Retiring Farmers Face Strain in Selling Farm

Sarah Jarvis reported last week at the Minneapolis Star Tribune Online that, “Bob and Bonnie Dehn didn’t plan on being farmers. He was a mailman, she worked in finance, and they just wanted to own some land to build a house and grow flowers to sell at the local farmers market.

“When Bob was diagnosed with cancer in 1979 they started Dehn’s Garden, a family farm in Andover where they could grow and harvest vegetables and herbs to support themselves in case he took a turn for the worse. Now they want to retire, but they’re struggling to find buyers who will continue the 105-acre operation. Their two daughters don’t want to do it, and the offers they’ve entertained have fizzled out.

“The Dehns’ situation illustrates the strains faced by family farms in the metro area, from the difficulty of finding farmers who can afford to buy and maintain large operations to preserving a rural lifestyle in a sprawling suburban area.”

The article indicated that, “Sellers hoping to secure a future for their farms have some options. They can connect with buyers through websites that list properties including Minnesota Farm Link, created by the state Agriculture Department to bring retiring and new farmers together. Landowners, including the Dehns, aren’t always aware of such matchmaking programs.

 Another option the Dehns have considered is a conservation easement. Groups like the Minnesota Land Trustand the Land Stewardship Project may acquire the land to prevent development.

“One problem is that land prices often are prohibitive for young farmers. Bonnie Dehn said land in the area has been selling for $20,000 to $30,000 per acre.”

Ms. Jarvis added that, “Jan Joannides, executive director of Renewing the Countryside, a nonprofit that works to support rural communities and farmers, said her organization is working with others this fall to create a ‘farmers access hub‘ ­— a support network for farmers looking to buy and sell that may include a type of land trust. She said suburban farmers face special challenges, such as insufficient zoning and neighbors who complain about the sounds and smells of a farm.

“‘There’s no one-size-fits-all,’ Joannides said.”
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