NWA FARMLINK creates opportunities for all producers
FAYETTEVILLE, ARK. – Since November 2019, NWA FARMLINK has offered a free online platform where aspiring farmers can access farmland and established farmers can find new ways to use the land they have.
“The family farm is rarely passed down as it once was,” reports the website, which is powered by the NWA Land Trust, a nonprofit. “Today, new farmers need help navigating their journey to farm as do farmland owners planning a farm legacy.”
NWALT accepts donations from retiring farmers and resells the land at affordable prices to qualified, aspiring farmers whose proposals suit the farmland. Now, with NWA FARMLINK up and running, established farmers may also connect directly with potential buyers, farm managers, or growers interested in leasing their land.
“It’s not enough to just preserve the farmland,” said Susan Koehler, the Farmland Preservation Coordinator at NWALT. “We have to preserve the human connections, the farming communities, too.”
At nwafarmlink.org, users may browse the profiles of aspiring farmers and available farmland, or view the community board, where local jobs, goods, and services are advertised.
“The land trust’s role is to help preserve what farmland we can, help farmers transition through succession planning, and support new farmers who want to continue on the tradition,” said Susan.
When new members register, Susan helps them create public profiles on NWA FARMLINK. Or, they may opt out of the public profile, and Susan will still help connect them directly with farmers, farmland, and resources. These may include “business-planning, legal, farm-focused financial lenders, farming practices conservation partners, and wholesale coop services,” as well as farmers and land.
“There has to be a farm viability component re the markets,” Susan explained. “Our focus is on fruit and vegetable production. Those are the products that have the most demand and the least supply.”
Between 1997 and 2012, total farmland in Northwest Arkansas declined by 50 percent, per the USDA Agricultural Census. Today, according to NWA FARMLINK, “the trend continues. New or beginning farmers face many barriers to farming, including rising land prices, equipment costs and the need for assistance. Exiting farmers are delaying their retirement and often don’t have a succession plan for their farm. As a result, we’re losing our family farms and our region’s dependence on an outsourced food supply is increasing.”
Recalling the website’s inception, Susan said, “These farm link websites have been used for many years, mostly in the coasts and the northeast where there’s development pressure and a desire to help rural communities continue those farming traditions. As programs developers, we looked to those others for inspiration.”
NWA FARMLINK has many community partners, including the Center for Food and Farms, the University of Arkansas, and the Food Conservancy of NWA. Funding comes mainly from the Walton Family Foundation, which launched the NWA Food Systems Initiative in 2020 “to strengthen the region’s capacity to grow food for its residents by expanding opportunities for farmers and increasing consumers’ access to fresh products.”
“Farm link websites have a lot of value,” said Susan. “There are resources. There’s a community. We welcome anybody who has any interest in knowing more.”