A Full Root Cellar, Hard Earned: Wild Hare Organic Farm

The root cellar at Wild Hare Organic Farm is finally full this year. After two years, “we could grow through winter with confidence and load up the root cellar without worry, because it was fully ours,” says Katie Green. In 2017, Mark and Katie Green purchased a 21-acre farm just outside of Tacoma from local sustainable farming leaders, Dick and Terry Carkner—and the deal they struck ensured it will stay a farm forever.

Katie and Mark discovered their drive to farm over a decade ago on the east end of Long Island, New York. Katie answered a craigslist ad and took the leap, selling produce to restaurants and big buyers. The Greens were hooked, “the work and the life of agriculture really spoke to us,” says Katie. Since then, they’ve both worked at organic and conventional farms. Katie primarily focuses on the business side of farming, while Mark’s a motivated grower – a perfect combination of skills to take on their own operation.

Puget Sound natives, the Greens moved back to the Pacific Northwest with their newborn daughter to be closer to grandparents. They stumbled on a special spot, right next door to the Carkners. For over 30 years the Carkners’ farm, Terry’s Berries, was a community hub, selling U-pick berries and organic Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) shares. The Greens gradually started helping the Carkners out next door. When Dick and Terry announced their interest in retiring, the Greens were a natural fit to be the next generation on the farm.

While the Greens and Carkners shared a vision for the future of the farm, it was still a challenging process that took two years. Katie says, “it was not a simple, straightforward real estate transaction by any means. And it is somewhat of a miracle to witness a farm making a transition to another farmer (instead of a corporate developer, for instance).”

An essential piece of making this purchase possible was a long-standing partnership with PCC Farmland Trust, a nonprofit land trust working to protect and steward threatened farmland in Washington. The Trust served as a dependable guide throughout the process of transferring the farm from the very beginning, setting up a lease agreement.

The Trust also navigated the process of putting a conservation easement on the farm to purchase the property’s development rights. This included weaving together different funding streams from state and federal funds to loans from a variety of ag lenders to make the deal happen. The easement in turn allowed the Greens to purchase the farm at a more affordable rate, while preserving the farm for generations to come—an important legacy for the Carkners to leave to their community. For the Greens, “knowing that the easement is in place gives us peace in knowing that this farm will continue to grow for many generations of farmers beyond Mark and I, regardless of what path our daughter chooses.”

“This wouldn’t have been possible without the care and resources PCC Farmland Trust  put into the process. They were the first to celebrate with us when the deal was closed,” says Katie, “We’re beyond honored to be one of their Forever Farms and are thankful that this program has helped put our purchase of the property within reach.”

For other farmers looking to take over a farm, the Greens have a few words of advice: “There’s a whole lot of emotional currency at stake when land passes from farmer to farmer, personal savings and retirement plans aside. Try to outline some general decisions early on – for example, sell “everything in the fields” rather than divvying every little piece of equipment up. Be prepared for the process to be intrinsically hard and it will take time. Get professional early– even if you assume good will, there are just so many pieces to track. It would be helpful to have your own attorney who can follow all the pieces and represent your interests, instead of the deal as a whole. Don’t be afraid to talk about money and numbers from the beginning, there are a lot of emotions, but you have to be about business and numbers too. Having a succession counselor or other coach along the way is essential.”

Robin Fay from PCC Farmland Trust coordinated the deal, and he learned some lessons from the simultaneous sale of the conservation easement and the farm as well. Fay says, “it takes a combination of patience, willingness, and commitment by all parties involved. If you’re interested in a conservation easement, a land trust is a good place to start. They are a unique entity that can navigate these deals, playing the role of air traffic controller and helping design the project.” But most importantly, Fay says that even though this was a hard process, it was worth it.

Now the Greens will continue to feed their community healthy, delicious produce through their CSA shares. This coming year, the Greens will be able to do more rotational growing and more early greens. They’re looking forward in the coming years to the big perennial investments they had put off when they were leasing the land. This plan includes replanting berries—continuing the legacy of Terry’s Berries for the future.

Announcing the ‘Changing Hands’ story series

Farming and ranching is more than a profession, it’s an identity — which can make it a hard thing to retire from.

Even if you’re ready to retire, it can be difficult to identify a successor. And no matter who the next generation is, it can be emotionally, logistically, and financially challenging to transfer the land and business to the next generation.

The stories we all too often hear are about families who lose the farm after the elder farmer passes away. But there are farmers and ranchers who have found creative ways to pass their legacies to the next generation. And there are programs designed to help farmers with succession and business planning.

Beginning in January 2019, Rogue Farm Corps will share real stories from farmers and ranchers in the Pacific Northwest who are transferring their land and businesses to family members as well as non-family members. We’ll also shine a light on skilled aspiring farmers and ranchers who are ready and able to take over a business.

Over the year, you’ll hear from farmers and ranchers that fair is not always equal, and that it’s never too early to start planning. You’ll meet people who can help you transfer your farm or ranch to the next generation, and learn how to minimize the taxes and costs of farm transfer. You’ll also hear how farmers and ranchers found successors who weren’t their children, and how they prepared their successors — family members or not — to take over.

If you are seeking land, transferring land, or conserving land in California, Idaho, Oregon, or Washington, see Rogue Farm Corps’ Changing Hands webpage for resources.

Please also join Rogue Farm Corps for our day-long Changing Hands workshops in Baker City on Feb. 13, Medford on Feb. 19, and Corvallis on March 6. Elder farmers and farm families can learn how to transfer the farm, beginning farmers and ranchers can learn how to access land and start a successful business, and landowners can meet aspiring farmers and ranchers who are looking for land and opportunities. https://www.roguefarmcorps.org/planning/

For more information or to share your story, contact Nellie McAdams, nellie @ roguefarmcorps.org.