Sitting in our basement apartment last winter, we scrolled through land advertisements on Craigslist, Zillow, and LandWatch. We don’t have to tell you that what we saw wasn’t hopeful for two young farmers who want consistent and reliable access to land. Prices jumped higher and higher. We saw farmland in Gallatin Valley consistently selling for ten times the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s proclaimed average farmland price of $3,000 per acre. As hope began to slip from our hearts, we found a resource that clearly spoke to our issue.
The National Young Farmers Coalition is an organization dedicated to helping young and beginning farmers, with the tagline, “Building a bright and just future for U.S. agriculture.” As we found more NYFC resources related to land access, we started to think that maybe we’re not totally alone in this struggle.
While sifting through materials from previous NYFC conferences, we found that land access is by far the biggest barrier to young farmers, and it’s getting harder and harder every day. Th e pandemic pushed real estate prices way up in the Gallatin Valley and in many places in the West.
The truth is, we’re extremely lucky to farm in the valley with a flexible lease and amazing lessors. Other farmers we know around Bozeman are also in stages of this journey. Some are looking for a new lease with no luck thus far, some have leases but hope to purchase property so that they are able to fully invest in their operation, and some, despite having the skills and drive, are circumstantially stuck dreaming. The scary truth is that leases aren’t forever. This isn’t our land, and one day—hopefully when the timing’s right— we’ll have to start over somewhere else.
In the United States, 34 percent of farmers are over the age of sixty-five, meaning that a lot of land will be bought, sold, passed down, and conserved in the next twenty years. How do we, as young and beginning farmers, ensure that nutritious and aff ordable food is grown locally for our community? We believe in putting that land in the hands of the people who will be able to steward it into the future.
We launched the Southwest Montana Chapter of the NYFC with the help of area conservationist and photojournalist Becca Skinner and local farmer Alley Engelbrecht. Since our mid-COVID launch, we’ve been taking the time to meet and get to the heart of what we think matters the most to young and beginning farmers in this area. Our four areas of focus are land access, racial equity, farm viability, and cooperation/ mentorship. We believe in cooperation over competition, and we want to bring our community and its stakeholders into the conversation in all of these areas to bring a brighter future for Southwest Montana’s agricultural landscape. These are huge issues to tackle both nationwide and in our community, but building community through our new NYFC chapter is giving us hope for positive change.
- Follow us at @montanayoungfarmers on Instagram or reach out via email at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more.