Farm Preservation–One Farm at a Time

Sustainably grown produce is reliant upon sustainable, thriving local farms. But for Jeff and Annie Main, concern mounted over the security and sustainability of their 25-year old farm when the couple started to plan for their retirement. Appalled by the possibility of their family farm and land being swept away into development, the Mains looked for a way to keep the selling price for their farm affordable for a younger farmer’s investment.

Good Humus Produce has been in operation since 1976 and is now a 20-acre organic farm that produces fruit, vegetables, herbs, and flowers. Over the past 10 years, the Mains have been working on an easement initiative, the goal of which is to preserve a sense of place, post-retirement. When word eventually spread in the community about the Mains’ easement project, Sacramento locals who have come to rely on Good Humus Produce did not allow the couple to carry their initiative alone.

An easement strategy is not a standard conservation method. It utilizes a land trust to purchase and oversee the use of the farm. The trust buys an easement from the farmer for the amount of the development value while a new farmer may buy the land at the agricultural value. After the farm is passed to the next owner, the land trust ensures that the new farmer maintains certain land and residence standards. The farmers, the land, and small-scale agriculture, are all protected in this approach, which ultimately leads to the growth of safeguarded farms. In 2009, an organization known as One Farm at a Time was formed, in collaboration with the Davis Food Co-op and Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op, to spearhead fundraising and outreach for the Good Humus easement.

One Farm at a Time will complete conservation work on Good Humus and then continue on to other local farms, using the same easement model to uphold small-scale agriculture. An envisioned network of local, long-standing farms must involve many partnerships that strengthen the larger objective to create sustainable and economically viable local ownership of agricultural land.

Alongside contribution from co-ops, the Mains have worked with a host of different organizations to spread their words of concern. At the launch of the easement initiative in 2001, Equity Trust, Inc., a national non-profit that works with individual farmers to secure land ownership through purchase options, led the Mains through their first round of fundraising. Since their founding in 1991, Equity Trust, Inc. has worked on many land preservation cases spanning New York to California. The Mains have also worked with California Farmlink and Yolo Land on the actual writing of the easement. Organic Valley and Straus Family Creamery help to sponsor the initiative.

Easement strategy is not a new concept specific to the Mains’ predicament. In the state of Washington, an organization known as PCC Farmland Trust does similar work for the American agriculture stage. Like the One Farm at a Time tale, PCC Farmland Trust originated in 1999 in reaction to the impending development sale of a 97-acre farm adjacent to the land of Sequim farmer Nash Huber.

PCC Farmland Trust emerged to rescue Nash’s Organic Produce, which now leases the 97-acre Delta Farm and continues to produce over 100 varieties of produce, meat, and grains. Since the organization’s first farm preservation, a total of nine organic farms and 865 acres have been saved, and both farmer and consumer rights have been protected. The fight to preserve, support, and produce on locally protected farmland is a campaign that depends upon many voices and a tremendous amount of collaboration.

On a hot July morning, farmer Annie stood with a group of high school girls at the opening of their workday on her farm. She looked from one volunteer to another and said, “We have a small voice. We want you all to be our voices, because when you hold a place in your heart, you defend it.” The girls, dressed in hiking boots and a thick layer of sunscreen attentively listened to the description of Good Humus Farm before they dispersed to weed and compost. From farmer, to worker, to consumer, Annie’s words resonate.

With the help of land trust organizations which value preservation, local ownership, and long-term investment, many family farms have managed to make themselves heard. These defended farms, still standing, confirm that their voices are loud enough.

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