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. There have been shifts in lessees (see Our Farmers, below), but about 30 full-time jobs are provided at the farms, with economic activity rippling throughout town. We are often told, “Your farmers are the most popular people in Copake.”
Farmers at NEFA’s first agricultural center celebrated four years on the land in March 2018. The project has proven to be the kind of fertile ground we’d hoped, as each of our inaugural farms has grown and evolved—sometimes in ways we could not even have imagined. Our active farms as of 2018:
Tiny Hearts Farm
Jenny Elliott and Luke Franco, the flower specialists of Tiny Hearts Farm, have not just 15 acres under lease, including a bigger-than-ever new greenhouse, but just opened a showroom and studio in nearby Hillsdale. Hundreds of people attended their May 5 grand opening.
The new space, created for them by Matthew White of Hillsdale General Store and HGS Home Chef, will support their wedding-flower business in particular. It will also be the location for their floral classes and other special events, and serve as a weekly pickup location for their fast-growing flower CSA.
Plus: The next member of the Tiny Hearts family, joining Luke, Jenny and young George, is due in June. What a year for Tiny Hearts.
< Mx Morningstar Farm
Max Morningstar and Maria Zordan are the faces of MX Morningstar Farm, a 60-acre farm growing certified organic vegetables for wholesale and restaurant customers in the Hudson Valley, New York City, Berkshire, Litchfield, and Westchester county areas.
The farm specializes in the production of root crops, squash, potatoes and sweet potatoes, and sells produce year-round. As well as wholesale and restaurant sales, the farm also attends the Great Barrington Farmers Market in Berkshire County, Massachusetts.
Originally a CSA and retail-focused business, MX Morningstar Farm has streamlined production and marketing techniques over the last four (going on five!) seasons to focus on a core group of crops that can be kept in storage facilities and sold year-round. The farm believes in valuing all aspects of the operation equally. From the product to the soil to the farmer’s life quality.
“Though many things have changed over the years in Copake,” says Max, “the values that make the farm what it is remain the same.”
The Belt Farm, on the hillside
One of NEFA’s investors in both the Copake and Esopus centers, Farmland Preservation LLC, has purchased the 70-acre hilltop Belt Farm at Copake from NEFA.
“We’re engaged in setting up a vision and plan for this special property,” says Dominik Eckenstein, founder of Farmland Preservation. “Two young farmers have joined us for small-scale production and general help on the land.”
Babacar Kebe (who worked last year on the Belt Farm land) and Meagan Callahan of Catkin Farm (also part of the MX Morningstar crew) are settling in happily, and recruiting of more farmers with NEFA’s help is under way.
Jonathan Sadlowe of Borough Mushrooms is the newest lessee at Copake, with plans to produce varieties that will include shiitake, maitake and oyster mushrooms there.
“By May we were in the final buildout construction phase at Borough Mushrooms,” Jonathan reports. “We are ramping up the production side of the business, and looking forward to producing mushrooms later this summer. It’s been a great six months since moving the operation to Copake, and we hope we can have a positive impact in the community and region.”
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.)