Future of the family farm topic for 3-part program in Greenfield

  • Instructors and farmers who completed the Farm Succession School in March 2020 pose for a photo at the final class held in West Springfield. The next three-session Farm Succession School will take place on three Tuesdays this winter, beginning Jan. 25 at the John W. Olver Transit Center in Greenfield. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 12/23/2021 4:32:20 PM
Modified: 12/23/2021 4:32:06 PM

GREENFIELD — Land For Good, a New Hampshire-based nonprofit, is inviting senior generation farmers for an opportunity to begin the discussion on farm succession.

The three-session Farm Succession School, which is funded by Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources, will take place from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on three Tuesdays this winter, beginning Jan. 25 at the John W. Olver Transit Center. The second two sessions are scheduled for Feb. 15 and March 15.

“We hear from a lot of older farmers that they’re not sure who is going to take over their farm,” said Shemariah Blum-Evitts, program director at Land For Good. “They may have family members who may have moved on. We also hear from a lot of new farmers who may be the first in their family to be a farmer and they’re having trouble finding land. We’re trying to bridge that gap.”

The average age of farmers now is between 55 and 60 years old, according to Blum-Evitts.

“For that to be the average, there’s a lot of farmers that need to think about what’s going to happen next,” she said. “It takes a while to make a plan that’s going to transition smoothly.”

Anecdotally, she said, making a profit in farming can be a challenge, and as a result, some people are choosing professions that take them away from becoming the successor of a family farm.

“We also see succession stories where the family holds onto the land, but they want to see the land used as a farm,” she said. “So they may bring on a farm manager or someone else who can run a farm business and lease that land.”

Blum-Evitts said this is the third Farm Succession School to be offered in Massachusetts since 2018, and the first to be held in Franklin County. The course curriculum is geared toward active, commercial farms looking to transfer their farm to a related or unrelated successor. Farms of all sizes from across Massachusetts are invited to attend.

The idea of the program is to allow farmers a chance to start thinking earlier about what they want to see happen with the farm when it’s time for them to retire, so it’s not “a scramble” in the case of an accident or even death.

“We’ve seen cases where a farm leaves the family because a plan wasn’t in place,” Blum-Evitts said.

Farmers will be provided a personalized task list, and will be able to walk away from the program with some clarity of their visions and goals for the future of their farm. It will also be an opportunity for farmers to consider what retirement might like look like.

“It’s a chance to grapple with the questions that people don’t take the time to do in their day to day,” she explained. “And then to figure out a plan for how to put some of that into action.”

Blum-Evitts noted the program is designed to be interactive.

“(Farmers) will get a chance to interact with other farmers going through the same thing,” she said.

To allow for social distancing, Land For Good has space for five to eight farms to attend, about half of which have been filled. Registration can be filled out online via conta.cc/3pTfc3O and the fee is $100 per farm.

Reporter Mary Byrne can be reached at mbyrne@recorder.com or 413-930-4429. Twitter: @MaryEByrne


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