Easing Land Access for Young Farmers with the Farmland Access Legal Toolkit

by Maggie Tauranac

3/20/18

To guide farmers and landowners through the immeasurably complicated processes of accessing, transferring and conserving farmland, the Center for Agriculture and Food Systems (CAFS) and Vermont Law School have together launched a new resource: the Farmland Access Legal Toolkit.

The guide, freely available at www.farmlandaccess.org, is a resource designed to ensure that farmers who need land to farm or are in the process of transitioning their land to another farmer have an affordable means of getting legal information and protections. Much like their Farmers Market Legal Toolkit that we covered in January, the kit offers free and clear legal advice as well as case studies from numerous farms and profiles of lawyers who practice farm and food law in the US.

Land Access the Number One Challenge to Young Farmers

Affordable land is increasingly hard to find for farmers. Much of it has been in families for generations while the price of land in desirable areas continues to grow. But as young farmers begin to replace older generations, acquiring land will be essential. As the 2017 National Young Farmer Coalition survey states, land access is the number one challenge for young farmers in the United States, making a resource like the Farmland Access Legal Toolkit vital for promoting equitable access to legal advice. Legal fees are burdensome to farmers just getting started (or likely any farmers), and any means of making meetings with attorneys (who get paid by the hour) more efficient encourages the success of young farmers.

As Laurie Ristino, director of CAFS, says about land ownership in the toolkit’s press release, “[t]he Farmland Access Legal Toolkit assists both sets of farmers through a suite of resources that focus on innovative models for ownership, leasing and estate planning that have worked for other farmers in similar situations.”

Digestible Legal Advice for Farmers

The toolkit itself provides resources such as the Creative Leasing tool, which gives guidance not only on basic contracts between landowners and farmer tenants, but also how to provide arrangements that account for benefits to both parties in innovative ways, complete with a soon to come build-your-own lease generator dubbed the Farm Lease Builder. More tools available are resources for Collaborative Farming, Conservation Easements to restrict development, Affirmative Agricultural Easements to help keep land owned by farmers and a list of Federal Conservation Programs to point to funding aid for farmers.

The Farmland Access Legal Toolkit is an extremely valuable resource for farmers. Its mission of equipping farmers with the legal knowledge to advocate for themselves affordably serves to promote a just and equitable food system. The toolkit is funded by the National Agriculture Library, Agricultural Research Service, United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Wurster Family Foundation and Matt Matule, Esq.

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