A couple weeks ago, we learned about a neighboring farm field being put up for sale. Although we’d love to see it be kept in agriculture, the asking price is such that it will likely go for development.
After a thick dialogue of whether or not it’s any of our business to be concerned about this, we’ve decided it is. As farmers we are not only growing good food to feed our neighbors, but a big part of our job – and something that’s really important to us – is working to promote land health, conservation, and encourage more new farmers to rally and start growing food to feed their communities.
Being mid-June, and feeling already thoroughly swamped with chores and farm projects, we’re a bit stuck for how to help preserve this beautiful field. We don’t have time or money, we don’t really know what to do. But we’ve got ideas. Intention. And a shittonne of positive gumption.
We’ve been in touch with a couple local non-profit organizations, Hills Horizon and Dakota Rural Action, and several local growers in the valley and there is a lot of support for keeping this parcel in productive agriculture. Collectively, we’re excited about preserving this land through a farm incubator program. A farm incubator is usually a large piece of land owned by a non-profit, municipality, etc. that is leased out in smaller (1-5 acre) plots to aspiring farmers. Frequently farm incubators share tools between leasees. This combined with no upfront land costs makes beginning a career in farming more affordable. Most of the leases are short term, 3-5 years, giving tenants time to learn how to farm, establish a market, and then find land of their own, ideally locally. Income brought in by the lease agreements will go towards paying taxes on the land, irrigation fees, and supplying shared tools and infrastructure for leasees. There are some good examples of this happening all around the country, for instance the Intervale Farms Program in Vermont, Viva Farms in Washington, and, closer to home, the Organic Field School in Minnesota. For a comprehensive list, check out the National Young Farmers Coalition’s Training Opportunities.
The South Dakota grassroots organization, Dakota Rural Action, already has a Farm Beginnings program in place, which provides the business training for starting a farm enterprise. Utilizing this field as a farm incubator would be a complementary resource available for helping grow the next generation of farmers in western South Dakota.
In order to protect this land, it will take more than just a few of us. We need support from the whole Spearfish Community. This property has been producing food and feeding this region for generations. Not only is the Running’s Farmstand an icon of the valley, it is a direct connection to our rich agricultural heritage. This property is important to us all.
We’ve talked with the sellers and the land is already caught the eye of developers. Spearfish needs to act quickly.
We are currently working on the legal specifics for how Hills Horizon can serve as the umbrella organization, collect donations from the community to go towards purchasing the land. We only need 1,000 people to donate $1,000. As a farm incubator, this property will continue to grow food for our community, it will remain open space, a valuable resource for all of us – including future generations.
Cycle Farm is committed to donating 10% of our year’s gross income to helping preserve this land in agriculture and establish a farm incubator. If you are also interested in donating, or have other ideas on how to preserve this land (fundraising, Kickstarter, bake sales, etc.), we would love to hear from you.
A farm incubator is just one of many ways this land can be preserved and kept in productive agriculture. There are lots of options to make this work. Other ideas might include a long term lease to a local grower (as it is currently used) and/or community and school garden plots, orchard.