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Campaign for Affordable Farms Reaches $400,000 Goal

Mount Grace Land Conservation Trust joined with Red Fire Farm to announce the completion of the trust’s $400,000 capital campaign to buy 122 acres of forest and farm land at Red Fire Farm’s Montague location.   The Farm and Mount Grace are now actively working out the lease agreement and legal details of the land transfer. 

The partners expect to transfer the land this spring and the Trust is still accepting contributions to cover the anticipated legal and land stewardship costs of the project.

Leigh at Campaign for Affordable Farms KickoffTouring Red Fire Farm's fields on the new trail Ryan leading a toour of the farmRyefield at the farm

“Completing the $400,000 campaign means we will soon own Red Fire Farm’s Montague farmstead in partnership with the farmers Ryan and Sarah Voiland,” said Mount Grace Executive Director Leigh Youngblood.  “We look forward to working together with the Voilands to demonstrate to New England farmers that this new model of farm ownership can offer solutions to some of the difficult financial questions facing farmers today.”

Sarah and Leigh at the 2013 SoireeStrawberry pickersMcGovern, Leigh, and Olver at 2012 Annual Meeting

Wally & Ruby

The Red Fire Farm capital campaign is the first project of the Campaign for Affordable Farms.  Under the whole farm affordability model, the land trust and farmers share the ownership of the farm.  Mount Grace will own and manage the land as a community resource.  The Voilands will own the farm house, barns, greenhouses, and other buildings.  Mount Grace will grant a 99-year lease to current and future farmers at a rate that is viable for food production.  In addition, the resale price of the buildings will be limited to make them affordable for the next farmer.

The result is a permanently affordable whole farm, or a farm that has the elements that a farmer needs – fields, barns, greenhouses, and housing – at a rate that farmers can afford.  “This arrangement allows us as two first-generation farmers - with no farmland to inherit - to own and manage a successful organic farming business in a place where farmland is some of the most expensive in the country,” noted Ryan Voiland.

Red Fire Farm is a certified organic, mixed vegetable, berry, and flower farm selling produce wholesale, retail & through a Community Supported Agriculture program which serves more than 1,500 shareholders in the communities of the Connecticut River Valley and greater Boston area.

In 2009, the Voilands acquired the 108-acre former Tuvek farm along the Connecticut River in Montague and the adjacent 14-acre Blue Meadow Nursery property and greenhouses.  While the land met the growing needs of Red Fire Farm, the high purchase price for each of the prime agricultural properties was driven by attractiveness as a residential setting and is not sustainable for a farm business.  To find a way for farmers to have sustainable access to farmland, Mount Grace and Red Fire Farm devised the Campaign for Affordable Farms, based on the work of Equity Trust.

“Finding farmland with the necessary infrastructure is getting harder, as increasingly farm buildings are sold separately from their farmland,” said Sarah Voiland. “We are hoping this project can be a model for how to secure our working farms as whole entities.”

The $400,000 capital campaign was launched publicly in May 2012 and was the most ambitious fundraising effort Mount Grace has ever attempted.  “Taking on a challenge like this has helped Mount Grace grow as an organization,” added Youngblood.  “Thanks to the support of more than 400 donors, Red Fire Farm will become a permanently affordable whole farm held by Mount Grace as a community resource providing fresh, healthy produce forever.  We hope this shared-ownership model will inspire more landowners to consider a similar future for their farms.”

With the first phase of the project now complete, the Voilands and Mount Grace invite the public to a celebration of the farm from 1-4pm on Saturday, December 14 at 172 Meadow Road in Montague.  Visit the farm for hot chocolate and hot cider and learn about the Campaign for Affordable Farms and Red Fire Farm’s plans for the future.  You may RSVP for the event at mountgrace.org.