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Growing a Legacy

Ryan and Tiffany Batalden

Ryan and Tiffany Batalden are being honored as a Future of American Agriculture Champions of Change.

It is an honor for us to be selected White House Future of American Agriculture Champions of Change. It is particularly appropriate that the White House is recognizing people out in the countryside who are thinking long and hard about the "future of American agriculture." There are many of us who see great opportunities in agriculture, but also recognize some of the significant barriers beginning farmers face if they are to get established successfully on the land.

Overcoming these barriers will require recognition on the part of all of us that diverse family farms play a key role in the economic, environmental and even social health of our communities.  On our farm here in Southwestern Minnesota, we constantly ask the question, "What will be your farm’s legacy?" We often think of our legacy as related to our farm's financial success. Our legacy will show how we were able to weather hard times -- floods, droughts, bad weather, low prices, pests, weeds, changes in production methods, and other enormous challenges. Our legacy will show that not only did our farm survive, it prospered. Maybe it even grew in numbers of acres or livestock.

These are all important parts of our legacies. But what is our legacy in relation to our community? What is our legacy in relation to all of those pieces of our community that make it the place we love, and make it what it is? What is the legacy we leave for those who wish to move to or live in our area? What is the legacy we want to leave for the next generation of farmers?

We were able to farm for two simple reasons. Reason number one: our family supported us. However, the family farm was not big enough to support two families, so we had to find land to rent. And so the other reason we were able to farm was because of three landowners who valued helping a young farmer as much as they valued getting "top dollar." In return, we have treated their land with the care and respect we would as if we owned it. Because of this, and because we raise crops for specialty markets, these landowners have been rewarded financially as well.

This is just one small example of landowners letting their values guide their decision making, and benefitting a beginning farm family in the process. When land changes hands, is it done in a way that reflects a community's values? Without creative transition solutions, where will the next generation of farmers worship, shop, and send their kids to school? Will your neighbor's farm become a home for a new family of entrepreneurs, or simply one more field to till for a larger operation in the area? What are some ways we can show our values and ensure our legacy -- not just financially, but also in other ways -- when we transition our farm to the next generation?

Such questions can be hard to answer. However, as groups like the Land Stewardship Project have been able to show, there is a growing number of creative ways that retiring farmers have found to transition their land in ways that ensure that their farm's financial, family, and community legacy is preserved. If we look hard enough, we can all find ways to ensure our legacies in ways that truly reflect our values.

Ryan and Tiffany Batalden are fifth generation beginning farmers in Cottonwood County, Minnesota. Ryan serves on the Land Stewardship Project's Land Access Committee.