In 1969, Sam & Elizabeth Smith purchased an old dairy farm in South Williamstown, Massachusetts and named it Caretaker Farm. For decades they devoted themselves to developing the farm's infrastructure, building soil fertility, and nourishing the local community.
Under their stewardship, Caretaker Farm was transformed into a diversified farm of crops and livestock, a home for generations of apprentice farmers, a place where people experience a shared responsibility for and simple joy in the care of the land, as well as a foundation for a locally based food system.
Passing on the Farm
After many decades of farming, the time came for the Smiths to pass the farm on to new farmers who would preserve its rich ecological diversity and would continue to provide fresh food to the local community. The question was: how could the farm be made affordable for young farmers and still provide sufficient retirement income for the Smiths? Further, how could the farm be made permanently affordable to future generations of farmers? To solve this problem an innovative ownership structure was developed.
How the New Ownership Structure Works
Within the new structure, the ownership of the farm is shared by four different parties, each of which has purchased a kind of ownership that serves its particular needs and interests.
- The Commonwealth of Massachusetts, with an interest in preserving farmland and farming, purchased an Agricultural Preservation Restriction (APR)--an easement that prohibits the development of the land (all but the immediate farmstead) and requires at least some minimal agricultural use of this land. The price of the APR represented the amount of market value removed from the land by the APR restrictions.
- The Williamstown Rural Lands Foundation (WRLF), with an interest in preserving Caretaker Farm as a working farm for the Williamstown community, purchased all of the land, both the farmstead land and the land subject to the APR. The price paid by WRLF represented the amount of market value remaining in the agricultural land (but not in the buildings or the land under the farmstead).
- The Smiths retained ownership of one of the two houses on the farm and hold a 99-year ground lease to the land beneath and immediately around that house.
- Don Zasada and Bridget Spann purchased the main farmhouse and all of the barns and other agricultural improvements, and hold a 99-year ground lease to the rest of the land. The price they paid represented the appraised as-restricted agricultural value of these improvements. The ground lease requires that they farm the land using sustainable methods, for as long as they occupy the premises and own the improvements. When they want to sell their interest in the future, the price will be determined by the appraised as-restricted agricultural value. This measure insures that the farm will remain affordable to future generations of farmers in perpetuity and protects the community's investment in the farm.
The new ownership model for Caretaker farm was developed with the assistance of Equity Trust Inc., a nonprofit based in Turners Falls, Massachusetts. Equity Trust works on land tenure issues with a large number of organizations around the United States. In addition, Equity Trust has participated in many fundraising campaigns for the preservation of farms and has developed a set of legal documents that will preserve the agricultural land while protecting its affordability for farmers. Their technical expertise as well as the moral support provided by this organization was invaluable to the success of the project.
The Campaign for Caretaker Farm
As part of the project to preserve Caretaker Farm as a working farm that is affordable to future generations of farmers, donations were solicited from the local community to pay some of the difference between the value of the farm if it were sold on the open market and the appraised as-restricted agricultural value. A fundraising committee comprised of past and present farm members raised the sum of $239,000.
In contributing to the campaign, the community played an essential part in making it possible for the farm to be passed on to new young farmers on terms that will not only be affordable for them but will keep it affordable for other farmers far into the future--and will set an inspiring precedent for other communities.
A Value for the Entire Community
- For Williamstown and Neighboring Communities
- A shift to a more locally-based food system and the building of a community-based and diversified economy
- A guarantee that part of the community's most critical land base will always remain a working farm managed according to ecologically sustainable farming practices
- For Farmers Young and Old
- For younger farmers: Affordable access to secure land tenure, housing, and a working farm
- For older farmers: The knowledge that their life's work will continue
- For children and Future Generations
- A sense of hope that some places will always overflow with wonder, mystery, and delight--to inspire children of all ages and to encourage the preservation of other special and vital lands and community institutions
- A promise that Caretaker Farm will continue to provide a common meeting ground and source of local nourishment, both material and spiritual, for all who yearn for abiding community.
- For the Wider World
- A model for expanding the embrace and mission of the nation's land trusts
- A model for changing the way we humans might best inhabit the land for the sake of all the earth's inhabitants
- A place where future farmers can continue to be trained through Caretaker Farm's long-established apprenticeship program
Preamble to Caretaker Farm Lease
First, the understanding that the land is a one-time endowment, a commons on which the whole community of life depends, and for which humankind bears a radical responsibility;
Second, the need to restore and maintain local food sovereignty as a primary component for sustainable communities;
Third, the hope that farmers all over the world can possess secure tenure in the land so that they are able to fulfill their calling to care for the earth as well as feed the people;
Fourth, an affirmation that, while a farmer must be guided by the needs of both humankind and all other forms of life, good farming practice gives a preferential option to all other forms of life in order to sustain human life;
Lastly, a promise that Caretaker Farm will always provide a common meeting ground and source of local nourishment, both material and spiritual, for all who yearn for abiding community.