FarmLink brings farmers and landowners together
Published: Wednesday, September 4, 2013 at 8:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, September 2, 2013 at 9:36 a.m.
Are you a wannabe farmer? Ever wish you could grow more peppers, tomatoes, squash and beans that could fit in your backyard, and maybe have enough to sell, trade or share with your neighbors?
Or perhaps you have a piece of property that’s ideal for farming, but you don’t have the time or the know-how to farm it. Is there a farmer out there who could put the land to use? The answer is likely yes, and a nonprofit called California FarmLink exists to make such connections.
For example, Bolinas resident Will Scott spends three days a week tending tomatoes, corn, beans, squash and other summer produce on nearly two acres of flat, sandy soil on the outskirts of Petaluma. The harvest is just beginning. He doesn’t own a square inch of the land. But, through a connection made by FarmLink, he is putting what would otherwise be unproductive land to use and providing a cash benefit to the landowner, Gary Maack.
FarmLink helps with negotiating the agreement, furnishing attorney-vetted lease templates and conducting workshops on the business of farming, if the partners request it. There is also a loan program.
Depending on the agreement, a farmer in the area can expect to spend $500 to $700 an acre to lease farmland, though plenty of other arrangements exist. One landowner settles for the meat from one lamb each year; another merely asks for the amount of vegetables he can eat.
In 2011, Suzi Grady, program manager for Petaluma Bounty, was farm manager at Bounty Farm, which provides food at reduced rates for low-income families. She wanted someone to manage flower production there.
“We worked out an arrangement with another farmer to focus on our flower production,” she says. “FarmLink provided a template for a crop-share agreement that made it equitable for everyone.” That farmer was Ariana Reguzzoni, who discovered FarmLink through an apprenticeship program in Santa Cruz, where FarmLink was started in 1999.
Meanwhile, Rodney Anderson was looking for a buyer for his Anderson Organic Farm business on Bodega Ave. He found one through FarmLink. Partners Nathan Boone and Jesse Pizzitola saw the listing on the FarmLink website, bought the business and equipment, and took over Anderson’s lease from owner Shirley Spencer.
Their First Light Farm combines the Bodega property with Valley Ford acreage for a total of 20 acres where they grow more than 100 different varieties of vegetables. They have a thriving CSA (community supportive agricultural) business that offers subscribers weekly boxes of seasonal produce.
When Reguzzoni decided to move on from Bounty Farm, a family connection led her to First Light Farm, where she and her partner grow flowers on a quarter acre there, calling themselves Chicka Bloom Farm. Reguzzoni was so sold on FarmLink that she became their North Coast Regional Coordinator. If you are searching for a FarmLink connection in Sonoma County, you will probably work with her.
“There is definitely more demand than supply,” says Reguzzoni of how much land is available for farming. That’s partly why we’re trying to get the word out. I think there is a lot of available farmland, especially in Sonoma County, but I don’t know if people know that there are farmers looking for land, and that there are organizations like FarmLink that can help match them up.”
Not that there isn’t any land available. Bill Chayes, a renowned documentary filmmaker, has about an acre and a half of gently sloping land on Chileno Valley Road that he’d like to match with a farmer, not so much to augment his income, but because he likes the idea of the land being productive.
According to Scott, Sonoma County has half the small farms that it did in 1980. Yet farming can pay off, he says. Scott expects to easily recoup his $10,000 investment in the farm with the tomatoes alone. “So there is potential for people who are interested in farming, there’s money in farming, but it takes a lot of really hard work.”
Scott works his aptly named Worker Bee Farm three long days a week, for about 30 hours total. On the other days, he works for other farmers and a nursery, a total of 7 days a week. The trade-off: a long winter vacation.
Scott estimates that in terms of pure calorie count, his acreage could feed only about 12 to 20 people a year. “If there are any landowners that aren’t using their land, we need as many local growers as we can get. It would take a lot more small-scale farmers if you ever want to say that Sonoma is feeding itself.”
For more information on California FarmLink, visit www.californiafarmlink.org.
(Contact Bonnie Allen at ar firstname.lastname@example.org)
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