|11/19/2021 2:17:00 PM|
Emerging farmer issue taking root here
It used to be that when the topic of diversity in agriculture came up it was related to expanding options for crops. Farmers can find themselves in a rut with the big three; corn, beans, hay, when other crops promote more biodiversity. As the trend shifted towards developing local markets for small farming of vegetables, fruit orchards, mushrooms, heirloom grains, and value added products— the word diverse came to mean something different entrely.
Diversity now applies to farmers themselves.
How to bring women, veterans, minorities, and other non-traditional ag producers is being investigated under issues of “emerging farmers.”
The Chisago County Board got a taste of a couple of hurdles facing emerging farmers at a recent County Board meeting, with an agenda item to review issuing a permit for the organic, woman owned Heirloomista, outside of Almelund.
One of the things separating emerging farmers from most traditional farmsteads is that they don’t need or seek the large, multi bedroom farmstead house. Their operations are smaller than traditional farm acreage, and they are rarely generating sufficient income on land alone, so they look to offer classes and DIY workshops and tours.
In the case of Heirloomista emerging farmer applicant Kelsey Zaavedra also requests overnight stays be permitted, in two campsites, one for tenting and one for RV use.
The Minnesota state legislature has recognized the evolution in agriculture and set up an “emerging farmer” working group in 2020.
The statewide group has made one report to the legislature and multiple recommendations are either being addressed or are at least on the backburner.
Tax credits could help with encouraging sale of land to an emerging farmer instead of consolidating land into the next door operation. The concept of enlarging tax credits when there’s a sale to a “disadvantaged” farmer could be looked into. Farmers Union has a New Leader Academy that would be of help, with more funding. Local ordinances, like the permit process here, have also been cited as needing to be refined.
The Emerging Farmers Working Group doesn’t have any Chisago County residents but there’s one each from Anoka, Isanti and Washington counties. These and 13 more members continue to meet, looking into how to breakdown barriers in agriculture programs that have been thrown in front of women farmers, veteran farmers, first nation farmers, farmers of color and other underserved groups. There was a recent slate of new members announced and the first gathering of this new group was Friday November 12 on-line.
“Emerging farmers” are critical to the future of agriculture, the working group report (MN Dept. of Ag website) from Jan 2021 states. The average age of a Minnesota farmer is 56 and most are males. Studies conclude that unless you are in a position to transition into a family-held farm the likelihood of success is thin today.
The Omnibus Ag and Broadband Bill in the 2021 state session included a pilot project for farmland access teams, to provide technical assistance at a price tag of $150,000 and another $300,000 to establish an emerging farmer office and outreach coordinator. (Some program items are funded by a small percentage of chemicals and fertilizer sales tax.)
Our emerging farmer north of Hwy 95 on Oriole Avenue, just outside of Almelund had her request for a conditional use permit behind her small farm business plan delayed. The matter has 60 more days beyond the first 60 days the law sets as a deadline for disposition of a land use permit.
Several nearby neighbors told the county commissioners their decision to table the CUP and send it back for the planning commission to get more information was a wise choice. Chisago County is also nearing Comp Plan re-write finalization and it could be beneficial for Zaaverda to wait and see what comes out of that.
There were some who spoke at the Board meeting were supportive of Zaavedra.
She wants to offer educational sessions on organic processes and living off grid and beekeeping, for example. People who enroll could spend the night on the farm. She would give tours of her organic operation, while continuing to sell handmade products, honey, candles and have a produce stand.
Revenue from renting the two campsites will allow her to keep the farm, she stated.
In public comment during the Board meeting, neighbors said they were glad the board voted to table this permit and get more details.
Diana Schleissner remarked that campers are different people all the time stating, “I don’t think anybody wants this next to their property.”
Clay Larson said on-site water quality should be tested and had questions about sanitation conditions in general.
Jeff Vitali, though, said you can drive around the county and see RVs and camper trailers with extension cords to the house, and it’s obvious they’re being inhabited. “This is two campsites,” he stressed.
The applicant said, “I want to achieve a win-win for my neighbors,” she said.
Commissioner Ben Montzka had concerns about how to handle the temporary housing, including the applicant’s own, as they could turn into dwellings.
Someone finds the cost to “camp” attractive and lives there fulltime, he explained, and it creates an unfair situation compared to property owners who have septic and wells, and taxes are assessed on the value of a structure/property.
People, even emerging farmers, use services. They drive on roads, they call the sheriff’s office once in a while, might need a first responder or fire department rig and kids attend school. If they are not occupying housing with a value that can generate property tax, they are not contributing equitably, Montzka argued.
Property tax is a state law, and there will need to be state action to fix impacts on the tax system resulting from “tiny houses,” a term the Commissioner used to describe this alternative housing.