Farmers Feed Us, Farms Feed Farmers

Craig McCord

Craig McCord › Craig possesses 23 guitars and cannot play any of them. He likes fresh grilled sardines with a ...

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Our friends and CSA farmers, Benjamin Shute and Lindsey Lusher Shute have had a busy week. (In what week is a farmer not busy?) But, in the past week these two have appeared on a panel discussion at Farm Aid 2013 with founders Willie, Neil, John, and Dave (as well as other farmers). And yesterday they were op-ed contributors to The New York Times.

Entitled Keep Farmland for the Farmers, the Shutes give readers an inside look into farmland procurement, easements, land use, taxation, and land preservation (among other subjects and opinions).

This passage sets up one of the problems for farmers regarding land use:

Easements are intended to protect farmland, water, animal habitat, historic sites and scenic views, and so they are successful in keeping farms from becoming malls and subdivisions. But they don’t stop Wall Street bankers from turning them into private getaways, with price tags to match.

What’s wrong with people buying whatever they want to buy? Hey, it’s a free country. What’s the problem? The Shutes go on:

Once well-off city residents who are looking for second homes buy the land, farmer ownership is over. After they’ve added an air-conditioned home, a heated pool and an asphalt drive, the value increases so much that no working farmer can afford it. The farm, and its capacity to feed a community, is lost.

We want to pass our stewardship of this land on to future farmers.

So the land’s ability to produce food is gone. Food insecurity increases. Suburban sprawl and on and on. Granted, not in every case, but one has to admit to the trend here. The good news is there are solutions. The article continues:

The Vermont Land Trust and the State of Massachusetts are keeping farmland in the hands of farmers through stricter conservation easements that limit who can own it, which keeps farms affordable and deters farm sales to nonfarmers.

That’s great for farmers in Vermont and Massachusetts. We applaud the progress and the great work. We’re all for it! Hold on, though. What about New York farmers? What’s happening in our neck of the woods? In their article we read this:

In New York State, the Farmland Protection Program hasn’t come to the aid of any new farms in five years.

Smart, self-interested cities would be wise to do their part. New York City needs to think about the land beyond the boroughs. The need is well documented: a recent study identified 614 vital unprotected farms in the Hudson Valley.

New York City invested in the protection of its watershed in the Catskills; it needs to do the same with farmland to assure fresh food. It must come up with the money and leadership to help regional land trusts protect farms.

Lindsey and Ben are not gloom-and-doom naysayers. Not by a long shot. These are two of the most optimistic people we have ever had the opportunity to know. Their sky is not falling, but they see trouble ahead and know that now is the time to act. Evidence of their positivity is held in their last paragraph:

We want to pass our stewardship of this land on to future farmers. We are now working with the land trust to tighten our easement and make sure that on our land, an American farm family will always have a chance to succeed.

One way to help the new generation of farmers is to lend your support the National Young Farmers Coalition. Their guiding principle says it best:

The National Young Farmers Coalition supports practices and policies that will sustain young, independent and prosperous farmers now and in the future.

The Shutes are a great example of how the new generation of farmers are putting strong brainpower into these vexing problems. Hats off to Lindsey and Benjamin.

What’s your opinion on farming and land use? Do you have first-hand knowledge that you can share?

Photo credit: Staci Strauss