Young Farmer Network’s Landing on the Right Acre: Storytelling for and By Farmers
How beginning and established farmers are finding access to land in the face of adversity.
A group of young farmers and their supporters gathers inside Machines with Magnets in Pawtucket, a trendy bar, contemporary art gallery and performance space. Instead of overalls embedded with dirt, they wear everything from bright rainbow-colored sweaters and funky scarves to fashionable jeans and t-shirts with quirky sayings. They are there to share stories about the challenges of gaining land access for farming in Rhode Island.
The event is organized by the Young Farmer Network of Southeastern New England, which is an organization of beginning farmers from Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Connecticut. The network provides opportunities for education and advocacy, and strengthens the social and professional networks between farmers from all backgrounds and ages. The group also organizes Young Farmer Nights, which (in pre-Covid-19 days) included tours of local farms with potluck suppers and community-building camaraderie, often around a campfire.
This event, called “Landing on the Right Acre: storytelling for and by farmers” is a partnership with Land for Good, which helps to connect land-seekers with fertile acreage for farming. Farmer John Kenny of Big Train Farm kicks things off in wire-rimmed glasses and skinny jeans by explaining how Rhode Island is one of the most densely populated states in the nation, while also having the most expensive farm real estate in the country. “The average age for the American farmer is in the high-fifties or low-sixties and Rhode Islanders are right on that median, which is odd, considering you look around the room and you see a lot of young faces,” Kenny says. “So with the high value placed on farmland, we have an aging population of farmers sitting on goldmines.”
The challenge is connecting the next generation to that farmland, when many aging farmers might choose to sell their acreage for development, and young farmers cannot afford to purchase their own land. Fortunately, Rhode Island has activated several programs like Land for Good that help connect beginning and established farmers with access to land. There are land trusts like the Aquidneck Land Trust, Southside Community Land Trust and West Bay Land Trust that are preserving the land for farming so it cannot become mini mansion developments. There are incubator farms like Urban Edge Farm and Snake Den Farm that are helping burgeoning farm businesses grow and expand through cooperative farming methods, and there is a farmland access program that will be launching soon.
At “Landing on the Right Acre,” five different farmers shared their stories about their experiences finding land in Rhode Island and how they overcame challenges. Thanks to Ben Sukle of birch and Oberlin and Jules Opton-Himmel of Walrus and Carpenter Oysters for feeding the farmers that night.
Here are their stories:
Home delivery and a direct-to-consumer farm store have helped this beef, pork and poultry farm pick up profits during a crisis.
Cassius Spears shares his experiences using land to build community.