December 20, 2014

Elyria
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Planting the Seeds

Network’s goal is to link land with those who want to farm it

"WANTED:
Forty-year-old male seeking lush green acreage, two tractors, attractive septic tank and a pole barn.
Enjoys long walks in farm fields, picking weeds and the sweet fragrance of fresh manure."

So maybe the ads won’t look quite like the one above, but wannabe farmers throughout Northeast Ohio now have the chance to send their profiles into a matchmaking system in the hopes of finding some available land.
“We’re kind of like the eHarmony of the farming world,” said Beth Knorr, a spokeswoman for the Northeast Ohio FarmLink program.
The program, which officially opened in Peninsula this past February through The Farmland Center, is basically a matchmaking service that connects potential buyers and sellers of farmland in the hopes of saving the property from developers.
“There is definitely a need to help new farmers gain access to land, and on the other hand there are aging farmers who don’t always have someone to pass the land on to and don’t want to sell it to someone who will develop it into a subdivision or something like that,” Knorr said.
The program only links up the potential farmers and land owners, however, and leaves the business end up to them.
“We ask the owners what their farms are like, what the soil history is and whether they are looking to sell the land, finance it or lease it, and then we ask the farm seekers what they are looking for and what their experience with farming is, and we try to link people together that are looking for the same thing,” Knorr said. “We can help them learn about different types of deals, but we don’t tell them what to do or what type of transfer they should use.”
The free service is looking to slow a trend in the last decade where retiring farmers sell their land off to developers, Knorr said. From 2000 to 2006, almost 470,000 acres, or 3 percent, of Ohio’s farmland dropped out of use.
More than just helping farmers find and sell land, however, Knorr said the program is trying to protect one of Ohio’s most vital resources that consistently ranks as the top industry in the state.
“Farmlands help with storm water management and water quality protection, as well as creating habitat for wildlife and providing fresh and healthy local food sources,” Knorr said.
The program is working with farmers in 14 counties, including Lorain and Ashland, to the Pennsylvania border. More than 200 acres of farmland are available through the program, 75 of which are in Lorain County.
Over the next few years as the program grows, however, Knorr said they will look to encompass more of the state.
The program, which is part of the Countryside Conservancy based in Pennsylvania, seeks to protect lands throughout Northeastern Pennsylvania. It is one of dozens of organizations around the country that are seeking to protect farmland.
In Maine, a similar program already has connected 25 farmers with prospective buyers, saving 2,200 acres of farmland from development since 2002, according to Maine Farmland Trust administrative coordinator Kristin Varnum. Another six deals involving more than 1,000 acres of land are being worked out.
“It’s been a good program, and it’s a good thing that we have been able to preserve that land for farming,” Varnum said.
One of the oldest programs in the country, the Wisconsin FarmLink Program, which started in 1995, has helped broker deals for more than 3,000 acres of property. But Roger James, coordinator of the Farmer Assistant Program, said they need to keep working.
“It can be difficult because there are more applicants to take over farms than there are people trying to sell or rent their property, but we’ve helped people work out several deals over the last 12 years,” James said. “You always get farms sold for development, especially around larger towns like Milwaukee or Green Bay, because it takes a lot of capital to get into farming. It can be hard to get the money together for young farmers, but we try to help people make that first connection so they can get started.”
Contact Joe Medici at 329-7152 or jmedici@chroniclet.com.

061007farm.jpg JASON MILLER / CHRONICLE
Farmer Allen Grobe plants sweet corn in one of his fields along state Route 113 in Elyria on Friday. A network wants
to link prospective farmers in areas including Lorain and Ashland counties with land ready to be farmed.