Full Circus Farm

Miriam Golar and Mark Stonehill at Full Circus Farm in Pine Plains, New York.

Miriam Golar and Mark Stonehill started Full Circus Farm in Pine Plains, New York, in 2014. Now in their fourth year of operation the couple leases 20 acres, rotating crops for their 50-member CSA and growing some fruit tree nursery stock. Their story shows how the Farmer-Landowner Match Program works well for farmers who have a developed business plan and work to establish a secure lease.

Miriam and Mark joined Match Program after years of studying agriculture in college and becoming involved in urban farming and food justice. After apprenticing on farms in Maine for several seasons, they committed to becoming full-time farmers and completed the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association Journeyperson Program. As part of this program they grew organic vegetables on a horse-powered farm and developed a clear vision for what their own operation could look like, but they were left wondering where they should set up shop.

They enjoyed living in Maine but hoped to be closer to their families in New York City. For several reasons, the Hudson Valley seemed like a good fit, but land prices put land ownership out of reach. They considered applying for several farm manager positions. However, in the end they wanted their own business.

They joined the Match Program in December of 2013, and on an extended visit back to New York in January came up with a long list of landowners to contact. After initial conversations, Mark and Miriam met with four or five landowners at their properties and met the Garons and found the land they would eventually lease.

Over the next seven months, the farmers and landowners hammered out the many details for their lease. Relying on lawyers and assistance from CLC staff, the two parties came up with an arrangement that afforded Full Circus Farm housing and security to invest in their business while also protecting the landowners’ interests.

They signed a five-year lease that re-certifies every three years which ensures the farmers will always have two years’ lead time if they must relocate and the apartment on the property is leased to them at a nominal rate as long as they maintain their farm lease. They shared the cost of improvements, such as installing hoop houses and a cooler, where the Garons bought the materials and then Mark and Miriam put in the labor.

This example shows what is possible when prepared farmers meet landowners who are interested in farmers actively working the land.

Miriam suggests that other farmers considering similar leases learn from their experience; have a clear sense of your goals when you reach out to landowners and spend time getting to know the landowners before signing a lease. Even when both parties want the same outcome, finding a balance between the two interests can be tricky. The months they spent preparing their lease have been worth it.

As for settling into the Hudson Valley, Miriam is very happy with their decision. She says, "The farming community has been so helpful and welcoming and generous, especially early on when we really needed help.”

 

Miriam Golar, Full Circus Farm