2018 Impact Report

What a year!

Not only did we launch a new fund, invest in five farms, and double the size of our team… we also conserved and put conservation in motion on more farmland than in any prior year.

Thank you to our community of farmers and partners who share in the mission to support viable, sustainable working farms. It’s our pleasure to share these highlights from the last year.

  1. Farmland Conservation Projects in Five States

  2. Dirt Capital’s Twentieth Farmland Investment

  3. New Fund: Dirt Capital Partners 2018

  4. New Staff and a New Office

  5. Press Mentions, Conferences, Contributions to the Field

1. Farmland Conservation projects in five states

In 2018, we closed two easement sales in NJ and ME, and partnered on three conservation investments with anticipated future easements sales in VT, MA and NY. Overall, this includes 1,194 farmland acres impacted, on five properties in five states. Conservation partners included: Hunterdon County, NJ and NJ SADC, Maine Farmland Trust, Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources, Scenic Hudson, the Vermont Land Trust, and the City of South Burlington. Brief descriptions follow:

In Pittstown, New Jersey, we sold a conservation easement on an 88-acre vegetable and fruit farm we acquired with Jersey Farms Produce in 2014. The easement was purchased by Hunterdon County and funded in part by the State’s Agricultural Development Committee. The easement will contribute to an affordable purchase price for the farmer, Hector Perez, at the end of the lease term.

In Skowhegan, Maine, we sold an easement on a 298-acre property we acquired with Santy Dairy Farm in 2018. The easement was sold to Maine Farmland Trust, which also conserved Brad Santy’s 208-acre adjacent home farm in 2018. These conserved farms are part of a 1,253-acre puzzle of conserved farmland in Skowhegan that Maine Farmland Trust has been working to protect since 2002.

In Great Barrington, Massachusetts, we financed North Plain Farm’s purchase of 82 acres of farmland, in partnership with Berkshire Agricultural Ventures. The property is located on a planned trail network, has frontage along the Housatonic River and is located one mile north of Main Street. Preserving this farm is a priority for the community, and the project has been selected for consideration this year by the state's Agricultural Preservation Restriction Program.

In East Fishkill, New York, we participated in the purchase and conservation of a 350-acre parcel of farmland, woodlands and wetlands. The transaction was led by the Scenic Hudson Land Trust, with participation from the Dutchess Land Conservancy and Hudson Highlands Land Trust. The property is adjacent to Fishkill Farms, which will expand their enterprise by putting 105 acres of fallow agricultural soils back into production.

In South Burlington, Vermont, we partnered with the Vermont Land Trust to purchase 375 acres on the edge of urban development, in a complicated estate sale. The property is a top conservation priority for the City of South Burlington, which also contributed significant funding at closing for an Option to purchase a conservation easement within five years. After several decades of conventional row crop tillage, the land will be converted to perennial pasture by Bread & Butter Farm for their pastured livestock enterprise. This change in use will positively impact soil health, water quality, and biodiversity.

2. Our Twentieth Farmland Investment

Dirt Capital closed on five new projects this year, investing $4.4 million in 689 acres of land and farm buildings. These projects include partnerships with several terrific farmers and land trusts to conserve and regenerate agricultural properties across New York and New England. These five new projects bring our total to twenty farm investments in five years. Profiles of several of these projects can be found here.

3. New Fund: Dirt Capital Partners 2018

Dirt Capital Partners 2018 held its first close in July 2018. The fund presently has 20 investors and has invested in three projects to date.

We are still accepting new investors (accredited investors only), and anticipate a final close in July 2019. Please contact Jacob at jacob@dirtpartners.com for more information.

4. New Staff and a New Office

In February, Jason Kenny joined as our Finance Director to manage the company’s financial affairs as we grow in scale and complexity. Previously, Jason was CFO for seven years at two fixed income and currency investment management funds in New York City. Jason grew up in Poughkeepsie, NY, graduated from Marist College and is a CPA. He lives in Philmont, NY with his wife and son and serves as the Treasurer of the Philmont Library.

In September, Rebecca (Becky) Ferry joined our Farmer Services team to coordinate activities in the New York area. Prior to joining Dirt Capital Partners, Becky spent eleven years as a Loan Officer at Farm Service Agency. Becky holds a Bachelor’s degree in Animal Science with a concentration in Finance from Cornell University. She and her sister own an 80-cow Jersey working dairy farm in Johnstown, NY, and she currently serves as Vice President of the New York State Jersey Cattle Club.

