Everyone depends on farmland, but many people who need land to grow food do not have access to it. New American farmers and farmers of color face many barriers to owning the land required to grow their own food, or crops to sell. A 1999 USDA survey showed less than 4% of farmland owners were farmers of color, a sharp decrease from 1910 when data showed 14% of farm owners were Black alone.
Community farmland helps solve this challenge, and provides agricultural training and entrepreneurship opportunities. It also serves as outdoor therapy, which can help people ease stresses and build a stronger sense of community.
Groundswell helps overcome existing barriers by protecting, and creating equitable access to, agricultural land in high-need areas of Dane County. Click the Story tab to learn more about the community farmland we’ve help protect.
Farmland Access For New American Farmers and Farmers of Color
Preserving farmland has been part of Groundswell’s mission for many years. But we have come to realize that our work was not addressing urban agriculture needs. New American farmers, farmers of color and urban farmers in general all face barriers to securing land to grow food. Steep land prices, depleted soils, zoning challenges and transportation—all can be insurmountable hurdles.
Being a land trust, Groundswell is uniquely able to help overcome many of these hurdles. We find and secure land to guarantee access for farmers who can’t buy or rent land. We promote protection of its soil and water health, help develop infrastructure and partner with community groups to help make their urban farming visions a reality.
Pasley’s Swan Creek Farm in Fitchburg is one of the two community farms Groundswell owns. Here we partner with Neighborhood Food Solutions (NFS) and its founder and executive director, Robert Pierce. NFS runs two programs at the farm: PEAT (Program for Entrepreneurial Agricultural Training for teenagers) and FAIR (Farming After Incarceration Release). Participants learn how to grow crops, and gain entrepreneurial business skills in budgeting, marketing and sales.
Both PEAT and FAIR programs use a mentoring system, with past participants sharing their knowledge with new entrants. “Growing food can change how people see themselves,” Pierce testifies. Participants learn skills that build self-confidence and a desire to give back to the community.
Westport Farm in Waunakee permanently secures ten acres of farmland for immigrant Hmong farmers, to grow vegetables and flowers for themselves and to sell. They also receive training in land management and soil health. Groundswell’s Community Director, Yimmuaj Yang, is our liaison with the farmers. The relationships she builds help us provide services that bridge language and cultural differences.
Westport Farm also has a one-acre therapy garden, established in partnership with the Southeast Asian Healing Center. Many Hmong elders in Madison were refugees who fled persecution because of their allegiance to the U.S. during the Vietnam War. Since agriculture is central to Hmong culture, gardening can often calm the lingering stress of wartime and immigration. It also boosts self-worth in being able to contribute food to family.
Community farmland is more than just buying land. It’s about listening to the farmers who need that land, and finding ways to knock down some of the barriers they face.