When eBay Meets eHarmony for Young Farmers

April 25, 2011

Today is the last in our guest series with the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission and their partners on strengthening our regional food system. As you will read today, the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture (PASA) is working creatively to connect young farmers with available land. How are they doing it? Read on:

By Marilyn Anthony, Southeast Pennsylvania Director
Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture

For twenty years, Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture (PASA) has been working with farmers and consumers to transform our food system. We offer technical and business training to farmers, foster farmers’ markets and CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture), and connect consumers to a wealth of local food resources through Buy Fresh Buy Local activities. PASA’s focus is on the supply side of providing wholesome food for everyone.

Today PASA’s nearly 6000 members embody the transformative, positive impact of sustainable agriculture on the environment, local economies, and individuals’ health and wellness. It’s this potential for such meaningful work that beckons beginning farmers. And since the average age of an American farmer hovers around 57 (pdf), we all urgently need to cultivate a new generation of regional food providers.

PASA’s newest initiative, a land leasing program, tackles the main obstacle facing these aspiring farmers: lack of access to farm land. For generations, young people became farmers by being born into or marrying into a farm family. As the number of farms has decreased, as land costs have escalated, and as more young people grow up in urban or suburban settings, young people are shut out of farming.

The solution for aspiring farmers is to lease rather than purchase land. PASA’s land lease program, best described as a blend of “eBay and eHarmony,” will “match” new farmers with landholders of all sorts: land trusts, corporations and institutions with large campus settings, schools and universities, and private landholders. Parcels of land may be as small as ¼ acre or encompass hundreds of acres.

Tomatoes from Turning Roots Farm

Tomatoes from Turning Roots Farm

To gauge the potential economic impact of putting new farmers on leased land, consider these fast facts:

– Pennsylvania has more than 425,000 acres of preserved farmland

– An intensively planted sustainable farm can produce 7,000 pounds of fresh vegetables in one season on a single acre

– Direct marketing of vegetables can generate revenues of $8,000-18,000 per acre

Working with MBA students from Temple University’s Fox School of Business, and funded by a Food System Implementation Grant from DVRPC, PASA is completing the design of a web-based leasing program to link landowners with aspiring farmers. In addition to matching services, PASA will provide access to lenders and investors, assistance with business planning and leases, resources for pro bono legal advice, and a strong set of environmental guidelines using the Food Alliance criteria for Sustainable Certification.

April marks the start-up of our first farm project at a remarkable location that augurs well for the success of the land leasing program.

Morris Family of Lundale FarmLundale Farm is an historic property in Chester County, Pennsylvania, owned by Samuel and Eleanor Morris since 1946. In the late 1980s, then-Pennsylvania Assemblyman Sam Morris was the primary sponsor of the House version of legislation that established a program to preserve farmland through the public purchase of development rights.

To honor their parent’s commitment to organic agriculture, the Morris’ children formed a nonprofit with the goal of blending for-profit farm enterprises with new farmer educational programming. Its mission statement explains that, “Lundale Farm envisions itself as a leader in demonstrating that mutually sustaining, diverse agricultural enterprises can be economically successful by fulfilling people’s desire for high quality, locally grown organic food. By doing so, Lundale Farm hopes to inspire other landowners in developing suburbs and exurbs to adopt intensive farming practices on their own land, especially land which is already under conservation easement. Furthermore, Lundale Farm will promote active agricultural use of land under easement to not-for-profit organizations holding those easements. Finally, Lundale Farm’s vision also includes a commitment to inspiring new farmers and providing education and training in sustainable agricultural models.”


Chris and TJ Costa of Turning Roots Farm

Lundale is the ideal spot for our first venture, and Chris & TJ Costa from Turning Roots Farm are the perfect trail-blazing farmers for this project. In many ways the Costas reflect the background, educational level, commitment and vision of many new and beginning farmers. Neither Chris nor TJ grew up on a farm, but through environmental concerns and experience with Outward Bound, they each formed a deep connection with land and its power to nurture through food.

Turning Roots was a small farm with a big mission. Through PASA, the Costas have the opportunity to expand their previous farming success by moving onto five acres of prime farmland with potential access to fifteen acres, more land than they could afford to buy. They are also closer to realizing their vision for Turning Roots by becoming part of a larger enterprise that shares the Costa’s commitment to organic food production, community engagement, social justice, and new farmer education.

Turning Roots Farm

Turning Roots at Lundale Farm is a seed planted this spring, nurtured by the resources of PASA’s land program, tended to by the skillful, caring farmers Chris and TJ, encouraged by the Lundale Foundation, and watched with great interest as dozens of other farmers and landowners enrolled in PASA’s land lease program. We expect great abundance from this seedling.

Read the full series here:

Part 1: Working Together for a Stronger Food System
(Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission)

Part 2: Collaborating for Healthy Families
(Greater Philadelphia Coalition Against Hunger)

Part 3: A Food Co-op Does Much More Than Sell Food
(Weavers Way Co-op)

Part 4: The City of Locavore Love
(Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corporation)

Part 5: Eat Fresh Here: Farm to School Systems Change
(Fair Food)

Special thanks to the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission, particularly Alison Hastings, for curating this series for us. Thanks also to all of our guest bloggers:  Greater Philadelphia Coalition Against Hunger, Weavers Way Co-op, Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corporation, Fair Food and PASA. We are inspired by and grateful for their food systems work in our region, and we look forward to hearing and sharing more about their successes.

Images: courtesy of PASA and Turning Roots Farm