By Tom Long Fiddlehead
The term “land for good” may be interpreted two ways: It can mean a property is put to good use or it may indicate that the acreage is being preserved from development.
In the case of the Keene-based Land for Good it means both.
“We work with farmers throughout New England to make sure their land continues to be used for farming,” Lisa Luciani, spokesperson for the nonprofit, said recently.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are about 4,391 farms in the state and the average size of a spread is 108 acres. One-third of the farms are operated by farmers age 65 or older, and most are farming without a young farmer to help, according to a study conducted by Land for Good and the American Farmland Trust.
In some ways Land for Good serves as a matchmaking service to help retiring farmers connect with a new generation before it’s too late.
“We offer a number of tools to help farmers access land and negotiate leases.,” said Luciani. “There are also tools available to help first-generation farmers make informed decisions based on their own land dreams, such as a tool on ownership versus leasing.
“Since 2010, we have worked directly with farmers to keep land in farming. We are on the ground throughout New England,” Luciani said. “We provide caring support and expert guidance to help farmers, landowners and communities navigate the complex challenges of land access.”
Land for Good was founded in 2002 to develop farm-related, community economic development projects. In 2006, the group shifted its focus to farmland access, land tenure and farm succession and transfer. It also began a farm legacy program in response to a lack of services for aging farmers.
“We developed a unique coaching approach to providing ongoing support and guidance to farm families in planning the transfer of their farms to the next generation or owner,” Luciani said.
In response to statistics that indicated that nationally nearly 90 percent of farm landlords are not farmers, and little was being done to address their concern, Land for Good began its Working Lands Program to work with those stakeholders. The Farmland Trust/Land for Good study found that 63 percent of beginning farmers in New Hampshire are 45 or older.
Both beginning and established farmers began contacting Land for Good seeking information and support about accessing land, and the nonprofit began a Farm Seekers Program to share traditional and innovative ways to help.
Some resources may be downloaded from its website at landforgood.org, including an online “Farm Legacy Tool Kit,” which helps farmers explore and evaluate their options, find advisors and successors, organize the documents necessary for a successful transition and a Build-a-Lease tool as well as a toolbox for land seekers.
“We help them make connections with land owners or senior farmers and help farmers transfer land,” said Luciani.
In the winter, when life on the farm may be slow, there is a three-day succession school offered for interested farmers.
“A large percentage of New Hampshire farmers are over the age of 65,” said Luciani, “In the next 10 years their land will transfer hands one way or another. Our mission is to help them with their succession plans and keep the land in farming.”