In my short time as the new Farmer Training Program Manager here at The Land Connection (it’s been just over a month!), I’ve been hitting the road to talk with folks and explore opportunities for best meeting the needs of our central Illinois farming community. A little over a week ago I was able to travel to Red Wing, Minnesota where I attended the Upper Midwest Farmland Summit and National Farm Viability Conference. I was met with such a wealth of great information, conversations, and new ideas that I almost missed my chance to take a beat and admire the beauty of fall along the Mississippi (don’t worry, I soaked up that beauty, even if mostly from my rental car).
The Farmland Summit brought together a group of passionate, motivated individuals to address the pressing issues surrounding farmland access. One of the biggest barriers for entry into farming is finding and securing land to farm. As fewer farms pass on through generational transfer, more farmers are left without a clear plan for what will happen to their land when they’re gone. And, new farmers without family farming connections often don’t have the network or know-how to access this productive land. From the outside, this all looks like an obvious opportunity to connect retiring farmer-landowners to new farmer land-seekers and facilitate agreements for beginning farmers to access land and retiring farmers to ensure the continued productive stewardship of the land they love into the future. But, as you might recognize, all of that is much easier said than done. Land transfer, sale, and leasing can involve many players and is not only a practical journey, but an emotional one. That’s why so many organizations are collaborating and sharing their knowledge to help create new systems to ease these transitions. At TLC we strive to support farmers to achieve their goals and we know that that takes land. We are continuing to explore how we can best support farmers in matters concerning land access and we will be facilitating some of those discussions at the upcoming 2020 Organic Grain Conference (save the date—February 5-6, 2020!).
After my day spent examining land access issues at the Farmland Summit, I spent three packed days networking and learning about programs, policies, and practices to support farm viability. I was grateful to Daniel Doyle at the Lumpkin Family Foundation for organizing a meeting of Illinois attendees to discuss our work and opportunities to collaborate to better meet our missions and develop a comprehensive network for supporting all components of the Illinois food and farming landscape (thanks, Daniel, and thanks Lumpkin for sponsoring my attendance at the conference!).
The sessions I attended and the conversations I had over my entire week in Minnesota have lengthened my ever-growing list of ideas for TLC’s farmer training program. Of course, I don’t want to just start chasing my ideas without hearing from my community about what is needed and wanted. I want to make sure that TLC is providing the most relevant and high-quality programming to our farmers and everyone with a stake in farming (so basically, everyone who eats). Please feel welcome to reach out to me and tell me what you’d like to see TLC do for farmers. Send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or give me a call at 217-840-2128. Your thoughts and insights will be greatly appreciated, thanks!