• Publishers' Note Summer 2013

    Publishers' Note Summer 2013

    According to a 2009 report prepared by the Lake Champlain Fish and Wildlife Management Cooperative, the earliest published account of fish in Lake Champlain was by Zadock Thompson in his Natural History of Vermont (1853). In his report, Thompson described 48 different species of fish, and historically, the commercial fisheries on the lake targeted whitefish, walleye, yellow perch, lake sturgeon, eel, and lake trout.

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  • Set the Table with Garlic Scapes

    Set the Table with Garlic Scapes

    Garlic scapes are one of those totally edible and delicious things that most people don’t even know exist. Every spring, hardneck varieties of garlic (having overwintered but not ready to harvest until July) send up a curlycue stem with a bulbil up top. The bulbil is sort of a mini bulb that can grow new garlic in a couple years or just be eaten like garlic right now.

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  • A Fly in the Ointment

    A Fly in the Ointment

    There’s a small insect causing big damage to soft fruits that ripen late in the season. It’s new to our area, and spreading fast. Spotted wing drosophila (SWD) has been buzzing across the country for the past few years. First, it was found in California in 2008; then in 2009 it moved to Florida, Oregon, and Washington. From Florida, it moved up the East Coast to arrive in New England in 2011, and last year it was found across much of Vermont.

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  • How to Love a Lease—Vermont landowners

    How to Love a Lease—Vermont landowners

    Sustainability, simply stated, is the capacity to endure. But the high cost of land in Vermont, combined with the financial challenges of owning land, are threatening the sustainability of local agriculture. According to Vermont’s Farm to Plate report, “Affordable access to farmland was described [by stakeholders] as a serious barrier for new farmers or those seeking to grow and expand.”

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  • How to Love a Lease—Young farmers

    How to Love a Lease—Young farmers

    At the end of a mostly impassable class 4 road in Calais lies the brick farmhouse of Fair Food Farm. In some ways it seems remote, but as Emily Curtis-Murphy sees it, “It’s a great place to farm.” Before she delves into her experience of farming on leased land, Emily takes me on a brief tour. She and her family rent their house from one landlord and, two miles away, rent land owned by a different landlord for the rest of Fair Food’s operation.

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  • In the Tank

    In the Tank

    On a sunny spring day earlier this year, steam was pouring out of sugarhouses, calves and lambs and kids were being born, and greenhouses were teeming with plant starts. And on Curtis Sjolander’s Mountain Foot Farm in Wheelock, in the barn just behind his house, hundreds of brown trout were swimming in their large tanks, slowly growing in cold waters.

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  • Hooked on Aquaponics

    Hooked on Aquaponics

    Aquaponics is gaining traction on a larger scale as an alternative to traditional methods of produce and fish farming. In developing countries with a limited water supply, people like aquaponics guru Travis Hughey are introducing the concept as a way for individuals to grow their own food while making the most of their limited resources.

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  • Ocean to Mountains

    Ocean to Mountains

    Ethan Wood cannot wait to show you how his scallops twitch. “You see that move?” he asks, breathless. “You see that? These things are alive!” We’re standing in the back of a refrigerated truck in Lebanon, New Hampshire. The scallops, sitting in a plastic box atop a bed of ice, do in fact wriggle when Ethan gives them a little prod. Less than 10 hours ago, the mollusks were still in the waters of Nantucket Bay.

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  • Students Harvest the Future  at Local Colleges

    Students Harvest the Future at Local Colleges

    The agriculture renaissance is upon us. With the growing demand for agriculture graduates, Vermont colleges are leading the way with a variety of agriculture and food-related degrees aimed at preparing students for one of the fastest growing green job fields in the United States. Organic farming, sustainable food systems, nutrition, and animal health are taking center stage during this unique era when environmental and sustainable issues span the globe.

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  • Farmers Kitchen—Les poulets, s’il vous plaît

    Farmers Kitchen—Les poulets, s’il vous plaît

    When we’re selling at a local farmers’ market or get a call ordering a CSA share, we’re often asked, “What is a French chicken?” I, or my wife Rocio, will often say, “Well, it’s a chicken that speaks French and has a little pointy, black mustache,” but actually we’re referring to our certified organic Red Bro chickens. These delicious birds originated from France, where they are referred to as poulet rouge (red chicken) and are found under the label “Rouge” (Red Label).

