Matching potential farmers with Connecticut land owners

Dec 6, 2019  | 6 min  | Ep4516
Federal government statistics show there are just over 2 million farms. About one-quarter of those operations are run by new farmers. 
Those who have chosen agriculture as a way of life know it’s often difficult to get started. 
There is at least one group acting as a matchmaker between land owners leaving the day-to-day business and the next wave hoping to get their turn in the dirt.  
Peter Tubbs has more in our Cover Story. 
 
Maurice Ramsay harvests amaranth on a farm he rents near Brooklyn, Connecticut. A native of Jamaica, Maurice grows the plant for the Caribbean population living in the region which is unable to find much of the produce it needs for Caribbean cooking.
Maurice Ramsay, New London, CT: “Just didn't have enough variety for as far as the stuff I'm used to back home and the stuff that I could get. I wasn't pleased with the quality, so I decided I was going to grow my own.”
 
Ramsay has spent a career in the food industry, and currently manages a fast food chain restaurant. The opportunity to fill a produce niche began a search for a farm. But finding ground to rent was the biggest hurdle to his start in agriculture. This farm requires a 45 minute commute, each way.
Maurice Ramsay, New London, CT: “land is a lot more expensive in Connecticut. …..  I was working and I thought I wouldn't be able to farm but something just told me not to give up. I kept trying and then I was searching for land online all the time.” 
 
Farm Link is an online tool from Connecticut Farmland Trust which matched Ramsay to a farm with high tunnels for rent. Farm Link assists farmers who are looking for land and matches their agricultural interests with land owners. Over 70 percent of seekers who rent through Farm Link are considered beginning farmers.
Maurice Ramsay, New London, CT: “I saw greenhouse, I got a little bit excited because, uh, I am chatting, I'm growing tropical called plants, you know, so, uh, so I gave her a call and she told me to come up and take a look at the farm. I came up and I took a look at a farm. I thought she was the awesome lady. She was really kind, smiled a lot like myself. And, uh, uh, the rest is history. I, uh, told her that I wanted it and she said, let's go for it.”
 
Sandy Broder and her husband had built the tunnels to raise vegetables, but were ready to step back from that side of their operation.
Sandy Broder, Brooklyn, CT:  “So somebody told me about Farm Trust and I would put an ad in there and said I had two high tunnels. And that's as a maybe a total of two acres of land. Um, and if anybody was interested in coming to try it out, it was here. Maurice called me and it's been a good match since then.”
 
The Broders hoped to find a renter who was looking for a start in agriculture.
Sandy Broder, Brooklyn, CT: “A lot of farmers around here are getting too old to continue farming. So do you sell your house and your, your farm to a development or something or do you want to keep it in the farm? And if you do, how can you do that? Well, farm trust is a great help because we've got 125 acres here and when we're not doing hay anymore, we want to be able to keep it as a farm.” 
 
 USDA data show that less than 10 percent of the state of Connecticut is farmland and only half of that measure gets harvested every year. The 122,000 acres in production are a scarce resource in the state. Plots of 10 to 40 acres, the size of a typical operation in the state, can be hard to match with renters looking for ground. 
Connecticutt Farm Link helps make the match between landowners and new farmers by bridging the needs of the potential renter with the wishes of the land owner.
Kip Kolesinskas, Connecticut Farmland Trust: “This is the first time in our nation's history that the majority of landowners are more than two generations from a farm. So they don't know what they don't know. So, and in some cases they don't even have the vocabulary to have a discussion with the farm seeker. So in some cases we can act as that translator.” 
 
The organization also assists land owners in setting a trust so they can pass ownership on to future generations. After two decades of pairing landowners and farmers, experience has taught CFT officials how to ensure the legal instructions for the property are kept open to the largest number of potential uses. 
Lily Orr manages the Farm Link program, as well as the group’s easement and trust programs.
Lily Orr, CT Farm Trust: “Because a lot of it is about, you know, if you're a seeker, it's what your desires and what your needs and what your goals are for your farm. Whereas if you're a farm land owner, it's explaining your farm operation, um, or the potential or the history of agriculture on your land. So a lot of people don't know how to put that stuff into words.”
 
Kip Kolesinskas, Connecticut Farmland Trust: ”So their ability to really even assess a piece of property to know its suitability for different kinds of agriculture, let alone try to figure out whether a farm seeker has the knowledge and has the right kind of business that's going to be a good match with their property.” 
 
Connecticut also has the highest percentage of beginning farmers over the age of 45. Maurice Ramsay falls into that category, and the two acres of land he can afford have him farming only part-time. The niche quality of Caribbean crops has resulted in growing demand produce like amaranth and Scotch peppers. Ramsay serves grocery stores and restaurants in both Connecticut and New York City. 
Maurice Ramsay, New London, CT “Right now my customers are uh, the Caribbean community. I would say for the most part, but uh, it is growing. It is becoming a little bit more mainstream as people are trying to eat healthier. They are looking for other options and um, the cuisine is also itself is also catching on. 
 
As his second season on the Broder farm winds down, Ramsay sees full-time farming on the horizon. The Broders are happy to have the high tunnels being used, and a new generation working in agriculture.
Sandy Broder, Brooklyn, CT “I didn't want those things sitting out there idle and this way I'm, I'm able to give something back to somebody else too. So it's a good thing”
 
Maurice Ramsay, New London, CT “And I, I just, and after a while you start liking the smell of the dirt. You start missing it. It's a weird, I mean, you know, how'd you explain? How do you say that to the average person?”
 
For Market to Market, I’m Peter Tubbs.

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