This is a serialization of the new book written by Carl Flowers, owner of Silveus Plantation, the subject of "Groton's Anonymous Mistress." This 300-year-old house is accessed by Kemp Street near the boundary of Groton and Dunstable.
By Carl Flowers
The number of absentee owners of farmland is increasing each year. If there really is a large number of young people wanting to farm for a living, future farmers will have to lease their land. The simple reality is the fact young people can't afford to buy land.
In just a matter of time, leasing land may cease to be a possibility. The inheritance tax will shrink the number of acres available for farming. Currently about 42 percent of all farmers have to lease their land. I know of one situation where a young person leased a parcel of land and had to spend a decent amount of money to improve the soil. The following year, the cost to lease the same parcel of land was raised because of the soil improvement.
Frequently, the leased land isn't near a source of water for irrigation, leaving the farmer dependent on rainfall. Some of the best farmland is near wetlands, where irrigation wouldn't be a problem. Unfortunately, some Conservation Commissions refuse to allow the land to be used.
Leases aren't popular, especially if the landowner is old or the land is owned by the town. Five years is about as long as a lease will run. The lease can frequently be renewed, but it is not guaranteed.
When farm land is purchased by a town with taxpayer money, it's not uncommon for some damaging practices to occur that can affect nearby working farms. An orchard is an example of this practice. Some towns will allow the crop to be harvested at a reduced price in direct competition with the farmer struggling to make a living. This practice is a step toward shutting down a small family-owned farm. Fortunately, this practice is short-lived due to the property not being appropriately maintained for self-harvesting. If the farm is maintained in any way, it's at the taxpayers expense.
Farms that become a community project are an even bigger problem. Community volunteers give their time to help restore buildings in addition to planting and harvesting marketable crops. Consequently, the sale of fruits and vegetables from these farms by the volunteers is in direct competition with neighboring farmers struggling to survive. While the efforts to keep a fallen farm off the auction block are positive, the efforts may be placing another farm in jeopardy. Volunteers could give some of their time to a struggling private farmer.
In addition to land problems, there's the housing issue. Today, young people can't afford the so-called affordable housing on a farmer's income. If a young farmer is living at home with his parents, what happens to all the farm equipment? Where does it get stored? Does it stay in the middle of the leased land so it can be vandalized or does it get stored in the backyard so that neighbors can complain? A crowing rooster and the fragrance of manure aren't always popular with neighbors.
Those individuals with a fairytale mentality who like to fantasize about living in a farming community and who believe the extended family has returned when it comes to housing are ignoring reality. If the extended family has returned, it's because it's being forced on the younger generation who can't afford the minimal down payment on a house. Mortgage payments, taxes and insurance are right up there with the down payment. Then, there's the outrageous cost for a college education and the huge sums of money needing to be paid to take care of college loans.
Fortunately, I believe I have met a young person who wants to farm but only time will tell if this is true. I discovered him without the help of any public or private institution. He has a student loan needs to be paid off, cannot afford to buy a house, a farm or any farm equipment. If he is to achieve the average household income for Middlesex County, Lowell area and become a farmer, he will need help.
The odds of getting this help from state and local government are slim to none. The downside to realizing this goal is to hear the words, "you can't do this, you have to do that or you're not allowed" from town officials. These words from any board, committee or commission could bring about a reality check about the Mistress and her domain.
Maybe it's wrong for me to think I should keep the Mistress and her domain together. Maybe it's wrong to help a young person become a full-time farmer because government is looking to turn farming into a nightmare. Maybe I should just sell the Mistress and her domain and live a hedonistic life from the money the Mistress and her domain will provide.
Next time: The last chapter.