By Kelly Cabral, OEFFA Farmland Specialist
On one rainy morning in late April 2022, I met farmers Mary Lou and Tom Shaw of Milk and Honey Farm to tour their land, meet their animated heritage breed Narragansett turkeys and Dorking chickens, and the farmer who is taking over their farm when they move out at the end of May.
Twenty five years ago, Mary Lou and Tom purchased the 48-acre property. Over time, Tom built a 30-acre wetland and prairie on the property to accommodate the flourishing native biodiversity. It is a quaint farm, with a small farm house, seven outbuildings, animal housing, and a working windmill. In 2021, due to life transitions, they decided it would be time to start the land transfer process.
Mary Lou recalls how much support they received along the way when they were getting started, and in the same spirit, approached land transfer with the mindset of “people helped us, let us help you.” They hoped to find a couple that would work the land and animals and allow them to age in place on the farm. They struggled to find a good fit after posting their farm on OEFFA’s Heartland FarmLink. Most interested parties were young families, green, and they didn’t think they were ready to take on the enormous challenge of upkeep for the farm. In time, they realized that wanting to help someone was different than having someone run the farm the same way they did, and it would take significant release of control.
They attended OEFFA’s virtual land transfer series to help get on the same page and begin that journey together. Shortly after, their niece and nephew, living out of state, asked them to move close. At the prospect of being near family, they decided it was ultimately time to sell. After reconsidering their initial plans and hopes of teaching someone their farming way, Mary Lou said “leaving was a better solution for that, and we needed community.”
At the same time, Sharon and Greg Maish had been living in Hilliard, about 40 minutes away. Sharon, who raises heritage breed chickens, was starting to be zoned out of their property. Sharon is a dealer through Fertrell and met Tom years ago when he purchased products from her. Five years ago, Sharon learned that Mary Lou raised Dorking chickens and purchased her first Dorkings from her. Some may say that the rest is history. They became friends, and when Sharon heard that the farm was going to be sold, she immediately jumped on the opportunity. She jokes that the first time she saw it years ago, she told her husband she wanted their future farm to look just like it.
Mary Lou calls it “serendipity.” By March of 2021, they were officially in the process of selling the farm. Since the couples knew each other and had established trust, they were able to work out a seller-financed loan drawn up by a lawyer. The Shaws function as mortgage lender and Sharon and Greg will make payments to them. All parties agreed to a pay off length of time of three years where they will pay interest only payments now. Then, in three years, Sharon and Greg will have to secure a regular loan or pay the remaining amount for the property from their own funds. As the agreement stands, if they don’t pay, the farm falls back to Mary Lou and Tom and they can resell. As Sharon says, this is optimal because it helps “the farmer get out, but also gives the buyer time to come up with options for other loans.”
Sharon and Greg will raise chickens, pigs, steer, and alpacas for their own use, and also continue raising heritage Narragansett turkeys and Dorkings from the Shaws. Though Milk and Honey Farm will become Maish Meadows Farm and Preserve, the land legacy will remain. Mary Lou and Tom have, in their own way, found a path to helping others while ensuring a continuation of land and animal stewardship upholding a land ethic to last at least one more generation.
As young and beginning farmers face the mounting challenges of securing land, and as senior generations look for ways to sustain income in retirement, the story of Milk and Honey Farm and Maish Meadows Farm and Preserve is one farmers and landowners alike can look to for unique solutions.
Are you in the process of negotiating to lease, purchase, or transfer land? Have you wondered how to negotiate a win-win agreement between all parties? This two-part workshop is led by certified Land Access and Transfer Trainer Kelly Cabral. In the virtual portion (July 18), participants will plan to negotiate, practice communication skills to reach agreement, and prepare to manage stress. Participants will also have the opportunity to visit a farm that recently underwent a successful transfer to beginning farmers at Maish Meadows Farm & Preserve. The on-farm component (July 23) will include a farm tour and Q&A with the farm owners. Register and learn more here.
This event is part of OEFFA’s 2023 Farm Tour and Workshop Series. Visit oeffa.org/farmtours to learn more.
This story was published in the Summer 2022 OEFFA Newsletter.