American Farmland Trust – Junk mail or real deal?

Yesterday I recieved a snappy little packet in the mail with a *FREE* sticker for me to put on the bumper of my truck that says “No farms, no food” I happen to already have a FFA sticker similar to that: “I farm, you eat” which I tend to think of as a catchier slogan. Either way, though, it’s pretty accurate, except it could be politically stated this way too: “No farms in America…all food from China and Mexico now!” Yummy, nothing like Mercury in your granola bar or human waste in your spinach.

So, what is American Farmland Trust? I see if I donate $25 I get a FREE (Holstein) heifer plush toy called Milkshake. Awww, adorable (gag me!). Plus, they say: Start quote- “For 30 years American Farmland Trust has worked with family farmers and ranchers to keep their land healthy and productive.” -End quote.

At first glance, you think, “Hey, I’m a farmer. I could use some help with my land to preserve my way of life and keep food on the table of my fellow Americans.” This “trust” appeals to the very real problem of disappearing farmland and farmers… But are they helping farmers stay on the land or just preserving land for environmentalists? Hmm…

In fiscal year 2008 their Chief Financial Officer made an income of $170,917. Are they promising farmers increased income? Because last I saw, my tax statement was so bad for actual “income” that I’m considered poverty level.

I called the Seattle branch of this national organization and spoke with a very nice lady named Christy.

My first question was this: “Does AFT buy farmland to put it into preservation?” No. (Technically, per 2008 tax records, they have property valued at $1,703,728, so perhaps 10 acres on the Eastern Shore of Maryland along the coastline, yeah, probably about the value of that.)

Buying up farmland for preservation was their intention 30 years ago when they started, but now they provide public education and assistance to state and local government agencies. The theory is, they help NRCS and USDA help us to protect our watershed, so that we farmers don’t get fined for pollution (ahah, so that’s how they help us farmers!) But, since I now live on the Eastern side of the state… They don’t have programs over here, probably too far back in the boonies.

So where does the MILLIONS in donations go each year!? Well, AFT has $12,260,499 in mutual funds according to Form 990 for 2008, the most recent year available (umm… maybe to help the farmers of the future?). Then there’s the $1,213,000 for fundraising expenses (Processing numbers this high is difficult for farmers, but yes, that is 1.2 million dollars for “fundraising” … potential OXYMORON??)

Oh, and lobbying, you know… Christy from Seattle AFT said they don’t see a lot of the national money, much of that is spent in D.C. – No, not on urban farmers silly! – But on the infamous FARM BILL! You know, that thing that wasn’t going to pass last December so milk prices were going to go up to $8 per gallon (Suh-weet! You mean, farmers might actually get SOMETHING for their milk and 80 hour work weeks and sweat, tears, emotions, and love of the farm and animals and way of life!?!) Nope, the farm bill went thru and here we are just as poor as ever. Darn, that was a close call. Like, actually having the thought of paying off some debt, awesome. Wasn’t to be this time, maybe next time, fellow farmers.

I guess I should become a lobbyist for the AFT… They spent $45,361 on “lobbying” and $6,896,177 on “other exempt purpose expenditures” WHAT?? ALMOST SEVEN MILLION DOLLARS ON “OTHER”? Don’t you just love that word “other”!

So, how about LOCAL land trusts?

  1.  Check out local land trusts. Our closest one is the Inland Northwest Land Trust: http://www.inlandnwlandtrust.org/finds.php?find_id=527
  2. Although the theory of “land trusts” is interesting (preserving your land as a farm is noble, in my estimation!” BEWARE: You might be required to: have your land appraised and surveyed, at the cost of several hundred $$. Plus legal easment fees. Cash donations to help the trust manage your land that you still own. Highly reduced farmland value (don’t expect to make any $$ selling it, even though you’re allowed to sell it). For more information, check out the recent Wall Street Journal Article by Rachel Silverman called: “Laws Give Break for Land Preservation. But Hurry.” http://online.wsj.com/

WHAT CAN YOU REALLY DO TO

“SAVE A FARMER”?

  • Buy our FOOD! We make the most profit if you come to the farm or nearby farmer’s markets.
  • Plus, you need to meet the person (see if they’re “clean” enough to be working with food!), meet the animals (ditto on cleanliness), and experience the good life
  • Speaking of the good life, we have piglets due any minute now and so you better come out soon if you want to see them in the soft and fuzzy adorable stage!
  • We meet lots of new friends this way, and since farmers are home a lot, socializing is very important to keep us sane and make sure we talk to humans occasionally (as opposed to the four legged folks we’re usually around)
  • Offer up your vacant acreage to a farmer. Consider sharecropping! Essentially, you do ZERO work as a landowner, the farmer comes in and crows a crop or pastures their animals, builds fences (please offer a long term lease so farmers don’t get kicked off the land right after they improve it…) and best of all, you get FREE food in exchange for the use of your land (for example, if they pasture their beef, the farmer will give you packaged beef in the fall as a thanks!) . How cool is that
  • Support farmers emotionally. We love to hear from our customers as to how our eggs are the tastiest you’ve ever had or our pork is the most tender. Ahh, soothes our souls!
  • Pass the word! Tell friends if your farmer pals have extra food to sell, or animals for sale, or are looking for some item on craigslist.
  • Get Creative on ways to help! (That’s a hint for “Yes, we do need help picking apples from the orchard this fall. And if you really want to buck haybales, we’ll let you come along!”)
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