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From our earliest days, Greenbelt has worked to keep Essex County’s farms intact. To date, we’ve partnered with landowners to preserve over 50 farm properties, representing more than 1,000 acres of cultivated farmland.
However, over 13,000 acres of Essex County farmland remain unprotected. These farms face unprecedented obstacles:
Land conservation is a necessary but not always sufficient component of ensuring a future for our farms. Our Farms, Our Future seeks to support farm viability not just through farmland conservation, but through increasing farmland affordability for new farmers; free educational programs on topics ranging from how to find and purchase a farm, to the finances and legal aspects of running a farm business, to farm succession and retirement planning; and educating our members and the public on how they can support local farms.
Our Farms, Our Future has the following goals, intended to assure that our working farmland remains available for food and fiber production to serve residents now and for generations to come:
The former Green Meadows Farm in Hamilton & Topsfield was once one of the most popular organic farms in the area. With a thriving farmstand serving fresh farm produce, meats, and prepared foods, its farm animals, and pick-your-own berries, Green Meadows Farm served as a hub for all that farms sustain: healthy food, scenic lands, strong families, and vibrant community.
When Greenbelt purchased the farm in 2019 with support from Institution for Savings Conservation Fund and many generous donors, we knew we had an opportunity to pilot a model that could make a difference to farmland affordability in Essex County. One of the most powerful tools available to land trusts to preserve farmland and make it affordable over the long term to a new farmer is the ground lease.
Elements of a Ground Lease
Having a long-term lease is critical to a farm’s economic viability. With the security of long-term tenure, and the ability to build equity, the farmer can qualify for the grants and loans critical to growing their farm business. The ground lease gives a farmer all the benefits and security of farm ownership, without having to buy the land.
A long-term ground lease benefits Greenbelt as well: we know that the farmer will be invested in the success of the farm, and will keep our land working productively, providing local food for our communities, and farming sustainably.
Greenbelt issued a Request for Proposals last year to find the farmer who will realize a new vision for the former Green Meadows Farm – one that is sustainable to both the farmer and the land.
Seventeen farmers and farm businesses responded to Greenbelt’s request for proposals. After a year-long review process by staff, board, local farmers and community members, Greenbelt is pleased to announce that Iron Ox Farm of Topsfield, whose principals are Alex Cecchinelli and Stacey Apple, will be the new farm operator at the former Green Meadows Farm in Hamilton and Topsfield starting in 2021.
82 Eastern Avenue
PO Box 1026
Essex, MA 01929
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Greenbelt thanks the photographers whose work is featured prominently on our website: Jerry Monkman, Dorothy Monnelly, Adrian Scholes, David Alden St. Pierre & Neil Ungerleider