This summer, Ryan and Sarah Voiland realized a long-awaited dream by selling Red Fire Farm’s 124 acres in Montague to Mount Grace. The couple has no plans to move. Instead, they have signed a lifetime lease on the land, and will continue to run the farm in a new partnership with the trust.
The Voilands worked with Mount Grace to protect their farmhouse, buildings, greenhouses, and land together as a “Whole Farm,” a new model of shared farm ownership which offers significant benefits for local farmers. Access to land and housing is one of the biggest barriers for entry into farming, as Leigh Youngblood explains: “Across the country, the next generation of farmers are struggling to find secure access to land and housing. Land trusts can help farmers secure more affordable access to land, housing, and farm buildings. This shared ownership model, developed by Equity Trust, is one tool to help address these challenges.”
Not much has changed day to day at the farm. “I don’t actually look at it all that differently,” says Ryan. “We farm land we own, land Mount Grace owns, and land we lease. I look at the Mount Grace land as being just as secure as the land we own.” Adds Sarah, “Land isn’t really ‘owned.’ This model focuses more on handing down the responsibilities of stewardship for the land from generation to generation so this farm will remain a resource for the whole community.”
In 2012, Mount Grace began the Campaign for Affordable Farms to raise money to buy the farmland. Ultimately, the purchase resulted in the creation of “Mount Grace Farm LLC,” a limited liability corporation with a purpose of owning and operating commercial farms. “We needed to innovate to create access to whole farms for the next generation,’ Youngblood adds. “By expanding our toolbox of models, we can better help farmers address issues of farmland affordability, access to land and housing, farm viability, and farm succession.” Since beginning whole farm conservation with Red Fire Farm, Mount Grace has also partnered with Sugarbush Farm in Wendell and Wingate Farm in Hinsdale, New Hampshire to conserve their farms and farmhouses together.
There are more CSAs and more farms growing organic—meaning many more ways for consumers to get local organic produce. Former crew members at the farm have gone on to run their own CSA farms, including Stone Soup Farm in Hadley and Freedom Food Farm in Raynham. That may make the competition tougher, but for the Voilands, that’s part of the evolution too. “I found a note I had written in high school saying that my ideal place to live would be a farm near some colleges where young people could come and learn to farm,” says Sarah, “and now that’s what we are.”
This project was supported by the Bromley Charitable Trust, the 1772 Foundation, the Russell Farm and Forest Conservation Foundation, the Sand Dollar Fund, the Hermann Foundation, the Pew Charitable Trusts, the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts, the Adelard and Valeda Roy Foundation, Farm Credit East, and hundreds of individuals and businesses.