By: Allison A.
As many of you know, we have three key guiding mantras here at Guidestone:
• We connect people to the land and land to the people.
• We grow farmers.
• We support and revitalize our local food economy and food culture.
Over the last several months, the board and staff of Guidestone have been developing a new project that has the potential of significantly contributing to the fulfillment of all three of those mantras.
The agricultural lands of the Central Colorado Rockies are currently faced with substantial development pressure, water is being removed from the land and their rights are being sold to municipalities and corporations far away from their source. Many would-be young farmers and ranchers are moving to the city rather than choosing to take over the family farm while other would-like-to-be farmers and ranchers cannot afford or have no access to productive land. Our expectation is that this new project will provide a healthy alternative to all of those scenarios.
The Land-Link Initiative will work to connect retiring farmers and ranchers as well as absentee landowners with next generation farmers. The initiative will create a database that provides solutions to the challenges of access to farmland, security of tenure, long-term affordability and stewardship of the resources. Guidestone’s services will assist with crafting the lease and equitable agreements between the landowner and the farmer. These agreements provide economically viable options for landowners that keep the agricultural heritage and water on their land intact. In addition, this program will support beginning farmers through an educational curriculum with a strong emphasis in financial planning, marketing strategies, business plans, food policy, legal issues, and production techniques.
Currently, the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union is providing technical assistance to Guidestone in procuring a USDA grant, which, if awarded, will provide initial funding for a land-link pilot program for Chaffee County. To meet the requirements of the grant, Guidestone must provide a $10,000 matching fund. A number of local organizations have already written letters of support of this project and many have pledged financial support in contribution to the matching fund. A list of these organizations can be found on our website.
Programs similar to this Land-Link Initiative are in place in twenty other states throughout the U.S. Already, Guidestone has received a number of applications to participate in the pilot program – both landowners and farmers. Our hope is that the Guidestone Land-Link Initiative will become a model project in Colorado and will later serve as a template for other regional or statewide land-link programs.