Stayin' Alive

farming, organic farms, strike farms

Small-scale stewards of the Gallatin Valley.

Farmers produce valuable goods, of course; but also conserve soil, the conserve water, they conserve wildlife, they conserve open space, they conserve scenery. —Wendell Berry

According to American Farmland Trust, in the next 15 years as our aging farmers and ranchers look to retire, more than 40% of U.S. agricultural lands will change hands. Yet due to high land prices, the next generation of farmers is facing a big challenge. Here in the Gallatin Valley, it could reach a crisis point. Becky Weed, of Thirteen Mile Lamb and Wool, puts it bluntly: “Land prices are out of reach for any person crazy enough to do the work of farming.”

Since it was settled, the Gallatin Valley has been an agricultural hub. We are fortunate in Bozeman to have a thriving local agricultural community—choices abound as farmers’ markets can be found year-round, Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) can deliver a box of fresh local produce to your neighborhood, and community grocery stores offer locally-grown organic-food sections. Yet joint efforts between landowners, farmers, and local communities are needed to keep small-scale farming thriving in the Gallatin Valley.

Land stewardship has been a concern of Weed’s since she and her husband purchased one of the oldest valley homesteads back in 1987. In her efforts to keep the land permanently agricultural, she put a conservation easement in place in 2000, one of the first grants from the Open Space Bond. The Open Space Bond purchases development rights and conservation easements from willing landowners to preserve open space, farmland, and wildlife habitat, and keep the land free of development.

Weed has been experimenting with ways to share her 216 certified-organic acres by offering long-term leases to young farmers to help them get a foothold in the valley. She hopes to demonstrate new models of stewardship and encourages other landowners to do the same.

Peter Brown, former Gallatin Valley Land Trust Stewardship Manager, now with the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation, agrees. “We need to convince landowners to be interested in engaging in new creative and progressive tools,” Brown says. “Then we need to connect these landowners with young farmers facilitating a beneficial agreement.”

Brown listed a few resources here in Montana that can enable partnerships for landowners and farmers. Check out Farmlink Montana, Montana Agrarian Commons, and Trust Montana. For alternative financing and equity-based options, check out Homestake Venture Partners, based right here in Bozeman.

Matching landowners with land seekers is the goal of Farmlink Montana—their Land Link program connects new farmers with retiring farmers and landowners who want to see their land remain in agriculture. There’s an easy online application to start the process.

Montana Agrarian Commons is a land-holding model raising capital for land acquisition and stewardship. Under its umbrella are two land trusts: the Agrarian Trust and Trust Montana. Community Land Trusts (CLTs) facilitate partnerships for landowners, farmers, and the larger community. These trusts buy farmland, accept donations and charitable sales of property, and then make the land available for long-term farm leases sustaining local food production.

For alternative financing and equity-building options, check out Homestake Venture Partners. They connect community-minded investors with local entrepreneurs needing capital and are taking initiatives to further environmental sustainability.

The bottom line is that farmers need land. This is a callout to all the landowners in the valley. Are you willing to lease a few acres to keep small-scale agriculture alive and flourishing? Do you want to help preserve open space and wildlife habitat? Have you considered putting your land in a conservation easement or agricultural trust? Now is a great time to explore these options. Now is a great time for us all to consider how together we can be stewards of the land.

Small-Farming Resources
by Grayce Graham Curry

Farmlink Montana
Facilitating connections for Montana’s beginning farmers and ranchers.

Montana Agrarian Commons
Innovative and transformative land-holding model committed to shaping a just, resilient, healthy food system and farm economy for its communities.

Trust Montana
A statewide community land trust.

Homestake Venture Partners
For alternative financing and equity-based options.

Land for Good – Farmlink Programs
Host of all national farm link programs.

Iroquois Valley Farmland REIT
Organic farmland real-estate investment trust.