SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. — Samantha Kemnah and her husband, Chris, were almost at the point of giving up their farming dreams when the non-profit Agricultural Stewardship Association stepped in to help find the land they needed.
The ASA is one of 15 organizations that comprise Hudson Valley Farmlink, a 4-year-old American Farmland Trust initiative that connects new and beginning farmers with available property. On Oct. 22, the Trust unveiled a new program, Farmland for a New Generation New York, which expands the regional program throughout the entire state.
Agriculture officials from New York City to Saratoga County, north of Albany, gathered at Pitney Meadows Community Farm, in Saratoga Springs, to unveil the new effort, funded by a $400,000 grant from the state.
“We previously had a vegetable and fresh meat CSA, raising beef, poultry and pork in Greene County, but we weren’t making any money at it,” Samantha Kemnah said. “We didn’t have time to do direct marketing and run the farm, too. We had listed our name on Farmlink as farm seekers and had looked for farms all over the state, but couldn’t find a match.”
Then Janet Britt, of the ASA, contacted the Kemnahs about a farm for sale in Washington County, about 70 miles away to the northeast. “So we came up and it was a good fit,” Samantha Kemnah said. “She really facilitated the match. She helped us connect with the farm owner. It was either this or one of us going to work.”
Now, 2-1/2 years later, these young ag entrepreneurs are running Clover Bliss Farm, an organic grass-fed dairy in Argyle.
“We are milking about 35 head right now,” Samantha Kemnah said. “We’ve got a lot of young stock coming up so we’re trying to breed cows that are better suited to grazing.”
All milk is sold to Maple Hill Creamery in Stuyvesant, which specializes in yogurt products.
“They have excellent marketing so we don’t have to do it any more,” Samantha Kemnah said.
Instead, they can focus on farming and doing it profitably to support their young family.
“This is a story we would like to see happen over and over again,” said David Haight, American Farmland Trust state director. “We’re setting up the system for a diversity of farms because there’s a diversity of people looking to get into farming. We still have people that want to get into dairy farming. That’s the biggest part of New York agriculture. We also have people that do smaller scale vegetable production and want to get into direct-market farming through a CSA or at a farmer’s market.”
A website — nyfarmlandfinder.org — has already been created that lists 195 farmers looking for land. It may also be used by farm owners seeking to sell or lease land, but keep it in agriculture instead of being used for commercial or residential development.
“We’ve been uploading listings of farms that we knew were available to lease or purchase,” Haight said. “We’ve also known of some farmers that are looking for land. So we’ve spent the last several months kind of pulling that all together. When we started four years ago, we had zero listings. Now there are more than 100 farms available and more than 100 people looking for farmland in the Hudson Valley alone. It takes time, but we expect that statewide, the numbers will be much, much greater.”
The website lets users input specific information about the type of land they need or that they’re making available for agricultural purposes.
“You can list that you’re looking for a certain acreage farm,” Haight said. “I want to grow vegetables so I need to have these quality soils, I need to have irrigation, I need to have infrastructure. Similarly, if you’re a land owner and you have a certain type of farm property you want to sell and you’re looking for a buyer of that type, you can put all of that information in. So it’s really about getting alignment between a land owner and a farmer.”
Half of the state money will be used for a resource center staffed by Farmland Trust workers at the agency’s state offices in Saratoga Springs. Employees will offer personal assistance beyond the information available online.
Remaining funds will be offered to “regional navigators” — non-profit organizations across New York that partner to support Farmland for a New Generation.
“We’re open to any non-profit organization from Long Island to Buffalo such as Cornell Cooperative Extension offices, local land trusts or farm organizations,” Haight said.
Grants will primarily pay for their staff to offer training and support to farmers looking for land, and senior farmers and landowners looking to find someone to farm on their land. Specifically, money may be used for things such as helping famers evaluate potential farm properties; helping farmers or landowners understand leasing options and develop farm leases; connecting farmers or landowners with attorneys, lenders, business consultants or other professional service providers; and assisting farmers or landowners with succession planning.
Farmland preservation is one of the agriculture industry’s most pressing issues, with competition not only from developers, but projects such as large solar farms as well, said Jillian Kasow, director of the state Legislative Commission on Rural Resources.
“The timing could not be more relevant,” she said. “Population in our urban centers is growing. Also growing is demand for healthy, nutritious food.”
But one-third of the state’s farm owners are 65 or older and many have no young generation coming along to take over their operations. So projects such as Farmland for a New Generation are seen as vital to keeping land in agricultural production.
Assemblywoman Carrie Woerner, D-Round Lake, is an Agriculture Committee member. “The fact that we’ve got so many farmers retiring is really a problem that we all want to solve,” she said. “We’ll continue to request funding in the budget for this until we get to the point where we’ve turned over all the farms and we have a whole new generation farming.”