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Mount Grace's Campaign for Affordable Farms

Posted Friday, November 29, 2013
— News

Scenes from Mount Grace's Annual Meeting at Red Fire Farm. 

Mount Grace is working with Ryan and Sarah Voiland, who own and operate Red Fire Farm, a 1,500 member CSA, to create a permanently affordable whole farm conserved for the community.  To ensure sustainable access to farmland, Mount Grace and Red Fire Farm are partnering to pilot the Campaign for Affordable Farms a cutting edge model of shared ownership that will serve not only the current farm operation but will continue for future farmers as well.

Details on the Campaign for Affordable Farms Red Fire Farm Project are below. 

Support the $400,000 Campaign for Affordable Farms-Red Fire Farm Project

The Campaign for Affordable Farms
Red Fire Farm Project

In 2012, Mount Grace Land Conservation Trust launched a Capital Campaign to raise $400,000
for the Purchase of 122 acres of Prime Farmland to Increase Access to Affordable Farms

Mount Grace Land Conservation Trust’s first effort to increase access to affordable whole farms, The Campaign for Affordable Farms - Red Fire Farm Project, addresses the urgent local and national need for permanently protected and affordable working farms.  This innovative conservation project will help establish procedures and a range of models, building on the work of Equity Trust, which can be applied to farms throughout our region.

Utilizing a land tenure model in which ownership of the farm is divided, with Mount Grace owning the land and the farmer owning the farmhouse, barn, and other farm infrastructure, this project addresses value and price barriers of current farm conservation options.

By holding farmland as a community resource over the long term, Mount Grace will help ensure that working farms are able to provide Massachusetts with healthy, locally grown food in perpetuity.

Affordable Access to Land and Infrastructure

Secure, affordable access to land is the greatest challenge facing entering farmers today.  In Massachusetts, the Agricultural Preservation Restriction (APR) Program has gone a long way towards permanently protecting farmland.  While APRs can dramatically reduce the cost of agricultural land, there has been no equivalent tool in place to ensure that whole farms, including the necessary buildings and infrastructure, are affordable into the future.

If we want to ensure that our local communities have future access to fresh, locally-grown produce, we must make certain that farmers are able to afford access to the land and infrastructure they need to run a successful farm business.

Leigh Youngblood Speaks about the Campaign in Saving Land Magazine

High Conservation Values

The project property contains 45 acres of fields with prime agricultural soils and 79 acres of forest at the confluence of the Sawmill and Connecticut Rivers. This land has some of the best agricultural soils in the world, as well as several barns, greenhouses, an office, and a farm house.  The land also includes nearly 1,000 feet of frontage on the Connecticut River, and more than 1,800 feet of frontage on the Sawmill River.  These riparian areas are designated as high priority habitat for rare and endangered species in Massachusetts, including frequently-sighted bald eagles.

Red Fire Farm

Red Fire Farm is a certified organic, mixed vegetable, berry, and flower farm owned and managed by Ryan and Sarah Voiland.  Over the last ten years Red Fire Farm has built a thriving organic farm in Granby, Massachusetts.  The farm sells primarily through a Community Supported Agriculture program which serves more than 1,400 shareholders in the communities of the Connecticut River Valley as well as the greater Boston and Springfield areas.  However, the farm’s viability is at risk, as they have been operating with only a year-to-year lease on the majority of their farmland.  This land insecurity is not sustainable for the farm business.  In response to the continual threat of losing most of their productive farmland to development, Ryan and Sarah acquired the 108-acre former Tuvek farm along the Connecticut River in Montague and the adjacent 14-acre Blue Meadow Nursery property and greenhouses and an unsustainable amount of debt.

The Challenge and a New Model of Ownership

While the Montague farm will meet the growing needs of Red Fire Farm, the high purchase price for each of these prime agricultural properties is driven by its attractiveness as a residential setting and is not sustainable for a farm business.  Without a creative solution, that can be replicated and applied to other farms, the long-term viability of farming in the region will continue to diminish.

To ensure sustainable access to farmland, Mount Grace Land Conservation Trust and Red Fire Farm are partnering to pilot a cutting edge model of shared ownership that will serve not only the current farm operation but will continue for future farmers as well:

Mount Grace will purchase the land from Red Fire Farm to hold as a community resource for long-term public benefit. Red Fire Farm will retain ownership of the farm’s built infrastructure including the house, office, barns, and greenhouses and any future improvements. Mount Grace will then lease, at a market-based rate, the farmland to Red Fire Farm under a 99-year inheritable land-lease that requires the land to be actively farmed by the leaseholder. As the owner of the land, Mount Grace will continue its longstanding practice of paying property taxes to the town at the agricultural use rate.

Red Fire Farm will grant Mount Grace a permanent Affordability Restriction, in the form of an Option at Agricultural Value, on the farm infrastructure, ensuring that the buildings are always sold to the next lease-holding farmer for a fair and affordable agricultural price.  The land-lease payment will be determined by an independent appraisal and will cover all ownership costs.

The Campaign for Affordable Farms is an opportunity for innovation. While Mount Grace has conserved thousands of acres of farmland since 1986, this model ushers in a new era of permanently protected working farms as a community resource.

Mount Grace’s decision to take an innovative approach to farm conservation attracted support from grantors interested in investing in new methods to make America’s food systems more sustainable.  Leadership funding for the work came from The Bromley Charitable Trust, with additional project support from The 1772 Foundation, the Sand Dollar Foundation, the Hermann Foundation, The Pew Charitable Trusts, the Adelard A. Roy and Valeda Lea Roy Foundation, the Rose Community Foundation, and more than 400 individuals.

Learn more about Mount Grace's innovative work with Red Fire Farm in Montague and the Campaign for Affordable Farms model of shared farm ownership.