Access to land is the top challenge for new and beginning farmers. Factors like escalating land values, mounting development pressures, and rising interest rates create significant barriers. However, with patience, persistence, and a team of dedicated agricultural service providers, farmers can overcome these challenges.
Farmers like Dan and Elyse Wulfkuhle.
Dan and Elyse met at the University of Massachusetts Amherst where Dan got a degree in Plant & Soil Sciences. Following graduation Dan worked on farms in Massachusetts and Vermont for seven years before the couple moved to Washington state. After five years of managing farms in Washington, Dan and Elyse began their search for farmland to call their own.
To find the right piece of farmland, they knew to stick to their criteria. Topping their list were the needs for prime soils, adequate access to water for irrigation, and generally good access to markets.
“Finding something to check all those boxes is hard and there’s not an affordability component in that.”Dan Wulfkuhle, owner Wood’s Market Garden
The biggest challenge they encountered in Washington was finding farmland with both adequate access to water and the rights to that water, a challenge that does not yet exist in the east. This obstacle, coupled with a desire to be closer to East Coast family, focused their farmland search to New England.
In the summer of 2020, Dan connected with Mike Ghia, Land For Good’s Vermont Field Agent. Mike works with a number of farmers on farm transfer planning, and often works with farmers who do not have an identified successor to take over the business. While Dan and Elyse considered many properties, in the spring of 2022 they found their forever farm and an opportunity to continue another farmer’s meaningful legacy.
“Mike provided local connections. While we were in Washington it was invaluable to have Mike in Vermont sharing an understanding of some of the farmers we were speaking to, knowing the markets, and providing a professional opinion.”Dan
After connections seeded by Mike, Dan and Elyse were introduced to Courtney Satz. Courtney and her late husband Jon ran a successful organic vegetable and fruit operation, Wood’s Market Garden, for 22 years in Brandon, Vermont. The future of their farm became uncertain when Jon passed away after a long illness.
Additionally, the existing conservation easement protected most of the land against development, but it did not guarantee that the land would remain in farming. Courtney was about to list the farm for sale when a friend connected her to Dan and Elyse.
Dan’s long connection with Mike was a valuable resource as Dan and Elyse assessed the financial feasibility of purchasing Wood’s Market Garden and navigated the complicated conservation easement process.
“Mike was helpful in both understanding and anticipating the process. He shared projections of what we might expect, which informed what we could offer and how we went about doing our financing—a whole other element to a farm transition. We had three different lenders and each one had its own arrangement.“Dan
The Vermont Land Trust expanded the existing conservation easements and added new ones to the property, which lowered the final sale price of the farm by several hundred thousand dollars. Even with that reduction in price, as first-time farm buyers Dan and Elyse needed additional financial support. Mike supported them in their discussions with the Farm Service Agency (FSA) and the Vermont Economic Development Authority (VEDA), and in their application process including cash flow projections. Dan and Elyse ultimately received two FSA loans, a VEDA loan and a loan from the century-old Lotta Agricultural Fund, a zero-interest program available only to graduates of University of Massachusetts Amherst.
“I’ve been farming for 15 years more or less and have an ag degree from UMass, both a lot of experience on the farm and educationally, and while I don’t come from significant means, I have more means and more privilege than lots of people and it was extremely hard for us to find and purchase land given those conditions. If it is that hard for me, it’s got to be super hard for others getting started, especially for people with less means.”Dan
Despite these challenges, Dan and Elyse were able to purchase Wood’s Market Garden in December of 2022.
Woods Market Garden is a 165-acre farm, producing roughly 30 acres of certified organic vegetables, fruits, herbs, and flowers every year. The farm has been an iconic destination and mainstay of the local community for generations, dating back to the early 1900s when the Wood Family first started farming here. Bob and Sally Wood first opened the farmstand in the 1970s, and ever since the farm has been known for its fresh and outstanding products, attention to quality, and deep commitment to serving the local community. Jon and Courtney Satz farmed this land for 22 years, and now Dan and Elyse are proud to be the next stewards.
Dan and Elyse’s first growing season is coming to an end and they’re looking ahead to the future. Elyse hopes to host events at the farm, and Dan wants to expand the wholesale business. They’re grateful to the Brandon community for welcoming them, to the Wood’s Market staff, some of whom worked for Jon and Courtney, and to the many agricultural service providers who helped them throughout their New England farmland access journey.
For other beginning farmers on a farmland access journey, seek out any and all resources that can assist with the process! It’s important to spread the word, make your farmland needs known, and work with service providers who can help. You never know when/where that land connection will arise, like it did for farmers Dan and Elyse.
I hadn’t encountered an organization like Land For Good and the services they were able to provide for me while in Washington. They are a huge resource that exists in New England.Dan