Regional Navigators Collaborate to Improve Capacity and Equity in Land Access Work

Kathleen, Diane, and Allison

Buffalo Go Green and Cornell Cooperative Extension Erie County (CCE Erie) are taking a collaborative approach to the Regional Navigator role this year. The two organizations have crossed paths many times over the years as they both work toward a robust, accessible, and just local food system in Buffalo and greater Erie County, but this will be their first collaboration through Farmland for a New Generation New York. When discussing this collaboration in their Regional Navigator proposal, Buffalo Go Green and CCE Erie wrote:  

“Both organizations recognize that land is the foundation of our food system and having access to it makes agriculture and food security possible. We also recognize that access to land is not equitable. Pooling our knowledge, skills, and expertise to address land access and transfer will energize our work, bring new perspectives, enhance problem solving, and grow the network of farmers and landowners we can reach, all of which will add a bit of equity to the production end of the food system”. 

Allison DeHonney started Buffalo Go Green and left her corporate job seven years ago. “The only thing I wanted to do was grow some vegetables and get them out into the neighborhood," Allison says. “Once I realized the level of food insecurity and lack of access, things just started to grow and I had to make a decision – whether I was going to keep my job or leave… So I made a decision, and we started an urban farm.” Today, Buffalo Go Green provides services and training to under-served populations throughout Western New York while helping to develop young minds to become leaders in Green Industries, Food Systems Work and Agriculture. They achieve this through the urban farm, a mobile produce market, a fruit and vegetable prescription program, and a healthy meal option that was developed in response to COVID. Allison also does advocacy and policy work with Black Farmers United, Black Farmer Fund, the Food Policy Council, Farm Bureau, and the Erie County Soil and Water Conservation Board.  

Cornell Cooperative Extension Erie County has worked in the region for more than 100 years providing educational programming and technical assistance to support local agriculture. In recent years, farmland access and transfer have become key focus areas for such support. CCE Erie Agriculture Educator Kathleen McCormick comes from a long line of Iowa corn farmers and Wyoming cattle ranchers and developed a passion for land protection growing up in Southern California.  Her work at a land trust and personal growing experience as a Master Gardener led Kathleen to Cornell Cooperative Extension Erie County. Kathleen says, “I’m easing towards retirement and really the most important thing right now is doing work that’s meaningful. And this work is meaningful to me.” 

Both organizations see farmland affordability as one of the biggest barriers to entry for beginning farmers and land ownership as an important step for building equity through farmland access. Diane Held, Executive Director of CCE Erie, says “we talk a lot about leasing - it's a way to address affordability, but Allison is spot on when she says you're not building equity [through leasing]. I believe that you’re not addressing issues in our history around land ownership and land that's been taken from BIPOC people in this country… if you’re not focused on ownership.”

The organizations collaboratively developed two recent workshops with this framework in mind. The first, titled “Show Me the Money” brought in a panel of lenders for a Q&A with farm seekers to prepare them to meet with lenders and determine whether a lender can meet their needs. The second, titled “Western New York Collaborative Farming” brought together two farmers who are collaborating to build a meat processing facility, someone from Cooperation Buffalo, an organization that helps people start worker-owned cooperatives, and Ian McSweeney of Agrarian Trust for presentations and interactive discussion about how cooperative models could be implemented in Western New York. When speaking of the value in collaborating with Buffalo Go Green, Kathleen said “I think we had a better workshop because of our collaboration. Having multiple perspectives helps us cover topics more fully.”  

In addition to these workshops and other outreach efforts, Buffalo Go Green and CCE Erie are also working with individuals and families one-on-one. They are currently combining expertise to work with a landowner who wants to make their land available and accessible to a BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of color) farmer, and with farm families who are making plans for succession.  

Learn more about and contact CCE Erie on the 'Find Support' page! 

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