In the summer of 2021, in eastern Massachusetts, Greenbelt, Essex County’s Land Trust, signed an agricultural ground lease—Greenbelt’s first, developed with our assistance—with Alex Cecchinelli and Stacey Apple of Iron Ox Farm.
In 2019, Greenbelt acquired a 148-acre property on Massachusetts’ North Shore, site of a former organic farm, with the goal of reestablishing farming on the site. Greenbelt sought Equity Trust’s assistance in developing a structure that would ensure affordable tenure for farmers, support farm business viability, and be flexible over time, while achieving Greenbelt’s primary objectives of conserving the land and supporting its continued use for agriculture. After exploring options, Greenbelt’s staff and board chose to make the land available to a farmer through a long-term ground lease.
Greenbelt worked with Equity Trust throughout 2020 and early 2021 to develop the lease. They simultaneously issued a request for proposals seeking farmers interested in leasing the agricultural portion of the property. Seventeen farmers submitted proposals, reflecting the high demand for this type of opportunity.
The selected business, Iron Ox Farm, is a diversified vegetable operation, using organic practices, that sells through a CSA and farmers’ markets, and wholesale to restaurants. Stacey and Alex had been farming on two leased acres, so they will have a lot of room to grow with the 20 tillable acres at their new home. They also plan to share the land with a second farm business, Lillooet Sheep and Cheesery. By rotating between vegetable crops and grazing, the two businesses will make productive use of the land while improving soils. The farmers aim to make the farm into a community space where people can learn about and get involved with food production and enjoy nature.
More information about this farm protection project, including a great video explaining why affordable farms are essential to farmers like Alex and Stacey, can be found on the Greenbelt website. And here’s an article about the farm from North Shore Magazine.