Farmland Renewal LLC’s Copake Agricultural Center was formed in 2014 to bring together farmers and social investors in an innovative project that creates long-term access to land, while growing farmer and investor equity. It is a already showpiece of diversified, sustainable agriculture, and a model that is being noticed, and replicated—while bringing about change that is good for the farmers, re-energizing a community, and reinvigorating the soil.
By the end of its first year, the LLC had purchased 192 acres and three farmhouses, moved 180 acres into conservation easements, and shifted 122 acres out of “conventional” agriculture into organic farming practices.
Three distinct but complementary farm families—including two vegetable operations and one organic flower farm—relocated from Maine, Massachusetts and Westchester County in the Center’s first year to grow their operations on this prime acreage, attracted by affordable 30-year land leases. In 2016, they are joined by a fourth farm operation, bringing Copake to full capacity.
About 30 full-time jobs were provided at the farms, with economic activity rippling throughout town. We are often told, “Your farmers are the most popular people in Copake.”
In 2015, food and flowers they produced went to more than 70 restaurants in New York, Boston and local venues, as well as four farmers’ markets, two CSA’s and the popular farmstand built by one Center farmer.
MX Morningstar Farm: Max Morningstar and team grew on 35 acres in 2015, with over 200 varieties of crops for CSA, farmers’ markers, wholesale and its Copake farmstand, keeping 30 acres in soil restoring cover crops, with plans to expand its wholesale and restaurant accounts in 2016.
Sparrow Arc Farm: Matt and Heather Linehan and team, leasing 35 Center acres, grow heirloom and “hard-to-grow” vegetables for fine dining establishments in Boston and New York—including 300,000 pounds of fall root crops in 2015. To meet its robust growth plans, Sparrow Arc has also leased the 130-acre Bain Farm nearby, hoping to purchase and build there while maintaining its Center lease.
Tiny Hearts Farm: Jenny Elliott and Luke Franco, organic flower farmers leasing 10 acres at the Center, maintained a presence at two Hudson River farmers’ markets, took on 15 weddings, and extended a wholesale route into New York City in 2015, while building their first greenhouse and investing in other capital equipment like delivery vans, a tractor and more.
Lineage Farm: In early 2016, Farmland Renewal, LLC signed a Memo of Understanding with Jon Ronsani and Jenn Carson of Lineage Farm to join the Copake Agricultural Center, farming and residing at the former Alice Belt property.
OUR INVESTMENT STRUCTURE
We bring together social, financial, and environmental capital to develop a community-focused approach to owning and leasing farm assets. Farmland Renewal, LLC’s Copake Agricultural Center (the Center) is held by a coalition of financial investors, including impact investors, foundations, farmers, and other stakeholders. The Center purchases farmland, infrastructure, and farmer housing, and leases those properties to experienced farmers on a long-term basis. The Center partners with non-profit organizations, such as local land trusts, to place conservation easements on the properties and ensure they remain in agriculture permanently.
THE PROJECT TEAM
- Bob Bernstein—Founder and Managing Director of Northeast Farm Access, LLC, experienced facilitator and convener dedicated to community-based development and conserving working farms.
- Amanda Fuller—Chief Financial Officer, with a commercial real-estate finance background, brings traditional long-term leasing tools and strategy to new farmland-investment concepts.
- Jacob Meyer—Legal Counsel for Northeast Farm Access, LLC.
- Karen Fitzgerald—Landscape Architect with 25 years of experience in farm design and planning.
- Jon Jaffe—Vice President of Farm Credit East, farm financial advisor.
(Photo credit: Robert Rodriguez Jr. for image of marigold in field.)