Buy local food initiatives have taken hold across the nation. Urban, suburban and rural communities alike are responding to the option of securing access to fresher, tastier and more nutritious food. The Pioneer Valley is home to collaborations like the Local Hero, and Forever Farmland campaigns which aim to support our farm economy right here and make local agriculture truly sustainable.
Today, in Montague, Ryan and Sarah Voiland, owners and farmers of Red Fire Farm, on Meadow Road, are partnering with Mount Grace Land Conservation Trust to make their 122-acre property a permanently affordable whole farm. The affordable farm model is a new template for farm ownership—one that enables young farmers to start new farms without unsustainable debt.
Under the affordable farm model, the land trust and farmers share the ownership of the farm. Mount Grace will own and manage the land as a community resource. Ryan and Sarah 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 set to make them affordable for the next farmer.
The result is permanently affordable whole farm in Montague, or a farm that has the elements that a farmer needs – fields, barns, greenhouses, and housing – at a rate that farmers can afford.
To make these goals a reality, Mount Grace launched the $400,000 Campaign for Affordable Farms in May of 2012. The project builds on work done by Equity Trust, but brings forward a significant new model for farm conservation, and Mount Grace is carefully documenting the process in order to offer a template for more affordable whole farms across Franklin County and Massachusetts.
Red Fire Farm grows organic vegetables, fruits, and flowers in Montague on Meadow Road at the location of the former Blue Meadow Nursery and an adjoining farm. Ryan grew up in Montague where he started his farming career at the Old Depot Gardens farm stand on what is now Turners Falls Road. The farm stand is still located at his boyhood home.