Preserve and Protect Agricultural Land
Rhode Island farmers steward approximately 56,000 acres of farmland. In the 20 years from 1997-2017, over 9000 acres of farmland were lost, over an acre each day. Increased development pressure, population growth, insufficient funding for farmland protection, and challenges to overall farm sustainability are among the factors that continue to threaten our farmland. This vital resource, once lost, is gone forever. RI is the 6th most threatened state in the US in terms of loss of farmland, and has the nation’s highest average cost of agricultural land (close to $16,000/acre).
Agriculture plays an essential role in Rhode Island’s food security, climate resilience, and economic development. Agricultural land that is managed with soil-regenerative practices has the potential to sequester tens of thousands of tons of carbon, helping the state move towards its 2021 Act on Climate goals. Local farmers provide access to the freshest and healthiest food available to Rhode Islanders, and their output is available even when shocks to the global food supply chain cause disruptions in food availability. Local farmers are also an increasing source of food going into our state’s emergency food shelters and pantries, and urban farms and community gardens are an increasing source of healthy food for urban communities struggling with food insecurity. Finally, our farming sector accounts for close to $xxx million in annual revenues and employs close to y thousand people.
Since 1981, the state’s Farmland Preservation Program has permanently protected more than 8000 acres of land and over 120 farms. In total, the program has spent $37 million in state funds, and leveraged each of these state dollars with $1.70 in matching funds from federal, municipal, land trust and philanthropic sources. Unfortunately, spending on this program has gradually declined, and next year’s Green Bond will be the first in many years that includes no investment for farmland preservation. With a backlog of over 50 farms that have been approved for protection, and increasing development pressures for all land in Rhode Island, this is not the right time to stop investing in farmland protection. Significant investment is needed to increase the pace of farmland protection, and policies that govern how protected land is managed must be updated to reflect changes in agricultural practices and give farms opportunities to capitalize on opportunities that allow them to remain sustainable, while still producing food. In addition to its existing Farmland Protection Program, the state must also begin to develop policies and processes that support the growth of urban farms and community gardens, which currently are too small to qualify for any of the state’s agricultural protection activities.
- Invest resources to significantly increase the pace of farmland protection through the Green Economy Bond
- Support food systems-related climate resilience projects as part of the RIIB Municipal Climate Resilience Program
- Establish an urban land access entity mirroring the structure of the ALPC
- Prioritize policies that increase access to farmland for historically disadvantaged farmers
For More Information
- Relish Rhody
- Farms Under Threat: A New England Perspective
- National Agricultural Library urban agriculture resources