Farm succession is not a concept many eaters think about – even those who loyally support local farms with their grocery dollars. Perhaps, though, to help ensure that Maine’s local food system continues to grow, we nonfarmers should.

Farm succession is the process by which working farmland and farm infrastructure is passed from one generation of farmers to the next. Back in the day, farms used to be handed down to the children, but now more often than not, the successors are not family members, and the financing options more complicated. The American Farmland Trust estimates that nationwide 40 percent (371 million acres) of existing farmland will change hands by 2030; the figures are high because the U.S. population of farmers is aging. That acreage, for perspective, is about two-thirds the size of the Louisiana Purchase. The Maine Farmland Trust says as the 55-plus crowd of Maine farmers heads toward retirement, over 400,000 acres of the farmland – about the size of Piscataquis County – could be passed along to younger farmers.

In theory, the idea of farm succession is simple enough. But according to Abby Sadauckas, Maine Field Agent for Land for Good, a regional agriculture nonprofit that facilitates farm succession arrangements, the muck boots-on-the-ground reality often is not. The process, she says, can be emotionally fraught.

It’s complicated on one side by such issues as American sensibilities about land ownership and success, issues of equity when there are multiple heirs but only one wants to farm, disappointment when no heirs want the family farm, and anticipated grief over losing a way of life. On the other side, younger farmers’ anxiety over limited access to capital in a time of skyrocketing land prices heightens the emotional stakes. For smooth farm transitions, negotiations must also take into account disparate views on how farming of the past can move into farming in the future. And potential deals have been known to dissolve over tensions between the short-term needs of the retiring farmers and the long-term goals of the younger ones.

“It’s these softer issues that are the harder issue to address,” Sadauckas says. Land for Good holds farm succession planning discussions with older farmers so they can discuss both the options for and the mechanics of the process and hear others’ perspective on the emotions involved.

Sadauckas and her partner, Jake Galle, run Apple Creek Farm in Bowdoinham, where they raise livestock. (Full disclosure: I regularly buy their eggs, steaks, ground lamb and stewing chickens.) The land they work comprises, in part, acreage that Galle grew up on. The terms of use for that land were facilitated by Sadauckas’s predecessor at Land for Good in 2014. Before she joined Land for Good three years ago, Sadauckas spent nine years at MOFGA, starting as database manager and working her way up to directing new farmer education initiatives.

Do use local carrots – support your local farmer – when you make this cake. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

She still acts as the course presenter for MOFGA’s Farm Beginnings, a farmer-led, community-based whole farm planning course. Sadauckas says that work grounds her hopes for the future of farming in Maine.

“In helping younger farmers hone the visions for their businesses, I get to see all the ways they can push the food system forward,” she says. She helps them articulate their vision in a way that will help sell it both to established farmers who may have land for lease or sale and to agricultural loan officers who scrutinize existing sales numbers and need to see concrete plans for future growth before they will lend new farmers money.

Matt Kovarik and his partner, Shannon Lora, raise sheep, ducks and geese on about 100 acres of short-term leased land in Newcastle. Their incubating business is called Black Earth Farm and they are in their second year of MOFGA’s Journeyperson’s farmer training and mentoring program.

“It’s tricky trying to balance the prospect of growing the operation, which we need to do in order secure a longer-term lease or get a loan to be able to buy our own place, with being reluctant to invest in infrastructure on the land we work now because we aren’t sure how long we’ll be farming this particular land,” said Kovarik, adding he is thankful for the resources both MOFGA and Land for Good provide to help with the delicate navigation.

Now, armed with this basic understanding of the issues that surround farm succession, what can you, a green-minded eater, do?

Well, keep buying locally produced foods, of course. And if you have land to spare, think about wrapping a conservation easement around it or leasing it to a local farmer. Sadauckas also suggests those who can invest in both crowd-sourcing campaigns set up for individual farmers to buy land or sink some cash in community development organizations like the Bowdoinham Community Development Initiative that provide low-interest, microloans to farmers while producing modest gains for investors.

“Eaters who invest in these types of patient capital schemes certainly help solve some of the issues here,” she says.

Christine Burns Rudalevige is a food writer, recipe developer, tester and cooking teacher in Brunswick, and the author of “Green Plate Special,” a cookbook from Islandport based on these columns. She can be contacted at: [email protected]

Chocolate-Carrot Snacking Cake with Vanilla Yogurt Glaze. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Chocolate-Carrot Snacking Cake with Vanilla Yogurt Glaze

Tough conversations are best had over cake. Whether you’re planning a sit-down with a new farmer to talk about farm succession or your lawyer to chat about farm conservation easements, make this cake. It will help the process.

Serves 8

1 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup light brown sugar
3/4 cup neutral oil, preferably a mild olive oil, not extra-virgin
1½ teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs, plus 1 egg yolk
1/4 cup buttermilk
3 tablespoons strong coffee
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup Dutch process cocoa powder
1½ teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2½ cups finely grated carrots (about 3½ regular-sized carrots)
1¼ cups confectioners’ sugar
1/4 cup vanilla Greek yogurt
1/4 cup toasted, chopped walnuts

Preheat the oven to 350. Grease a 10-inch round or an 8-inch square pan with softened butter. Line the bottom with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, combine the sugars, oil, vanilla, whole eggs and extra yolk, buttermilk, coffee and salt. Whisk the mixture until it is well combined, about 1 minute. Combine flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, cinnamon and baking soda in a sifter or fine mesh strainer. Sift the dry ingredients over the bowl with the wet ingredients and, with a rubber spatula, gently fold them into the batter. Add the shredded carrots and fold again to incorporate them.

Spread the batter into the prepared pan and bake it, rotating every 15 minutes until a pick inserted into the center of the cake comes out with just a moist crumb or two, 40-45 minutes.

Remove the cake from the oven and cool it in the pan for 10 minutes. Run a knife around the edges of the pan, turn the cake out onto a serving plate to cool completely.

To make the glaze, combine the confectioners’ sugar and yogurt in a bowl. Stir vigorously to combine into a thick glaze. Spread the glaze over the cooled cake. Sprinkle with chopped walnuts and serve.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: