Leasing land bridges young, old farmers

CONWAY — Aging farmers own a collective $1.8 billion in farming infrastructure and land throughout Massachusetts, according to Land For Good, a nonprofit promoting New England agriculture.

That combined with rising property values — which have increased steadily since 2006 based on United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) statistics — pose problems for first-generation farmers who don’t already own land or have access to investment capital. Nationally, farm real estate averaged $3,020 per acre in 2015, up about $1,000 over 2006.

The conundrum has influenced aspiring farmers, some of whom studied agriculture in college, to give up altogether, said Jason Silverman, a 29-year-old hay farmer.

Silverman understands the problem well. Since he was a young boy, Silverman was “obsessed with hay, tractors.” But his parents weren’t farmers and didn’t own land. Discouraged, Silverman almost gave up his dream of farming to pursue computer science.

Lease agreements created a path into farming.

“Most of us can’t afford to buy land, or put up a barn,” Silverman said Tuesday, standing in shade overlooking a 12-acre hay field off Hart Road. A large barn, where Silverman’s hay crop is stored, blocked the evening sun. “I just finished my sixth season for myself. I feel really lucky to be up here. I’ve managed to ‘make it.’”

He still doesn’t own land. Instead, Silverman hays property throughout Conway leased from other property owners who want their land farmed and care about local agriculture. Starting with nine acres in 2012, “essentially keeping it mowed,” Silverman now owns and operates Windrow Farm, a small-scale business, haying 25 acres (much of which lay dormant for years before), storing the yield in three barns.

“It’s about a 20-minute car ride or a 40-minute tractor ride. I always call my operation a traveling circus because it’s field, to field, to field,” he joked.

Silverman, who grew up in Conway and studied plant, soil…

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