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Red Fire Farm: Looking Back Four Years On

One of the few silver linings of the pandemic has been the growth of interest in local farms and food. Red Fire Farm in Montague, Mount Grace’s first Whole Farm Forever project, has certainly seen its share of that demand. Ryan and Sarah Voiland, who own their Montague farmstead in partnership with Mount Grace, appreciate the renewed interest and have certainly been kept busy by the uptick in demand. Although CSA shares have been the “cornerstone” of the business for a long time, the years leading up to the pandemic saw a decline in CSA sign-ups that left them wondering “whether there was really enough support for a farm like us out there in the world,” said Ryan Voiland.

While they are excited by the swell of interest in their produce, Sarah Voiland said that it is a “very sad time overall for farmland and open space.” The Voilands have seen first‐hand the ongoing loss of prime farmland as one of the first farm fields they rented in Granby was recently bulldozed and converted into a housing subdivision. Despite trying to purchase the field to keep it in farming, Ryan said that “the finances are just so stacked against it” that ultimately, they couldn’t raise the funds. This contrast has only increased their appreciation of the success of their Mount Grace project and other conservation efforts in the region, but they know that the work is more urgent than ever. As Sarah said, “anybody with an inkling of the importance of soil needs to get involved and take action now before we lose it.”

As Sarah said, “anybody with an inkling of the importance of soil needs to get involved and take action now before we lose it.”

As for Red Fire Farm itself, the Voilands have no plans to go anywhere, and hope the land can “feed people for generations to come.” Reflecting on their project with Mount Grace, they think back on how it didn’t change how they viewed the land. “We owned the land before, and we still are treating it and thinking of it as if we own the land, in terms of long-term stewardship,” shared Ryan. According to Ryan, the main impact of the project for the farm has been “help with finances of working land”, something critical given that “finances are challenging with farming in general.” Those financial barriers to keeping farming affordable and accessible were the driving force behind the Whole Farm Forever project at Red Fire Farm where Mount Grace owns the land on the farm, while the Voilands own the house, greenhouses, and barns. In the four years since the project with Red Fire Farm, Mount Grace has protected several other farms in the region to ensure they stay working farms using a tool called an Option to Purchase at Agricultural Value (OPAV), which ensures that both the land, house, and farm infrastructure are sold at their agricultural value, in the hope of keeping them in the hands of farmers forever. As Ryan said, to produce healthy local food for our communities, “we have to save the farmland from development and nurture farmers and make it viable to make a living.”

As Ryan said, to produce healthy local food for our communities, “we have to save the farmland from development and nurture farmers and make it viable to make a living.”