work towards our first project milestone has actually been underway since 2006 under funding from the A.D. Makepeace Neighborhood Fund. SEMAP’s grant from this funder provided partial support for 10 farm transfer planning “packages” (a 6-month consulting process) from our project partner Land For Good, a NH-based nonprofit specializing in individualized farm transfer planning support for farm families. Makepeace grant funds allow us to offer these packages, at least a $500 value, to farms for just $150, and they provide individualized, 1-on-1 service – something local growers told us was very important during focus groups we held to help plan Farms Forever. So, as noted above, 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 finally reached the point where 8 packages were claimed. 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. Price has not been an issue for anyone involved either. So, it’s not that the offering is not valuable or affordable. We believe it’s just 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 the kind of support farms initially told us they would like. It’s just a hard issue to confront.

Currently, we have:
• 8 packages completed
• 5 packages have developed into new farm operations (3 of those still working on the legal structure of ownership) 2 packages after lengthy discussions and meeting with LFG and SEMAP could not move forward. Each package had very different reasons for why the next step could not be taken family concerns and land price. 1 package could not afford to take the next steps identified because of financial constraints.

Katie continues to refer farms to LFG for non-subsidized packages, including some more customized versions of LFG’s services. Farms Forever contacted a group of concerned farmers in a southeast ma community. Thru some of the SARE funds Katie organized a meeting with LFG and the community group. As a direct result a partnership was formed and currently a study is underway to show the impact identified threats could have on the rural farming community. Katie will continue working towards our goal of generating farm testimonials and success stories to help provide peer encouragement for other farms to address transfer/tenure needs.

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).

As described in our earlier report, despite the slower-than-expected response to our initial program offering of the Land For Good 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. This past year we continued to build on our success, as follows:

Personal Outreach:

• Katie Cavanagh presented to faculty at Bristol Community College about FF – 15 people attended.
• Katie Cavanagh presented to sustainability class at Bridgewater State College about FF – 24 students attended.
• Katie Cavanagh presented at SEMAP’s B2B meeting about FF – 50 people attended.
• Katie Cavanagh presented at the Ag Com Conference – presented at 2 workshops with Kathy Ruhf about transfer/ tenure 30 people attended – 150 people at conference
• Katie Cavanagh presented at the Thompson Street Preservation Group meeting about FF and transfer options, 12 people attended
• Held joint SEMAP-Bristol Conservation District One-Day Farm Conference, March 7, 2009. The conference included an intensive farm transfer/tenure workshop with small group sessions geared to the needs of established/retiring farms, new/next-generation farms, and non-farm landowners.

The conference was attended by 130 local growers and each small group session had 20-40 participants. Workshop leaders included Land For Good and a local lawyer
We were extremely pleased that virtually all of the producers attending the conference participated fully in the farm transfer workshop – we had expected some attrition during that time. Many excellent questions were asked, and with the targeted groups it appeared that producers felt more comfortable asking questions, knowing that they would be relevant to everyone in the group. We received many positive evaluation and suggestions for next year.

• Katie Cavanagh presented with Bob Bernstein from LFG about transfer/tenure – 25 people attended.
• Katie Cavanagh organized meeting with Thompson Street Preservation Group and LFG – 19 people attended.
• Farms Forever and Taunton River Watershed Alliance co-sponsored a farm day at Kettle Pond Farm – 35 people attended.
• Katie Cavanagh presented at East Bridgewater Organic Gardner Club about SEMAP and FF role – 56 people attended.
• Katie Cavanagh presented at Revitalizing Financial Support for Southeastern Massachusetts Agriculture about FF – 35 people attended
• Katie Cavanagh updated about the FF program at SEMAP’s Annual Meeting – 30 people attended.
• Katie Cavanagh attended the Middleboro Board of Selectman Town Meeting to discuss FF’s role in the proposed study – 21 people attended.

Total reached through personal outreach: 412

Newsletter/mailing outreach:

• SEMAP began adding listings of farmland for lease/sale to our emailed farm announcements. Emailed approximately bi-weekly to approximately 250 local farms.
• Katie Cavanagh circulates info on Exploring the Small Farm Dream course by email and listservs, approx. 2000 emails.
• Invitations for March 7, 2010 conference, including farm transfer/tenure workshop info, to be mailed 2//10 (1000 copies).

Total reached through newsletter/mailing outreach: 1000-3000

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 is occurring concurrently with progress towards Milestones 1 and 2 and further Milestones below. It is occasionally 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, as of January 2009 SEMAP has been contacted by:

28 exiting producers – exiting and/or established
42 entering producers – next generation and/or seeking land
11 landowners – seeking farm managers or people to lease land

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

The 8 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. Additionally, Katie has worked with 3 additional farms (one with an identified next generation) completing this step.

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).

The 8 package farms have completed this step, for a total of approximately 8 entering and 8 exiting farms as described above. While continuing to work towards this milestone we have met with 3 additional farms this past year.

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 8 package farms have completed this step. As described above through continued outreach we have surpassed our total with 9 entering and 12 exiting farms engaging in an intensive one-on-one farm transfer planning process with service providers and a farm transfer partner.

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

Since our last report in January 2009, we have completed all of our milestones and surpassed all of or identified goal. We have realized 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 form 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 she 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.

Other activities/Work with Project Partners:

• 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 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 our website 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 has begun implementing them when she does farm visits. We received positive reviews:

“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

• March 2010 Farm Conference: The conference agenda is complete, and we hope the diverse offerings will attract an even larger group of growers than last year. This year we will focus on leasing and buying APR land as well as town owned land.

The day will also include 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, and 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.

• NxLevel Course with Mass. Dept of Ag Resources: We have also worked with MDAR again this winter to co-sponsor a Southeastern Massachusetts session of the NxLevel Course. This 10-session, “business planning” course helps interested new/established farmers clarify their business ideas and create a business plan. There are currently 11 farms enrolled in the course that began January 11, 2010.

We hope you will be pleased with this Annual Report of progress, and look forward to providing SARE with further updates as we proceed.


Kathy Ruhf

[email protected]
Land For Good
P.O. Box 11
Belchertown, MA 01007
Office Phone: 4133239878
Jennifer Holske

[email protected]
SouthCoast/Buzzards Bay Land Protection Specialist
Trustees of Reservations
1100D Main Road
Westport, MA 02790
Office Phone: 5086267501