This interview with Temple Grandin on her thoughts on the future of small farms is very intriguing. Land access is certainly a pressing concern for small farmers, as well as beginning farmers. It got me thinking about various methods of obtaining land access for small farmers. What are some ideas for obtaining land access, especially if you need or want access to a population center:
This is the obvious, albeit for many people the most difficult solution to obtaining land access. But not all is lost. It takes persistence, networking, and workable finances, but it is possible to purchase land. There are many programs available from both the Farm Service Agency and individual states (for example, aggie bonds) to assist with land purchases. Additionally, small farmers have a built-in advantage: they don’t need or require enormous tracts of land. So, keep an eye out for smaller tracts of land that may be a bit off the beaten path. Talk to anyone who will listen (or at least won’t walk away!) that you are looking for land to purchase. Look for land that, while it may not be perfect, will nonetheless fit your needs.
As I’ve written here before, I think leases are an option if properly considered. A lease, especially if you are a new small farmer, provides an opportunity to test your business plan, your marketing and product, and whether this is a career you can and want to pursue. Leases also provide an opportunity to develop a relationship with a landowner who may be willing to sell land and/or provide references to others in the community about your operation and need for land. Also, keep in mind that the State of Nebraska has a program in place when leases are signed: the Nebraska Beginning Farmer Tax Credit. Keep in mind the tax credit requires a lease of ten or more acres.
Urban lots may be exactly what your small farm needs. You would be in the population center, would likely have direct contact with consumers, and may have more housing options available. But there are issues unique to urban areas. First, you need to know the zoning regulations and the zoning of the particular lot you may use for your operation. You may also have to consider whether homeowner covenants are in place. Some covenants prevent gardens, commercial activities, and/or require a house to be built on the lot within a certain period of time. An urban lot is also best for vegetable, fruit, or similar operation; animals will very likely not work due to municipal ordinances barring farm animals in city limits.
In the end, access to land is a difficult but not necessarily insurmountable problem, especially for small farmers. So don’t give up on making your business plans, networking with others, participating an apprenticeships and internships, and generally following your dream. And if following your dream requires a bit of help, you are always welcome to contact us.