Julia Jones, a Master’s student in Environmental Economics at the University of New Hampshire, joined Dirt Capital as a Summer Associate and has continued to work part-time while completing her Master’s. Julia has a background in vegetable farming, farm business management and lending. She was formerly a Business Manager at the Kitchen Garden Farm in Sunderland, MA and Assistant Branch Manager at M&T Bank. Julia is working with Benneth and Becky on measuring Dirt Capital’s farmer partner operational performance with available industry benchmarks.

In October, we moved our office to downtown Chatham, NY. If you are in the area, please stop by and say hello.

5. Select Press Mentions, Conference Participations and Contributions to the Field

Land Deal Allows Major Expansion of Fishkill Farms - June 14, 2018

How to Get an Impact Investor’s Attention - July 25, 2018

Sidehill owners offering farm, herd, will continue to make yogurt - December 29, 2018

Has New York Found the Secret to Linking Retiring Farmers and Eager Upstarts? - January 8, 2019

Jacob and Benneth presented to the Financial Services and Consulting staff of Farm Credit East about Dirt Capital and impact investing in agriculture, at the Farm Credit East headquarters in Enfield, CT in July 2018.

Benneth presented “Innovative Models for Land Access”, on a panel with Vermont Land Trust, Land for Good and Iroquois Valley Farms discussing creative mechanisms to solve challenges in farm conservation, access, expansion and succession, at the 37th Annual NOFA-VT Winter Conference in Burlington, VT.

Jacob participated in the 6th Conservation Finance Practitioner Roundtable held in April in Minneapolis. The roundtable was largely focused on financing for conservation practices in mainstream agriculture, with representatives from several large agribusinesses include General Mills and Danone. A key outcome of the session recognized the critical importance of professional intermediaries to support conservation finance transactions in agriculture.

Benneth attended the Vermont Grazing and Livestock Conference, the Vermont Grass Farmers Association Annual Meeting, and the Ranching for Profit one-day workshop, in Fairlee, VT, Richmond, VT and Northfield, VT respectively, and entered year two of her three year board term with the Vermont Grass Farmers Association, where she serves as the Treasurer.

Jacob presented a workshop at the annual conference of the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture (PASA) titled “Financing for Farmland Access, Expansion, & Transition with Dirt Capital” in February 2018.

Jacob and Becky presented a brief summary of Dirt Capital’s approach to partnering with farmers at the Maple Hill Creamery Annual Meeting in October 2018. Maple Hill Creamery was started in New York’s Hudson Valley and is a 100% grassfed organic dairy company that sources entirely from small dairy farms in New York State.

Benneth attended the 4th annual Maine Farmland Access Conference organized by Land for Good and Maine Farmland Trust, where she participated in the Service Provider track, an interactive workshop track focused on providing services to farmers in process on a generational farm transfer.

Jacob participated in a Soil Health Webinar hosted by Boundless Impact Investing in May, 2018. He was joined by two other innovators in the field: Paul McMahon from SLM Partners and Russ Conser from Standard Soil. Jacob also contributed to a follow-up report titled Sustainable Finance from Farm to Fork: Impact Investing in Farmland.

Benneth presented some of Dirt Capital’s projects in New York State to the New York Certified Organic meeting in Geneva, NY with Dirt Capital farmer partner and Organic Valley pool coordinator Anne Phillips of Triple Three Livestock in Marathon, NY.

Dirt Capital Summer Associate Julia Jones attended the Food Finance Training in Philadelphia, and the National Farm and Ranch Business Management Education Association Conference in Harrisburg, PA, and participated in the 2018 Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Working Group: It Takes a Region Conference, held in Philadelphia, PA.

Jacob joined the Investment Committee for the Foundation for Agricultural Integrity, providing guidance to the Foundation’s Board of Trustee as it seeks to align endowment investments with the Foundation’s mission and values.

Becky participated in the annual meeting of the New York Farm Viability Institute in Albany in November 2018.

Benneth and Becky attended the Annual Customer Appreciation dinners of Farm Credit East, in West Springfield, MA and Schodack, NY, respectively.

Becky and Jacob attended a celebration of four years of the Hudson Valley Farmlink Network as well as the launch of Farmland for a New Generation New York, in Saratoga Springs, NY. Coordinated by American Farmland Trust, the program will support a network of Regional Navigators, or partner organizations, that will provide training and customized support for farmers and landowners in regions across New York.

Jacob taught a month-long course in January 2018 on Local Farms and Food as part of the Winter Study Program at his alma mater, Williams College.

