PLENTY FALL 2019 Fall Plenty 2019-web | Page 15

As soon as I touch the soil, I am energized. I am ready to take on the next task. ~ Tanya Spandhla A fter hearing again and again from a growing number of es- tablished and aspiring farmers that the single greatest chal- lenge to farming in Montgomery County is the lack of access to affordable acreage, Montgomery Countryside Al- liance (MCA) began exploring ways our nonprofit might help. Luckily, local producer, Vermont trans- plant and MCA board member Shannon Varley had previous experience with a program called New England Land Link. Its premise was pretty simple: create a user-friendly online platform for landown- ers willing to lease/ lend farmable acreage to con- nect with farmers searching for land. In 2011 Land Link Montgomery was launched, and with the steady administration of MCA staffer Kristina Bostick, the program has successfully con- nected farmers to land on over 450 acres in the County. And while the program’s concept seems fairly simple, as things generally go, the details can be less so. Kristina helped Tanya connect with a physician’s small acreage in Olney. The match worked very well until the hungry local geese and deer population began devouring more than their fair share of her produce. The best solution for Tanya was to relocate on another farm. Ultimately, she was paired with Edgewood, the Becker family farm in the Laytonsville area. It was 2015 and Tanya’s Passion to Seed Farm was born. Helping farmers like Tanya Spandhla has been deeply satisfying. The success of the program is more than the numbers of acres linked or the dollars earned by each farmer, though those are central goals. The initiative attracts farmers to the County who have ultimately launched or expanded busi- nesses but also, importantly, have strengthened our rural community. New producers bring new ideas, products and energy. Tanya, for example, grows specialty crops from Africa that are sought after not only from members of the local immigrant com- munity but also by the growing diverse tastes of re- gional palettes. Kiwano, or horned melon, pumpkin leaves and a corn cultivar are Tanya’s cash crops and she cannot grow enough to meet the desire. She has also signed up to supply produce to Manna’s Com- munity Food Rescue program which connects farm, restaurant, and store overages to communities in need. And, remarkably, Tanya actively serves on both Montgomery County Food Council and Montgomery Countryside Alliance boards. We want to keep the land in farming. ~ Frances Becker This past March, just about five years after their match, Tanya, father and daughter John and Fran- ces Becker, and I met to talk about how the program was working for them. Greeted amiably by Vivian the cat, we sat together in the parlor of the historic 1780 farmhouse. The longevity of the place, carefully preserved but joyfully lived in, spoke to the family’s mission. I had questions. Had the program fulfilled expectations? Did they have advice for others? Frances, ninth generation on the farm, was quick to note that she really had no expectation other that she wanted the farm to continue to farm. The larger portions of the 180-plus acre farm have been leased for years to commodity producer Drew Stabler. There was good land, two flat acres adjacent to the Tanya, father and daughter John and Frances Becker with Vivian the cat. plenty I autumn harvest 2019 15