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Seeking advice on starting a charitable sustainable farm

 
                        
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Greetings Permies,

I have read a lot of great posts on this forum over the years but this is my first time posting.  I have a 4.5 acre piece of property in Massachusetts and I am looking for guidance on how to use it to generate good for the community and my family.  I love the idea of farming and the planning aspects but I consistently fall behind in the long run when it comes to weeding and harvesting.  I have a full time job, a family, and a lot of hobbies.  However, I really hate to see the 3 acres or so of clear space not go to good use.

The first year we gardened, we used a small area and harvested over 350lbs of produce which we donated to the local food pantry (and we had a little for ourselves and friends/family).  It was a lot of fun but it became stressful to keep up with the weeding and harvesting.  Now that we have a little one, it would be even harder.  

The property elevation varies enough so that some areas are dry and some are moist.  Some get full sun and some get limited sun.  The soil is extremely fertile and there are seasonal streams running along both long edges of the property.  We live on the busiest street in a very wealthy town.  We are surrounded by a new giant development with a mostly Indian population (which may lend to success selling specific produce).  The property has two barns, one is about 36x36 and the other is 36x12.  The property is long and skinny and runs North-South.  I attached a picture of the property (which is oriented with North up)

I definitely lean towards sustainable/organic practices but true “permaculture” may be too much of an undertaking for right now, or it may be a long term goal.  I want to stay away from using lots of equipment besides my pickup truck and lawn tractor with power rake.

I have tossed around different ideas.  All of them would require me to hire a farm manager and possibly some interns from a nearby agricultural program.  I love the strategy aspect of sustainable farming and I would be involved in the marketing, accounting, bed preparation, and major decisions but the farm manager would handle most of the day-to-day.

I’m not sure how I feel about having customers come and go on our property both for privacy and liability reasons.  However, the frontage on the busy street could come in handy for advertising CSA shares.  

If we did a CSA, I would plan on donating 50% of the net profits (as well as any excess produce) to local food pantries.  The other 50% of net would go to the farm manager.  The only thing I want out of it is to occasionally go out and pick a little bit of produce for my family.  My family would help with the farming when we can (which may be very little some years) but I want my daughter to grow up and learn about farming, having a positive impact in the community, and appreciate the harmony of nature.

I’m hesitant to start a non-profit though because of the limitations and scrutiny (but I don’t know enough about it).  We may some day want to open up a storefront and sell value added products that may or may not go towards our donations.  I also brew my own hard cider and I want to develop the land in a way that I have the option of starting a nano-brewery at some point.  I know I would have to source apples from elsewhere in addition, but it'd be nice if some came from our property.  I could see us planting eating apples because a lot of modern cider is made with your standard apples anyways.  The apples could be part of the CSA shares for now and the cider thing wouldn’t be for a long time.

Do you think I’m on the right track?  Should I go the non-profit route instead?  Do you think I’d be able to find a good farm manager that would work for 50% of the profits?  Would having the CSA subscribers pay up front help with attracting the farm manager?  Should I do delivery with shares to keep people off the property and avoid liability issues?

Please let me know your thoughts, even if it is to recommend a different path or tell me my idea has a low chance of success.  Thanks!
FarmSattPic.JPG
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pollinator
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Maybe easier than starting your own non-profit would be finding a nearby school or existing organization (or private individual?) and granting them a license to use the land for sustainable farming/gardening. Structuring it as a license means you are not giving up any ownership rights or creating a land tenancy, but rather allowing the licensee to perform a specified activity on a specific plot. You may want to speak with a local attorney about the laws covering such arrangements in your state.
 
                        
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That's an interesting idea but I want to be more involved than just have another group have license to the land...  I also want to build a brand.  I guess I lied that the only thing I want out of it is a little produce.  If I ever lost my job then I would probably do most of the farming.  It's nice to have that as a backup.  But thank you for the idea, Mk Neal, I'll keep that in mind.
 
gardener
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If you go the NPO route, it can get tricky. For example, if you decide your property is owned by the NPO, the board if directors can fire you and kick you off the property.  Given the NPO, have the business as the NPO and have the NPO rent your property.  Of course, the exact arrangement needs to be worked out with appropriate accounting and legal advice.

I would take a lesson from Paul, leave yourself as the owner of everything....at least initially.  You limit yourself charity wise, but you can change directions much faster.
 
                        
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John F Dean wrote:If you go the NPO route, it can get tricky. For example, if you decide your property is owned by the NPO, the board if directors can fire you and kick you off the property.  Given the NPO, have the business as the NPO and have the NPO rent your property.  Of course, the exact arrangement needs to be worked out with appropriate accounting and legal advice.

I would take a lesson from Paul, leave yourself as the owner of everything....at least initially.  You limit yourself charity wise, but you can change directions much faster.



Thanks for the input.  If we went the NPO route, it would be my wife and I only on the board of directors (unless that's not an option, not sure).  I was leaning more towards being an LLC.  You can donate up to 50% of profit and use as a tax deduction and you maintain all the flexibility that an LLC gives you.  Thank you for your input, though.  I was hoping to find out how hard it would be to find someone to be a farm manager and pay them the other 50% of profits.  
 
pollinator
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My advice would be about the same as MK; find some group doing something you like, and let them use some of the land..

It isn't going to get you everything on your wishlist, but it is IMO the most practical way to get some of it.

As far as hiring a manager on a profit share... seems to me this will depend largely on whether there is a lot of profit to be made. Around here ag land can be leased CHEAP, because there is not a lot of profit to support higher lease rates... despite the fact that 4.5 acres of nice land in town, even if not subdividable, might be worth a million bucks...
 
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