New farmers need access to land, but with diminishing farmland and the rising cost of land, it is getting harder and harder to get it. Farming someone else’s land is one solution. Groups like The Land Conservancy are buying up land and leasing it out to farmers through their Farmland Protection Projects program. There is also the co-op model where farmers co-own the land. At Fraser Common Farm Cooperative in the Fraser Valley, member farmers supplement their incomes through their Glorious Garnish and Seasonal Salad business, cultivating about seven of the twenty acres of land they co-own. They provide select local restaurants with salad greens, herbs and edible flowers.
Community Shared/Supported Agriculture (CSA) is another innovative way to fund a farm operation. That’s when farmers invite people to become members of the farm. They pay the farmer up front for the produce they will receive and that helps the farmer pay for seed and other expenses. In Michigan, the Ann Arbor Community Farm not only provides weekly boxes of produce to its shareholders, it is also taking the lead on new technology, like converting a tractor to solar power. My friend Paul Bantle who runs the farm tells me he has driven his ride three miles out and would have made it all the way back without recharging too, but he decided to stop and “plug in” at his neighbour’s conventional farm, which caused quite a stir. He says it’s the modern day equivalent of pulling up with a horse and plough.
Land reform, both locally and globally and land-use planning that gives agriculture top billing both in urban and rural areas are critical if we are serious about making our food supplies sustainable. We also need low-interest loans to get farmers started, good training programs and technical assistance for innovation like solar powered tractors.