Lessons from a Successful Land Search

Cliff and Anna

Cliff McConville and Anna Lipinska (pictured above) run All Grass Farms on long-term leased land from the Kane County at the Brunner Family Forest Preserve in Dundee. Since 2017, they have been actively seeking additional farmland as consumer demand has outgrown what their current 160-acre diversified pasture farm can handle.  

When Cliff and Anna heard from their friend and dairyman Altfrid Krusenbaum at the 2020 MOSES conference that the farmland in Wisconsin he had previously farmed for 25 years would soon be available for a new tenant, they didn’t initially think much of it. But when Altfrid mentioned that the property came with a home, Anna’s ears perked up. “Tell me more!” she insisted. As they heard more, this unlikely farm opportunity in Wisconsin began to sound better and better. The farm came with 400 acres of established pasture, fencing, and a fully operational dairy barn. There were also two homes (one that could serve for them and one for their Dairy Grazing Apprentice) and an existing building suitable for their dream creamery. They went from polite interest to being all in for negotiating a lease arrangement.  

All Grass Farms

But the land was not handed to them! Cliff and Anna, had to undergo a rigorous Request for Proposal process, an interview, and a further screening process from the Yggdrasil Land Foundation. The Foundation owns the land and leases to farmers committed to biodynamic, organic, and other sustainable farming practices. Ultimately, the Foundation did select them and a long-term lease has been successfully negotiated. 

We’re delighted by Cliff and Anna’s success, and after talking with them, we wanted to share practical lessons for farmers and farmland owners from their experience.   

For Farmers:

  1. Start the search now.  Searching for just the right land takes time. In Cliff and Anna’s case, the search took four years. If you wait to search until you are desperate, you will likely need to compromise on your criteria and be highly stressed. 
  2. Seize networking opportunities.  Having friends like Altfrid and investing the time and money to attend the MOSES conference were critical to this success story. While in-person opportunities are not practical right now, there’s a plethora of online forums, email listservs, events, and educational opportunities for you to network through. Reach out proactively to get to know people who you share something in common with. 
  3. Aim high and be patient.  Before this opportunity presented itself, Cliff and Anna had had to dismiss some opportunities that weren’t quite right for their criteria. That patience and selectivity paid off with the long-term lease, land and infrastructure needed to go after their dreams. Allow time and the search process itself to refine your criteria. Waiting can be a challenge but going after a subpar opportunity, especially when you need a long-term arrangement, will likely frustrate you in the end. 

For Landowners:

  1. Get to know your potential farmers well before signing a lease.  The Yggdrasil Land Foundation not only required a formal application and interview but also asked for three references, followed up with each, and did background checks! Gathering information about potential farmers can reduce risk and save time and hassles later on. The longer the lease you are planning the more you need to know about your potential partner.  
  2. Conservation-oriented farming needs long-term leases.  If you want a farmer to undertake regenerative farming practices and ambitious enterprises on your land, then the farmer will need to be assured that he/she will be around long enough on the land to receive the returns on those investments. Farmers can also plan upfront by knowing they can amortize the cost of equipment and improvements over the life of the lease. Cliff and Anna, for example, have a 25-year lease with the Kane County Forest Preserve District, and the Yggdrasil Land Foundation is offering them a 15-year lease with an option to renew. Is there risk? Sure. But any long-term commitment to something that matters brings some risk. Give your farmer the stability and peace of mind they need to work at nature’s pace.  
  3. Finding the right farmer can help you reach your land goals.  A farmer can be a partner, not just a tenant. A dynamic, creative, skilled farmer who has your same vision can achieve even more than you can dream. The Foundation recognized that Cliff and Anna’s farming will improve their soil health and their plans to add a creamery will be a boost for the property and for the Foundation’s own values. Recognizing the partnership this represents, the Yggdrasil Land Foundation is making the property available at a below-average lease rate. It’s a win-win situation.

 Thanks for sharing your story, Cliff and Anna, and good luck!