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Sustainable Communities Thought Leadership

Racing to Protect the Future of our Food: The Working Farms Fund is Underway

Photo by Stacy Funderburke

By Krisztian Varsa

Sowing the Seeds of Local Farms

Agriculture remains a major part of Georgia’s economy, and we have a large and growing number of diverse, entrepreneurial next-generation farmers committed to innovative and sustainable farming to support our local food system. However, many of these farmers lack one key ingredient—ownership of the land they farm. Through the Working Farms Fund program, The Conservation Fund is investing in farms on behalf of these farmers to ensure they have the land and resources to grow their businesses and our local food system 

In March 2021, The Conservation Fund made its first two investments in 90 acres of farmland for emerging farm businesses in Rockdale and Newton Counties. These farms are poised to grow more food and connect to more communities than before, while supporting the environment and climate health. Additionally, Emory University and Healthcare system is committed to partnering with the Working Farms Fund to meet their local food sourcing goals and will work with these farmers to provide a direct sale opportunity.

The Working Farms Fund is making it affordable for farmers to own and invest in land, the most important part of their business. Working with agricultural communities surrounding Atlanta, the Working Farms Fund partners with farmers who are ready to expand their farm business and achieve land ownership. This patient pathway to ownership allows farmers to invest in their business while gradually working toward the purchase of land in a lease-to-own model. By positioning next-generation farmers in this ownership model, the Working Farms Fund can sell the farmland to a farmer at a lower cost after removing the development rights with a conservation easement. 

As Love is Love Cooperative Farmer Demetrius Milling describes, “Farmers are really competing against people who are going to draw a lot of capital from this land, for strip malls or big housing developments. Our cash value is slow and long over time. That’s how the Working Farms Fund is giving a leg up to farmers like me.”

Photo by Stacy Funderburke

Love is Love Cooperative Farm

Love is Love Cooperative Farm is a partnership of five talented and business-savvy farmers who collectively carry 51 years of farming experience and share a vision of creating an environmentally sustainable farm business. On behalf of the farmers, The Conservation Fund invested in 68 acres of the highest quality farmland in Georgia, including 20 acres of natural habitat which support native plants and animal biodiversity. Love is Love Cooperative is Certified Organic farm and plans to scale their current production to meet increasing local demand. The farm team anticipates producing more than 300,000 pounds of diverse vegetables and fruit by year three at their new location, with hopes of expanding their production acreage dramatically in that timeframe. A portion of the farm has been farmed continuously by the same family for seven generations since 1784. Love is Love is also excited to host visitors at the farm in the future along the Cricket Frog PATH Trail which “hops” right along the farm!

Photo by Nuventure

Global Growers Network

The Conservation Fund invested in Global Growers Network’s (GGN) expansion by acquiring 22 acres of prime farmland in Rockdale County. The organization will host 15 farmers with numerous amenities ideally suited to a shared farming model. Immigrant and refugee farmers will preserve and share multicultural farming traditions and foodways and will produce culturally relevant foods for local marketplaces. GGN will also create a hub for agricultural education, capitalizing on the outreach opportunities of the site with school groups, agritourism, and food-focused events.

Since 2010, GGN supported more than 300 refugee and immigrant farmers across a network of nine farm sites, growing fresh food for their families and local marketplaces. Following the loss of their primary farm to a destructive flood and after leasing land for a decade, Global Growers Network needed to establish a permanent home for their farmers. 

Robin Chanin, the Executive Director of Global Growers Network shares, “We are thrilled to work alongside Working Farms Fund in support of our mission to support those who are traditionally underserved and underrepresented in agricultural services. Working Farms Fund’s mission to remove the barriers to farm ownership and the farming business will be game-changing to those we serve and to our wider food system.”

Photo by Krisztian Varsa

Taking Root

Photo by Krisztian Varsa

These investments are just the beginning of the story as the Working Farms Fund program expands to buy farmland, permanently protect it with a conservation easement, and sell it at an affordable rate to the next generation of innovative local farmers. Through the critical support of groups like the Wilbur and Hilda Glenn Family Foundation and other generous funders, the Working Farms Fund will invest in 1,500 acres of sustainable farmland in the next two years, growing 15 farm businesses and supporting rural networks of successful farmers. By revolving those investments over time, the program anticipates creating a network of local, sustainable farms in the Atlanta region, securing at least 12,000 acres of permanently protected farmland and sponsoring affordable farm purchases for 150 farm businesses. This work will begin to protect the future of our food.

This spring, as you venture to your local farmers market or farm stand, don’t forget to thank your farmer! Enjoy that delicious fresh food, and remember the people and farmland that come together to make it happen. In celebration of Earth Day 2021, consider a gift to help us create lasting conservation solutions in the communities that matter to you.

 

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