NOFA-NJ clinics offer education to first-timers

AFP Correspondent

WOODSTOWN — Of all the changes in farming over the past 30 years, none is so blatant as the change in farmers.
Today’s young farmers often didn’t grow up on farms.
And that makes all the difference.
It alters the way farmland is obtained. Young farmers didn’t have to worry about buying a farm because they would likely inherit one.
It alters the investment in equipment a young farmer must make because he or she can’t borrow something from parents.
It even alters the training of a young farmer.
Informal apprenticeships once began as soon as a farm kid could toss feed for the chickens.
Eve Springwood Minson, who is a beginning farmer program coordinator for the Northeast Organic Farming Association-NJ, explained at the first of three regional landowner meetings, her group and the State Agricultural Development Committee are embarking on a long-term project to help new farmers overcome these obstacles.
The North Jersey meeting was held on June 4, at Genesis Farm in Marksboro. The Central Jersey meeting was held June 14 at the Rutgers Cooperative Extension office for Mercer County in Trenton and the South Jersey meeting was held on June 6, at the Salem County Extension office in Woodstown.
The problem of obtaining farmland can be solved in part by matching those interested in farming with landowners. Justine Cook, a conservation and technical services specialist with NOFA-NJ, explained there are several categories of landowners who may be willing to lease their land.
Some are farmers ready to retire, others are those who purchased land for investment, others are not-for-profit organizations dedicated to land conservation.
The government may also be the landowner, Cook said.
Leasing land can be complicated, Cook admitted.
Springwood Minson said in Cumberland County, where she’s from, “leasing is mostly on a handshake,” but, she admitted most farmers have been farming 10 years or more, so both sides have confidence in the process.
“A gentleman’s agreement doesn’t work for everyone,” Springwood Minson said. “Different expectations can get in the way.”
The presenters and the audience discussed various items a lease must cover. Items include who does property maintenance, who owns the improvements made by the tenant, are conservation practices a formal part of the lease, does the tenant have hunting rights, does a hunt club have hunting rights, who holds liability insurance, what are the renewal options and dates.
Also to be considered is sometimes landowners make more on the hunting lease than the farming lease. Often, farmers don’t care who hunts the land as long as it is hunted; but they need to know before planting a cover crop.
They also need to know when the lease expires.
Allison Hosford, of Twin Pond Farm in West Milford said, the first two tenants she found for one of her farms didn’t work out.
She is now renting about an acre of her Christmas tree farm for produce and letting the farmer sell his product from her farm store. If he starts to make money, she will take a cut. “It’s hard to find people willing to work,” she said.
Cook pointed out sometimes it’s difficult to lease a farm without housing. A farmer may need a place to live and want to be close to the farm in case of emergency.
Meredith Compton and her husband, Jeremy are leasing their second farm.
She said Jeremy had a rapport with their first landlord, but then things were not done as promised. They are now on a larger farm that came with better infrastructure. Meredith said she looked for sample leases when she signed hers, but found they are all different.
Not all farmers looking for land are young. Hosford said her tenant has been farming for 10 years.
She gives weekend workshops on a variety of farming topics and finds many of her students are people interested in entering a second career.
Springwood Minson said she is gathering more information for future events to help young farmers.