Black Swamp Conservancy is launching an initiative to support northwest Ohio’s next generation of farmers. The Northwest Ohio Farm Access Program will serve as an agriculture incubator to reduce the biggest hurdle facing beginning farmers — acquiring farmland. The initiative also aims at connecting them with training opportunities and assistance to increase local and sustainable food production.
The Conservancy has received a grant from Toledo Community Foundation to establish the program, which is the first of its kind in Ohio.
“This program will play a key role in helping to identify and support sources for local, sustainable food production in northwest Ohio,” said Keith Burwell, president of the Toledo Community Foundation.
“We are dedicated to protecting our land and water resources, as well as our natural habitats, primarily through conservation easements,” said Rob Krain, Conservancy Executive Director. “This initiative is helping us to continue our ecological restoration efforts throughout northwest Ohio.” Over the past several years the Conservancy has completed several stream and wetland restoration projects, and earned the Ohio Wetlands Association’s Leader in Wetland Restoration award.
“Ohio is losing an estimated 50 acres of farmland a day, and Ohio farmers are an average of 55 years old,” Krain said. “This is a critical time for farming in Ohio, as today’s farmers are producing commodities for export, while consumers are eating food imported from far away. As farmers plan to retire, possibly without heirs to whom they can pass on their land, aspiring farmers face limited access to land and then high land prices.”
The Northwest Ohio Farm Access Program will be the conduit bringing these two groups together. “There is a growing interest in starting small scale, local agricultural businesses, but existing agricultural land is exceedingly consolidated. And when it is available, land is very expensive, especially as you get closer to population centers,” said Krain. The Conservancy will identify and acquire farms that would be appropriate for these purposes, work to fund ecological restoration activities, and then connect aspiring farmers to this more affordable land.
“We will also connect these new farmers to the business management and farming resources they will need through our connections with local businesses and services,” Krain said.
This program will be beneficial to northwest Ohio by continuing and enhancing:
• Acquisition and protection of prime farmland around northwest Ohio
• Ecological restoration activities in regional farmland, particularly as it pertains to improved water quality
• Establishment of agricultural properties as sustainable operations that grow foods for local consumption
• Education of the community in sustainable farming practices and in the importance of access to locally-produced foods.