Small Farms Making a Living on Leased Land
This past summer, I had the pleasure of traveling across Virginia’s Piedmont region (and a little south) to capture the stories of eight farms. My photographer friend Jami McDowell traveled with me for most of them, capturing these beautiful photos (despite very real fears that she might have to deliver my baby on that last trek down to Lynchburg when I was 8 1/2 months pregnant).
The small-scale, local market-focused farmers I visited are a generous breed, and they were incredibly generous with their time and wisdom for the pieces that came from those visits. A few of them even fed us. I am thrilled to have the chance to share those stories with you now as a newly published series, “Finding a Place to Grow: How the Next Generation is Gaining Access to Farmland.”
The goal of this project for the Piedmont Environmental Council was to feature farmers who are making a good living on leased land selling to local audiences. Yes, they do exist — and they are thriving. We wanted to tell their stories to encourage those who are considering entering the field and to give them some concrete examples. The PEC helps conserve landscapes across Virginia from development and other threats, but having farmers to manage that land into the future is key.
It’s not easy. If you live in the Northern Virginia or DMV area, you know that soil here is not cheap. For farmers who want to sell directly to their customers in and around DC, leasing instead of buying land can be a great option.
For farmers and farmer-hopefuls, these stories provide a window into how others got started and details about the lease contracts that bolster their businesses. Some have learned hard lessons along the way; others are benefitting from long-term leases that allow them to invest in the landscape as if they owned it.
These are the stories I’ve wanted to share in response to every viral article about how farmers like this can’t make a living. Some of these farmers are operating under unique circumstances, like running a farm at a nature preserve or as part of a housing development while earning a salary. But those models could also be part of a future that sustains farming that is better for the environment and closer to the customer.
Whether or not you need convincing, I think you’ll find these eight pieces inspiring and insightful. You can read them on this Finding a Place to Grow page or as a PDF. Feel free to share these pieces with your networks or simply browse the bucolic farm photos. And don’t forget to show your local farmer some extra love this season.