2017 Impact Report

908 ACRES, Five FARMS, and $2.85+ million invested in 2017

In 2017 Dirt Capital continued to invest in farms in the Northeast, growing from 10 to 15 total investments. Dirt Capital invested in five farm real estate transactions totaling 908 acres with $2.85+ million committed to the projects. Three farms are located in New York, one in Vermont and one in Maine. These 2017 investments are primarily organic, no-grain and low-grain pasture-based animal operations carrying organic or organic and grass-fed certifications. Two market their diversified, value-added products, primarily beef and cheese directly to consumers, while three ship organic & organic grass-fed fluid milk to Northeast-based milk and yogurt brands or agricultural cooperatives. These include Dharma Lea Farm, Hidden Meadows Dairy, Tail Feather Farm, NOME Dairy, and Moxie Ridge Farm and Creamery. Case studies for several of these are available here.

FARMER PARTNER & DIRT CAPITAL PRESS MENTIONS 

Waldoboro Couple Revitalizes Farm with Creamery and Sawmill – The Lincoln County News

Want to Be a Farmer? Soon It May Be Easier to Find Farmland – Times Union

Young Couple Defies Dairy Startup Odds Via Organic Route – American Agriculturalist

Go Get Your Boots Dirty – American Farmland Trust

Dirt Capital Partners Hosts Farm Tour & Dinner at East Forty Farm – Slow Money Maine

Oregon Agricultural Heritage Program a starting point for getting farmland to next generation – Capital Press

DIRT CAPITAL’S CONTRIBUTION TO THE FIELD

2017 was a special year for national conferences and initiatives on farm viability, farmland transfer and conservation investing. We actively participated in several of these, including:

NRCS and Investment Capital: Investing in America Together

The report examines ways the federal agency USDA-Natural Resource Conservation Service and conservation investors can collaborate to increase conservation outcomes. Five specific recommendations are made, such as reducing transaction costs by aggregating smaller projects. Dirt Capital provided input and insight from our work on the ground with farmers and existing NRCS programs.

3rd Annual National Farm Viability Conference

Benneth and Jacob joined three panels on farmland access, financing and transfer at the 3rd Annual National Farm Viability Conference. Including a panel on Structures, Tools, and Partnerships to Finance Pathways to Ownership. The conference, held in 2017 in Albany, NY draws farm advisors from around the US.  

Slow Money Conference 2017: Bringing Our Money Back Down to Earth

Jacob participated on a plenary panel titled “Money” at the Slow Money National Gathering held at the Boulder Theater in Boulder, Colorado. Eric Becker of Clean Yield Asset Management led the discussion, which also included Esther Park of Cienega Capital, Leslie Christian of NorthStar Asset Management, and Mark Lewis of Lewis Family Farm.

Changing Lands Changing Hands Conference

Benneth attended the Changing Lands, Changing Hands Conference with over 220 attendees from 40 states in Denver, Colorado. The conference focused on issues in farmland transfer. Benneth’s presentation focused on non-traditional approaches to farmland investment and the objectives and strategies of Dirt Capital that ensure farm viability and farm conservation.

US SIF: The Forum for Sustainable and Responsible Investment

Jacob participated on a panel titled “Investing In Rural Communities and Small City America” along with Darrin Williams (CEO of Southern Bancorp), Patrick Doherty (Co-Founder and President of Long Haul Capital Advisors) and Thomas Croft (Executive Director of the Steel Valley Authority and Managing Director of Heartland Capital Strategies). The US SIF is an annual event and one of the largest gatherings of impact investors in the country.

New York Agricultural Society 185th Forum

Benneth presented on a panel, “Capitalizing the Balance Sheet Through Collaboration,” with moderator Tim Veazey of Lincoln Financial Advisors. Panelists included Todd Hathorn and Clayton Wood of Ivy Lakes Dairy/Hathorn Farms, Loren Herod of Community Bank, and Tom Facer of Farm Fresh First. The panel looked at examples of successful family and non-family generational transfers in New York State.

New England Conservation Finance Roundtable

Jacob presented Dirt’s model at the Harvard Center for the Environment with 40+ leading conservation finance practitioners from around the region. His talk, titled “De-Risking Investment in Sustainable Farms: Partner with Good Farmers!”, showcased some of our projects and how we partner with land trusts, service providers, agricultural lenders and state economic development agencies to make projects happen.

Maine Farmland Trust 3rd Annual Farmland Access Conference

Benneth was a panelist in three breakout sessions at this annual conference in Maine for farmers and service providers that support land access for farmers. Benneth’s sessions covered how farmers should prepare to buy or sell a farm business, financing options and financial readiness, and innovative farm transfer strategies including case studies from our work in Maine.