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  • Last Morsel—The Family Car as Solar Dehydrator

    Last Morsel—The Family Car as Solar Dehydrator

    All summer long, I feast like a queen from the garden, but never lose sight that fall is coming, and we’ll still want to eat. My husband and I therefore freeze, ferment, can, and dehydrate food for winter, and since one of our goals is to avoid the use of fossil fuels to prepare or store our food, we often favor dehydrating.

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How to Love a Lease—Vermont landowners

Organizations help strengthen the landowner-farmer relationship

Landowner Mary Ashcroft and  farmer Carol Tashie in Rutland.
Landowner Mary Ashcroft and farmer Carol Tashie in Rutland.

Written By

Rachel Carter

Written on

July 03 , 2013

Sustainability, simply stated, is the capacity to endure. But the high cost of land in Vermont, combined with the financial challenges of owning land, are threatening the sustainability of local agriculture. According to Vermont’s Farm to Plate report, “Affordable access to farmland was described [by stakeholders] as a serious barrier for new farmers or those seeking to grow and expand.” In other words, productive farmland is imperative if Vermont is to increase its local food access and consumption.

“It could appear there is plenty of rural land in Vermont, but the agricultural land is largely inaccessible to new farmers,” says Garland Mason, the new farmer coordinator at Rutland Area Food and Farm Link (RAFFL). “The price of land is often prohibitive and the difficulty in finding a piece of land that fits farming needs can stop new farmers in their tracks. For these reasons, leasing farmland is often the best option for start-up farms.”

Happily, more and more farmers are leasing land from second home owners, retired farmers, and family-owned farm partnerships. And organizations have sprouted up to help foster and manage these relationships. Landowners who, a decade ago, might have looked out onto a fallow field now have the opportunity to see an active farm from their windows.

“There are many non-farming landowners who have inherited or purchased Vermont farmland without intentions of farming on their own,” Garland says. “These landowners may find that it becomes expensive and inconvenient to have the land hayed or brush hogged each year, and instead may consider leasing land to new farmers who work to keep the land open and the soils in good health.”


Carol Tashie and Dennis Duhaime of Radical Roots Farm, an organic vegetable farm located in Rutland, have leased two acres of land from Mary Ashcroft since 2010. Originally sub-leasing, Carol and Dennis transitioned into a direct lease with Mary and her now late husband, Harold Billings, a former dairy farmer who was glad to see his land being repurposed.

“Our farm has been in the Billings family since 1817,” Mary says. “We respect the relationship between people and the land. By leasing out different parts of the land for farming—both organic and conventional—and for other compatible uses, I hope to encourage balance and stewardship.”

The lease relationship was informal at first but easily moved into a formal agreement, thanks in part to Mary’s background as a lawyer. Both casual on-the-farm conversations and formal meetings structured the relationship. “Good communication among those farming and those leasing is important—we stay in touch regularly,” Mary notes. The lease includes cash payments and a CSA share for Mary.

“To grow local food access in the state we need more land, and landowners leasing to farmers is one of the best ways to ensure food sovereignty,” Carol says. “Dennis and I made a conscious decision to not buy land and to be better stewards by putting money into the land rather than a mortgage.” Radical Roots Farm sells veggies at the downtown Rutland Farmers’ Market, the Rutland Winter Farmers’ Market, and through CSA farm shares.

Mary also has lease arrangements with other agriculture businesses, including a conventional corn farm, a sugarbush, a horse farm, a nursery, and a developing forestry product business—all viable solutions to keeping an old dairy farm active in a working agricultural landscape.

Mary and Carol recently shared their story at a “Lease Your Land to a Farmer” workshop presented by Land For Good and the UVM Center for Sustainable Agriculture. Land For Good is a New Hampshire-based nonprofit that educates and assists people throughout New England on farmland access, tenure, and transfer. A list of upcoming workshops and a downloadable leasing guide are available on their website, landforgood.org.


Matchmaking between farmers and landowners can begin informally, or by completing an online profile and searching applicable websites: the New England Farmland Finder; the Vermont Agriculture Land Access Database at UVM; and NOFA Vermont’s “Land Here!” The Vermont Food System Atlas, launching this summer through the Vermont Farm to Plate Initiative, will provide related links and further resources.

