The HVADC Cultivator
In the fall of 2015, Thompson-Finch Farm in Ancram New York was facing a crisis that threatened to put an end to its 35 years of organic farming and organic pick-your-own berry operation beloved by so many in the Hudson Valley and beyond. Farmers Marnie and Don MacLean were facing the likely prospect that Marnie’s family farm of five generations would not survive the transition to ownership by her family trust and siblings, after the passing of her parents, without having to be sold on the open market.
All throughout 2015, the MacLeans had worked with Columbia Lands Conservancy (CLC), Equity Trust and Scenic Hudson to develop a plan to purchase most of the farm from the family trust and permanently protect and keep it affordable for future generations of farmers. The family would retain a small “homestead” parcel with the family home. As part of that plan, Equity Trust and their Hudson Valley Farm Affordability Program would provide a bridge loan to complete the initial purchase. Equity Trust is a small, national non-profit organization committed to helping communities gain ownership interests in land and other local resources. The Hudson Valley program is one of its Farms for Farmers initiatives which promote alternative ownership structures for farms, to benefit farmers who need affordable farmland and communities that want a secure source of locally grown food and a way to preserve their environmental heritage. When the family trust decided to put the farm up for sale instead of pursuing the proposed conservation plan, Marnie and Don were offered an opportunity to forge ahead, with the cooperation of CLC and Equity Trust, to purchase the whole farm outright with a somewhat larger bridge loan of $1.5 million, and then continue working together on the farm preservation plan. And so they did. All through the period of discussions and negotiations on some very complex issues, they were accumulating a kind of “farming expense” that was quite beyond their usual experience: legal fees. It was on this front that they applied for assistance through the Incubator Without Walls, a program of Hudson Valley AgriBusiness Development Corporation (HVADC). HVADC Projects Director Mary Ann Johnson was able to identify a suitable attorney with the necessary expertise and offer the MacLeans generous assistance by paying for a portion of legal fees related to the purchase and closing. No small thing for working farmers. Later that year they also received further assistance with the legal fees from American Farmland Trust through their Farmland Access and Transfer Assistance Stipend.
Now Marnie and Don have temporary ownership of the farm while they work to raise the funds to complete the farm preservation plan. And that plan is: that the CLC will buy the farm’s land from them (but not the house, barn and other infrastructure), the couple will pay off the bridge loan from Equity Trust, an easement will be purchased to protect the farm from development, and CLC will then rent the land back to Marnie and Don, the farmers. The farmers retain ownership of all the buildings and infrastructure (but not the land) and can maintain and build equity in the infrastructure (but not the actual land property). The conservation easement protecting the land from development will be held by the Dutchess Land Conservancy (while in Columbia Country, Ancram borders Dutchess on both its east and south town lines). Get it? It’s complex but in the end it’s an innovative solution. If the MacLeans are successful, the farm will pass from farmer to farmer over generations to come, with no sale of 200 acres of very expensive land. That part of the equation is forever removed from the table.
It assures an affordable farm in what is considered to be a somewhat unaffordable region. The “Thompson-Finch Farm Collaborative” has a fund raising goal of $1.5 million and in just a few months has passed the $800,000 dollar mark with the $1 million level clearly in sight. The MacLeans have received generous support from project partners Equity Trust and Scenic Hudson but are still looking for contributors and supporters to help complete this project.
They hope to create something that relates well to the work that HVADC does, because the one factor that effects farmers the most when they consider the expansion of their business and needed infrastructure, is their ability to have long term security of the land that they farm. As farmers, the MacLeans are extremely fortunate to live in an area that hosts so many forward thinking organizations staffed with intelligent, dedicated and like-minded people.
For more information on this project, contact CLC or Equity Trust at:
For more information about Thompson-Finch Farm please visit thompsonfinch.com/
For information on how to donate: http://clctrust.org/how-you-can-help/thompsonfinchfarm/.
For information about the HVADC Incubator Without Walls program please visit https://www.hvadc.org/iww