How to Keep Farmers Farming in NJ: Tools and Strategies for Addressing Land Access Challenges

Benneth joined a workshop led by Holly Rippon-Butler of the National Young Farmers Coalition for NJ-based land trust staff and other service providers interested in keeping farmers on the land. The event was held at Duke Farms and organized by the NJ Land Trust Network and the Foodshed Alliance. Benneth led a discussion titled “Successful Succession” using a recent case study, and described the tools and strategies we use to make projects happen on the ground.

 Rogue Farm Corps / Pacific Northwest Impact Investing to Support Farmland Transitions

Benneth traveled to Portland, Oregon in September 2017 to present Dirt Capital’s model at the first of three convenings of regional stakeholders to discuss how impact investing can support farmland access and ownership transitions to young farmers with regenerative practices. Benneth has also participated (remotely) in the two follow-up meetings, and continued engagement with various stakeholders to discuss how our model can be applied there. These meetings have been led and facilitated by Nellie McAdams, Farm Preservation Program Director at Rogue Farm Corps.

Regenerative Agriculture Investing Network (RAIN)

Dirt Capital Partners is a project partner and participant in an emerging network of individuals and organizations dedicated to mobilizing capital to advance regenerative agriculture. This work is funded by the USDA-NRCS Conservation Innovation Grant and led by the Delta Institute.

National Young Farmers Coalition Finding Farmland Project

Benneth is an advisor to a project led by the National Young Farmers Coalition (NYFC) and funded by a USDA Beginning Farmers and Ranchers Development Program Grant. The overarching goal for this project is to enable beginning farmers and ranchers across the country to make informed financial decisions during the process of accessing land so that they will have a solid framework on which to build strong, sustainable farm businesses. It includes development of an online Land Affordability Calculator for farmers, and a series of webinars and trainings, which will include Benneth as a presenter.

Regional Food Systems Investments in New England: Moving to the Next Stage of Development

Jacob and Benneth participated in this invite-only meeting of regional stakeholders convened by the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, which brought together regional food systems investors, funders, and financial intermediaries to discuss the current state of investment in the sector.

Yale Center for Business and the Environment

Jacob spoke with Yale MBA and Forestry students about Dirt Capital’s work investing in sustainable farmers in the Northeast.

2016 Impact Report

Dirt Capital Partners has been busy this past year, thanks to you: our community of farmers and partners who share in the mission to support viable, sustainable working farms throughout the Northeast. It’s our pleasure to share a summary of our work in 2016.

  1. Welcome to Benneth Phelps, Dirt Capital’s Director of Farmer Services

  2. Farmland Investments in 2016

  3. A successful capital raise with eleven mission-aligned investors

  4. Press mentions, presentations, conferences

1. The Dirt Team is Growing!

Benneth Phelps joined Dirt Capital Partners in January 2016 as Director of Farmer Services. She brings a wealth of experience and an extensive partner-network, and honed her expertise as a manager at the The Carrot Project, where she spent five years evaluating loan applications of farm and food entrepreneurs and helping to shape and strengthen their business plans.  

Benneth is one of the “go-to” resources in the region for farm viability and small farm business planning and assistance and has led trainings throughout New York and New England. As Dirt’s Director of Farmer Services, she leads evaluation of new farmer partners and provides ongoing support to existing farmer partners, as well as further develops our approach to facilitating land access and ownership for sustainable farmers in the region.

Prior to The Carrot Project, Benneth spent ten years as a full-time farmer growing vegetables and small fruit in the Connecticut River Valley of Western Massachusetts on farms with as many as 80 acres in organic production. 


2. We Closed Our 10th Investment in 2016… and our 9th… and our 8th…

In October 2016, we closed on Dirt Capital’s 10th property: a 40-acre coastal farm in Waldoboro, ME, in partnership with Allison Lakin and Neal Foley. The investment was made possible in part through sale of the conservation easement at closing to the Maine Farmland Trust, which reduced the farm’s purchase price and will preserve it’s soils and coastline in perpetuity. Renamed East Forty Farm and Dairy, the farm will offer: Allison’s award-winning cheeses (sold as Lakin Gorges all over Maine and elsewhere); pasture-raised meat from animals fed in part with whey that is a byproduct of the cheese making process; wood products crafted by Neal’s custom sawmill business that are harvested from the woodlot on the farm; farm-stays and farm education classes for the local community and seasonal visitors.

In July 2016, we purchased 100 acres in Fort Plain, NY with a young Amish organic dairy farm family, and remain in contract to purchase 202 adjacent acres within 3 years (while the farmer leases it directly during the contract period). The farm produces 100% grass-based organic fluid milk and sells it to Maple Hill Creamery. Milk produced from cows that eat only grass (and are not fed grain – known as zero-grain dairy, or grassmilk) is the fastest growing area of the organic dairy market. Demand for this milk is high from companies like Maple Hill, which therefore pay a premium for it. This investment was our first with an Amish family, our first with Maple Hill Creamery, and our first with a horse-powered farm. The project included a significant investment in infrastructure by Dirt Capital, to help construct a new dairy complex on the farm.