Mike Ghia, the Land For Good field agent for Vermont, says farmer-landowner matchmaking is not unlike the process of dating before getting married. “Exploratory relationships teach about what each party is looking for before entering into a marriage. Likewise, a property owner may interview and meet with a number of farmers before they find someone who shares the same goals, with whom they are compatible, and helps determine if each want to pursue the lease relationship. Property owners shouldn’t be discouraged if some of the farmers they connect with don’t meet their expectations or even if a past leasing relationship with a farmer didn’t work out. Instead, it’s important to look at these interactions as learning experiences that can help inform a better, successful relationship in the future when the right farmer comes along. The same can be said for farmers looking to find the right property owner from whom to lease.”

Landowners interested in exploring lease arrangements also need to obtain baseline knowledge of their property in order to provide the necessary details in a matchmaking description. They must know their land’s soil type, identify housing options for a leasing farmer, appraise barns and outbuildings, and measure water availability.

Land For Good highly encourages mutually beneficial, written lease agreements. Stewardship clauses that state expectations around the care and management of natural resources over a long period of time are strongly advised, as are leases sustained over a broader time frame than just a few years. It’s also recommended to have a dispute clause that requires disputes to be handled through the Vermont Agricultural Mediation Program. Include who’s responsible for property repairs, alterations, and improvements to structures, and state that insurance liability is maintained by the farmer and includes property owners in the policy. (Homeowner insurance does not cover leased farming.)

Benefits should also be clearly understood. Property owners benefit by receiving land maintenance and stewardship, payment from sales and/or a business partnership, and potential property tax discounts. Farmers benefit by having workable land and clear expectations.


Sally Mole owns Cedar Hill Farm, a 350-acre, family-owned farm partnership in Pownal, which encompasses tenants Mighty Food Farm and Quarry Hill Farm. Sally grew up on the farm when it was raising beefalo in the 1950s and ‘60s, but challenges bringing beef to market led Sally’s father to quit farming. She eventually faced the reality that money could not be made farming in her situation, so she began promoting small farms and farm products while exploring new avenues of entrepreneurship.

Sally now partners with Quarry Hill Farm to raise sheep, sold through Vermont Lamb Company. Quarry Hill also taps the sugarbush and, as longtime tenants, have created a home- school enrichment program on the property. Mighty Food Farm rents farmhouse space and grows organic produce for 250 CSA shareholders; they also sell at local farmers’ markets. Echoing Carol Tashie’s reasoning for leasing, Sally says her farm tenants find leasing appealing because it’s more about “building cash equity and not putting all that money into land ownership costs.”

“Our nine shareholders [in the farm partnership] have talked about selling to current lessees,” Sally says, “but in all reality, that asset split really doesn’t amount to much—and at what cost to local land access for our future generations? We had to look at the possibilities of what could happen to the land if a new owner sells. We began to consider the longevity of land access to pass on to future generations as a family-run real estate leasing operation, instead of a family farm.

“Our farming model has helped encourage other small farms along the road,” she continues, “making this valley into a vibrant farm community—a fabric of life unraveling a new farming pattern based on food access for future generations, not simply monetizing the land. This model took work, time, and cost to repair buildings and prepare the land, but this year we plan to pay out a dividend [to partnership shareholders], and hopefully for subsequent years to follow.”

Sustainability is the capacity to endure. And food access is critical to our ability to endure. Yet as Rutland landowner Mary Ashcroft says, “The pressure is on prime farmland. Farmers want to use it, as do developers for housing and solar projects, and transportation planners for road projects.” Hope lies with the multiple organizations addressing this pressing issue, and with all the landowners willing to work with farmers to help Vermont achieve the twin goals of preserving land and growing more local food.

To learn about farmland leasing or to attend a workshop, visit landforgood.org. More information can also be found at newenglandfarmlandfinder.orguvm.edu/newfarmer, and nofavt.org.

About the Author

Rachel Carter

Rachel Carter

Rachel Carter is a journalist and grassroots marketing consultant who rents a farm building on 90 acres in Charlotte that are for sale. She prays the land is purchased for farming, not a McMansion, and is seeking a small, rural, and affordable homestead or a compatible landowner relationship in central Vermont, where she and her husband can lay down permanent roots.

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Home Stories Issues 2013 Summer 2013 | Issue 25 How to Love a Lease—Vermont landowners