New Spirit in Minnesota

| 7/24/2013 2:12:00 PM

Tags: agrarian, organic farmer, Brooke Werley, Vermont,

young farm coupleIn the wide-open Midwestern states, especially in places like Lamberton, Minnesota, there is no danger of commercial development of farmland. Still, young agrarians like Ryan and Tiffany Batalden face the very real challenges of land access and land tenure.

Ryan is a 5th generation farmer who now runs a successful 350-acre organic farm, but making a living as a full-time farmer in Lamberton, where the population is less than 1000, was not always possible. Batalden Farms sells certified organic beef, pork and chicken. They also grow a variety of crops for seed along with other grains, tofu-grade soy, popcorn. Without large growers like Batladen Farms, organic farmers across the country would have a hard time finding organic seed for cover crop and forage.

In the Batalden’s area of Minnesota, about 50 miles north of Iowa, farmland goes for about $10,000 an acre. “If a farmer buys, let’s say, 80 acres at that price, that’s $800,000 - they’re not going to make that back very fast.” That’s if they can come up with nearly a million dollars to begin with, which Ryan and Tiffany could not.

So, Ryan began making a try at full-time farming in 2003 as a sharecropper. “I think, at least in our area, sharecropping is an overlooked way of helping a young farmer get started.”  He went on to explain that with this arrangement, the farmer pays no rent up front, but at harvest time the land-owner is given 40% of the crop.

Even with the 80-acre parcel he was able to sharecrop on, he still had to work other jobs to make ends meet. When he received an email from his organic certifier about a land opportunity with New Spirit Enterprises, he didn’t hesitate to contact their founder, Robert Karp.

The budding project had the vision of creating a way to invest in farmland that was socially responsible. Many phone calls and several auctions later, New Spirit managed the purchase of a ¼ section parcel of land, or about 158 acres.

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