In April 2016, we closed on 156 acres in Bridport, VT, including 105 of cropland and 26 of pasture – all certified organic. The partnership is with dairy farmer Jerry Connor, an exceptional client we partnered with in 2014 to purchase the land he had farmed alongside his father since he was a boy. This expansion helps to secure Jerry’s operation and facilitates his transition planning to a young farmer, with support from Dirt Capital and other partners and advisors. Transition projects like these are a core element of DCP's work. By some estimates more than 70% of the country's private agricultural land will change hands in the next 20 years. The best way to keep farms in production is to transfer existing farm businesses to new farmers. DCP is highly focused on this goal as we learn how to leverage our involvement as a land partner to make these transfers work. 


3. We Welcomed 11 New Investment Partners

On April 1, 2016, Dirt Capital added eleven new investment partners, all of whom share our mission to invest in farmland in support of ecological land management and farmer land access and ownership.


4. Dirt Capital’s participation in studies, conferences, and press mentions 

Farmland Investment Models: Innovative Land Access in New England

Land for Good, a New England based group with field staff in every New England state that supports working farms and farmland, released a study that examines private investment in Vermont farms. Dirt Capital participated in the study and supports its conclusions and recommendations for farmers.

Real Assets and Impact Investing: A Primer for Families

The ImPact is a membership network of families that are committed to making investments with measurable social impact. Their “Real Asset Primer” featured Dirt Capital Partners as an example investment strategy.

Dirt Capital Seeds Financing for Ecological Farms

Our innovative investment model was featured by the Conservation Finance Network on their website and newsletter, and picked up by www.greenbiz.com.

New York Times Food for Tomorrow Conference

Jacob was invited to talk about Dirt Capital’s mission and innovative investment strategy at the NYTimes Food for Tomorrow Conference at the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture, in 2015. His talk showcased Dirt’s partnership with organic dairy farmers Jim and Anne Phillips of Triple 3 Livestock, who exemplify the challenges faced by high-quality farmers with successful businesses in need of long-term land security to grow to the next level.

Vermont Farm to Plate Network 2016 Annual Conference

Benneth joined a panel on farmland investment at the Vermont Farm to Plate 2016 conference to present our work and discuss with other Vermont stakeholders how private capital can work with lands trusts and traditional financing to fill gaps in farmland access and transfer in Vermont and around the region.

Maine Farmland Trust’s Farmland Access Conference

Benneth joined two panels on farmland investment and financing readiness at this one-day conference which brings together farmers, land trusts, and service providers throughout Maine to discuss farmland access for farmers.

Conservation Finance Practitioner Roundtable

Jacob is a member of the conservation finance network and he lends support to field building activities through participation in practitioner meetings several times per year. Facilitated by Island Press and working in close partnership with the USDA-NRCS, this effort was awarded a $487,000 USDA Conservation Innovation Grant in September 2015 to continue working to build the field of conservation finance.

Stone Barns Young Farmers Conference

At the national conference for young farmers held annually at the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture, Benneth led a session for young farmers titled “Farm Business Planning: How to Save 100 Hours” and worked individually with seven farmers during individual consulting sessions.

New York Agricultural Society’s 185th Annual Forum

Benneth spoke as part of a panel titled “Capitalizing the Balance Sheet through Collaboration” at this long-standing event that brings together farmers and others in the agriculture industry from all across New York state.

Williams College Sustainable Investing Symposium

Jacob participated in a Williams Alumni panel title “Healthy Land and Healthy Food” as part of a Two-Day Symposium on Sustainable Investing. 

Cornell Cooperative Extension Association of Essex County

Jacob and Benneth were invited to Westport, NY by Cornell Cooperative Extension of Essex County to discuss Dirt Capital’s farmland investment partnership model with local farmers and farm service providers from eight local counties.

Berkshire-Taconic Community Foundation’s Roundtable on Place Based Investing

Jacob spoke on a panel on local investment in food, part of the Berkshire-Taconic Community Foundation’s Roundtable on Place Based Investing, which was held to help inform their partners and supporters about local impact investment activity in the Berkshire-Taconic region. Joining Jacob on the panel were Martin Ping of Hawthorne Valley, Neil Chrisman and Joel Millonzi of Berkshire Agricultural Ventures, and Nick Martinelli of Marty’s Local.