During the summer of 2013, Land Stewardship Project Farm Beginnings journalism intern Alex Baumhardt interviewed families in Minnesota and Wisconsin that were in various stages of farm transitions. In 2014, intern Matt Grimley interviewed more farmers who were in the midst of transitions or otherwise working with other farmers in a mentorship-type relationship. The eight “Farm Transition Profiles” listed to the right are the result of those interviews.
They range from the story of Mary Ellen Frame, a retired farmer and local leader in sustainable agriculture who has successfully passed her land on to Erin Johnson and Ben Doherty, to Craig Murphy, who is just starting to plan how he can find the right person to continue his organic farming legacy.
These profiles make it clear that there is no one set way for making farming accessible to the next generation, and that often traditional financing tools aren’t adequate—or at the least need to be modified. For example, Ryan Batalden and Caleb and Lauren Langworthy represent farmers who have found investors to give them a leg-up. Jon Peterson is hoping the conservation easement he has placed on his scenic farm will keep it affordable for the next generation. Art and Jean Thicke had to start their transition process over after a family tragedy, but have since used trust-building and careful planning with Chad and Melissa Crowley to make sure their organic dairy will be in good hands in the future.
These profiles are also about the importance of planning ahead—sometimes on a much larger scale that most people are used to. Rick and Janet Dale encouraged their three children to pursue their own passions after high school, and when those passions led them back to Highland Valley Farm, a plan was developed for integrating the younger Dales into the successful berry operation. Eric and Lisa Klein's thriving meat farming operation is still growing because of high demand from local consumers and they are many years from retiring. But they see the recent "incubator" experience they had with vegetable producer Hannah Breckbill as just one more way to make sure there are plenty of beginning farmers in the region that can help service the market for local food—and perhaps offer future farm transition opportunities.
The common thread connecting these profiles is that all parties involved—retiring farmers, mid-career farmers and new farmers—have given the transitioning process long, careful thought. Planning, flexibility and creativity are key elements of any transition plan. In the end, these profiles illustrate that no matter what the circumstances, successful transitions require help and support from a broad spectrum of community members.
As Ryan Batalden says, “Anyone who tells you that they got into farming without any help is lying — or they have a bad memory.”