Originally published in the Asheville Citizen Times – September 22nd, 2015 – and can be found here:
By Mackensie Lunsford
ASHEVILLE – In an area heavily focused on local food, some farmers say finding a place to grow is one of the biggest barriers to success.
That’s the gist of a survey of more than 150 local farmers, conducted by the Organic Growers School this spring.
The survey reached a number of younger farmers, with 72 percent of the respondents farming for fewer than 10 years, and 48 percent of the respondents 39 years old or younger.
The findings show that the ability to find land to lease, rent or buy is considered by growers to be their No. 1 barrier to farming in the region.
The high price of property, the surveyed farmers revealed, prohibits most aspiring growers from purchasing farmland. Equitable, long-term leases on usable agricultural land are equally hard to secure, they said.
Cameron Farlow, the farmer programs coordinator for the nonprofit education organization, said that the increasing popularity of the area is one “major factor” in the complex issue of lack of land availability.
“We’re lucky to live in a beautiful place, but people coming from outside of the region don’t often think about the livelihoods of the people who have been living here for a long time,” she said.
The demand for land drives costs out of the reach of many first-time farmers, she said. But no incentives exist to encourage people to sell their land at a price farmers can afford.
But tourists finding appeal in the area is nothing new, she said.
“We even have a baseball team called the Tourists,” Farlow said. “Back in the day, people would come to get away from the summer heat, so this is not a new issue.”
Charmed by the rural beauty of the area, many people moving to the region have dreams of owning hobby farms, driving them to snap up acreage.
And sometimes land-rich, money-poor farmers, especially those no longer able to physically farm, can be driven by the allure of quick cash to sell to the highest bidder.
“Farmers don’t have a 401k that they’re paying into every year,” Farlow said. “A lot of times, their land is their investment and capital. There aren’t a lot of options for farmers, except to sell at a high value.”
The study also revealed that, since many farmers have to resort to working leased land, a lack of collateral can make it difficult to navigate lending institutions and government programs offering start-up capital.
Other barriers to local farming include lack of access to markets, lack of proficiency with financial planning, and a need for off-farm training and classes.
The Organic Growers School plans to address the latter issue with its new Farm Beginnings program, a comprehensive beginning-farmer training program,
The program will cover many facets of whole-farm business planning, from fiscal management and marketing to sustainable production. It will also pull together the best practices and training components of regional organizations into a one-stop “school and-field” educational program.
“We had big ideas about what we felt farmers needed, but there hadn’t been a comprehensive look, which was part of the process,” Farlow said. “Farmer-driven and farming-led is a big tenet of what we do here at the Organic Growers School.”
Organic Growers School will launch the Farm Beginnings program Oct. 24. More information at www.organicgrowersschool.org.
Cameron Farlow is the Farmer Programs Director.She grew up in Greensboro, NC with dairy farming in her blood, and has made her home in Western North Carolina. After earning her undergraduate degrees from UNC – Chapel Hill in Anthropology and Geography in 2006, Cameron dove headfirst into the realm of sustainable agriculture and local food systems, and later completed her Master’s Degree in Appalachian Studies and Sustainable Development from Appalachian State University in May 2011. Gaining as much experience as she could she worked with several other regional nonprofits in the realms of farmland preservation, food security, farm to university, and land access for farmers. She came on board with OGS in April 2012. When she isn’t visiting farms all around this end of the state as Farmer Programs coordinator you can usually find her digging in her garden or adventuring alongside her husband Walker, the farm manager at Hickory Nut Gap Farm.