This past May I found myself enjoying a cup of fresh mint tea and talking shop (or field in this case), with a retiring farmer just over the TN/NC stateline in the Bee Log community of Yancy County, NC.  His 32 acre mountain farm, along Bald Mountain Creek, is a peaceful hideaway.  The house sits nestled up against the mountains, and surrounded by the flowers and garlic that have been his living for many years.  Now, with retinance, he’s decided it’s time to retire.  He does want to ensure the land he has worked so hard on for so long continues to produce.  When you create something and pour yourself into it, he explained, you want to see your creation continue on.  That’s why he contact Suzanna Denison, the director of  Western North Carolina FarmLink.  He wants the land kept in farming and Suzanna is the go to person in North Carolina. NC FarmLink, a non-profit state funded program, is in the business of connecting farmers with landowners.  As the land access coordinator for the Western NC region, Denison facilitates relationships between farmers in need of land and landowners aspiring to keep their farm and forest land in agriculture.  Her hard work has paid off.  There has been a measurable boost in agricultural land transfers, covering many lease and purchase options, in Western NC.  Danielle and Mark McDonagh of Stonecrop Garden in Marshall, NC had this to say about the benefits of having used the NC FarmLink program,

“The WNC FarmLink program was by far the most useful resource in our search for farmland… Without a doubt we would not have found our future long-term site without their help. We are incredibly grateful that they helped us navigate process with ease. We are looking forward to our future growing in the region, and have this impressive and very helpful organization to thank for this opportunity!”

After spending the day with Suzanna, traveling across three counties in Western NC and visiting multiple farms,  the idea of creating a similar program in Tennessee became solidified.  Agriculture is an integral part of our economy, environment, and community in Tennessee.  Tennesseans are the third highest tomato producers in the US.  Agriculture is still strong and alive, however the biggest hurdle beginning farmers face is land access.  Farm link programs help support agricultural stability by making the necessary connections between farmland owners, farmland seekers, and the resources they need to be successful.

In partnership with the TN Department of Agriculture, the Appalachian RC&D Council is excited to announce, TN Farm Link is set to go online this upcoming October!  Farmers and landowners in all 95 counties will have the same access to resources as our neighbors in North Carolina and Virginia free of charge.   

Signing up for TN Farm Link is simple.  Participants can go online and fill out a simple questionnaire.  Landowners will be asked questions about land use and goals for their land.  Farm seekers will be asked about farm experience and goals.  The questionnaire can also be filled out over the phone by a TN Farm Link representative or by mail.   Once the profile/ listing is filled out and put online, the Farm Link coordinator will start looking for appropriate matches.  Participants can also go online and take advantage of the interactive map, allowing them to browse other listings and begin making connections on their own.  In the Northeast TN region, the TN Farm Link coordinator will also be available to make farm visits, meet with landowners and land seekers, as well as help in guiding them toward mutually beneficial lease agreements and resources.  A successful farm match may benefit landowners by creating free or low cost upkeep of land, rental income, a share of production, improved soil and water quality. Farm Seekers will get the benefit of having assistance in locating resources, the opportunity to learn from experienced farmers, and options other than direct land purchase.  Agricultural service providers are also urged to creating listings.

Agricultural professionals and interested parties are invited to take part in a TN Farm Link webinar series starting in October, hosted by the Appalachian RC&D Council.  These webinars will outline the program giving participants time to ask questions and learn how to take part in outreach, continuing to support a strong agricultural future for TN.  For more information about the TN Farm Link program and the webinar schedule, or if you would like to get a head start in creating your listing/profile, please visit www.TNFarmLink.org.  You can also reach us by email at TNFarmLink@arcd.org, or by phone at (423)979-2581.