The Department of Environmental Management (DEM) is seeking proposals from qualified farmers to purchase a 10-acre agricultural parcel in South Kingstown.
A Request for Proposals (RFP) was issued this week through the Farmland Access Program, a voluntary program approved by voters as part of an environmental bond measure, to help ensure Rhode Island’s farmlands remain in farming. The 10-acre parcel of farmland in South Kingstown is the first project to go forward under this new program, in which DEM purchases farmland and retains its development rights, and then sells it affordably to a farmer-buyer.
Although Rhode Island has over 1,000 farms and the state’s network of young farmers continues to grow, access to farmland continues to be a challenge for many farmers. Farmland values in Rhode Island are among the highest in the country and lack of access to affordable farmland threatens the continued viability of local agriculture. Over the past several years, DEM has experienced a growing interest from both expanding and new farmers seeking affordable land to farm.
The voluntary Farmland Access Program is one way that DEM is addressing this challenge. It allows the Department to partner with the RI Agricultural Land Preservation Commission (ALPC) and willing sellers to purchase unprotected farmland, protect it, and affordably sell it to farmers looking for land. The voluntary program supports farmers by giving landowners an option that will keep historic farmlands available for farming.
The program operates in three steps. First, after a selection process, a willing seller voluntarily sells DEM a parcel of unprotected farmland. The purchase price for the farmland – both when purchased by DEM and when sold to a farmer – is based on appraised fair market value. Second, a public advisory committee made up of members of the farming community and DEM, accepts applications from prospective farmer-buyers and reviews applicants based on criteria such as farming experience, farm business experience, and ability to finance the farm purchase. Lastly, DEM and the ALPC retain the development rights and then sell the farm to a selected farmer-buyer, ensuring an agricultural future for both the land and the buyer.
As part of the 2014 and 2018 Clean Water, Open Space and Healthy Communities bond issues, $5 million was made available for farmland preservation under the Farmland Access Program. The Request for Proposals provides property details, eligibility criteria, and requirements for submitting a proposal along with the metrics that will be used to select a farmer-buyer. To be eligible to purchase the land, applicants must provide evidence that, for at least two years, they have operated or managed a farm business that has generated at least $5,000 annual gross farm revenues.
DEM continues to work across many fronts to benefit and strengthen Rhode Island’s green economy and to assist local farmers and fishers in growing their businesses. There are more than 1,000 farms sprinkled across the state and Rhode Island is home to a thriving young farmer network. DEM continues to make investments in critical infrastructure as well as provide farm incubation space to new farmers through its Urban Edge Farm and Snake Den Farm properties. DEM’s Farmland Preservation Program, which purchases development rights from farmers, has helped over 100 farmers retain ownership of their farms and ensure that over 8000 acres of farmland will remain in agriculture.
The state’s food scene is often cited as an area of economic strength ripe for innovation and growth. Already, the local food industry supports 60,000 jobs, and the state’s green industries account for more than 15,000 jobs and contribute $2.5 billion to the economy annually.