For the first time, a farm donated to the Sustainable Iowa Land Trust has transitioned to young farmers for good.
For the past three years, co-owners Will Lorentzen and Adrian White have operated their Jupiter Ridge Farm, located outside Garber. There, they grow shiitake mushrooms — in a yard of 1,200 logs — as well as 70 varieties of vegetables. The couple had done so on what SILT calls a starter lease.
Having succeeded in that, they were eligible for a 20-year lease agreement with SILT.
“Because it is such a large commitment, they want to do a vetting process — make sure that your operation is valid and can be sustained, you have the skills,” Lorentzen said.
SILT itself is a young organization — forming officially in 2015 — aimed at securing land that young farmers, devoted to farming sustainably, can afford.
“We’re at the point that this generation of farmers have to pay four times as much as their parents would have,” said SILT Executive Director Suzan Erem. “Who can afford that?”
So, SILT leases young farmers farm land the organization owns with what amounts to a 40% discount.
“It gives these farmers reduced rent, based on the fact that they farm the land sustainably,” Erem said. “And, they get equity, the ability to own the buildings. But, we take speculation out of the equation.”
According to a 2017 Census of Agriculture — the most recent — compiled and released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, young or beginning farmers make up few of the 11,141 farmers in the area. In Clayton, Delaware, Dubuque, Jackson and Jones counties, together, just 2,318 — 20% — are “new and beginning” farmers. And, just 1,290 — 12% — are “young.”
After the first 20-year lease, farmers can re-up. And, their heirs can inherit the leases, as long as those heirs continue to farm sustainably.
The definition of “sustainably” is that of SILT — meaning conservation methods that fight erosion, attempt to mitigate climate change, avoid the introduction of certain synthetic chemicals etc.
“We produce to organic standards,” Lorentzen said. “We’re preventing erosion, maintaining fallow and prairie land. Our farm has about nine acres in prairie, another 11 acres in forest. SILT wants us to maintain that and we’re more than happy to.”
Erem said that therefore, the benefits extend far beyond just making land affordable.
“It also keeps or puts healthy food farms on the landscape,” she said. “It increases rural opportunities and increases the supply of natural table food for rural communities. It’s a Swiss Army knife of solutions and impacts.”
But, SILT’s model relies on the interest of current landowners, to donate their farm or part of it, or to at least agree to allowing SILT to find young farmers to work them to the organization’s nature-friendly standards.
“This is not a solution for everyone, but there are landowners out there who can afford to protect their land like this,” Erem said. “Only landowners can decide what the future of Iowa looks like.”
In the case of Jupiter Ridge, the farm was donated to SILT by Steve Beaumont. He was getting older and had no children. His agreement with SILT was to be able to live in his house as long as he wished, which he did until health complications required him to leave earlier this year.
“We ended up developing a great relationship with him,” Lorentzen said. “Until March, I was still visiting him in the nursing home. He really wanted us to be the ones to have the farm.”
Jupiter Ridge Farm produce is now available via CSA box deliveries, on their website, at farmers markets — including Dubuque’s and Dyersville’s — and restaurants across eastern Iowa.