Behind the labor required to cultivate countless acres of vegetables, more often than not, a farmer has a unique passion or issue that inspires them every day. Tenzin Botsford of Red Door Family Farm recognizes the barriers facing young farmers, and shared his vision of how to overcome them with FairShare this season.
I think something like 60% of arable land is going to change hands over the next 10 years. Because farmers are aging out and there are not young farmers stepping up to replace them.
“I think the key component [concerning land access for new farmers] is that farmland is no longer valued based off of its productive capacity. It’s based off of its speculative capacity. There’s money to be made by owning the land, and you can rent it out to someone…. But you can’t buy it off by farming it. That’s the main barrier. Which means that large farms with borrowing ability can play that game…. If you’re a first generation farmer or beginning farmer, it’s a capital expense that is above and beyond what you can pay off with a productive capacity…. Bigger players [have] something that they can borrow against or have the capital to just put into it immediately…. So when we started and I was looking at getting a loan… There was just no way.
I think something like 60% of arable land is going to change hands over the next 10 years. Because farmers are aging out and there are not young farmers stepping up to replace them… There are fewer people farming more acres, which means that pushes everything toward mono-culture even further… toward conventional farming even further…. That jeopardizes food security as a nation. More importantly it guts our rural community. You end up with one farmer or family that [is] running 5,000, 10,000 acres, and they’re doing that with really big machines, not with a giant labor force. So there’s not opportunity, in many cases, for kids from rural communities to stay in those communities, or draw in talent from outside the communities in those areas. To me that’s the biggest concern, is watching those rural communities erode away as all the farmland gets consolidated… because, frankly, growing a diversified vegetable farm, like we have, on several thousand acres is just not even feasible. It limits itself just in that regard.
There are beginning farmer loans that are really helpful. But there’s a catch in there that a beginning farmer is year three through year ten, not year zero through year ten. And that’s where we had a hard time. If somebody’s ready and the marketplace is ready, and the time is right, then you want people to be able to jump in.
There are small pools of investors who… would love to invest in anything that’s gonna look good in the community. So one thing that I really want to do… is create a model where you attract some of those investors… you purchase farmland as an investment and you could rent it out to other family farmers in the area for a certain amount of time. It would be set up so you have a priority system. The priority would be a beginning farmer, somebody who’s going to be selling within the community, somebody who’s going to be farming responsibly…. That’s the thing that seems to be missing… people who are then willing to give up that land. [This model] might have them hold onto the land for five years or something… You could be the bank for the farmer, or you could rent it to them for the three years that it takes them to get really good terms on an FSA [Farm Service Agency] loan. Then they would have the opportunity to buy it and… all that money would just go towards the next piece of property.
“One thing that I really want to do… is create a model where… you purchase farmland as an investment and you could rent it out to other family farmers in the area”
It would be really easy to talk retiring farmers into selling their property into that program. A lot of farmers want to continue to see their land farmed. But they’re only willing to sell it for slightly less than the most they can get out of it, to see that happen.”
Botsford and his wife Stacey run Red Door Family Farm, a CSA farm in Athens, Wisconsin. Read more about the Botsfords and the farm at their website.