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When you think of food, do you think about land? In our research with small scale farmers in the California Central Coast, we have come to see how the structures of who owns and operates land dictates how food is grown in the agricultural system.

For alternative agriculture proponents, the present moment appears a great opportunity to support beginning farmers with an environmental ethic, meeting the rising demand for food grown with an eye towards social and environmental justice. At the national level 91.5 million acres of farmland are expected to transfer ownership in the next five years. These acres (10% of all farmland) could be taken over by farmers who emerge from horticultural and business training programs ready to implement environmentally sustainable methods.

But getting farmers onto the land is much more complicated than this supply and demand equation of farmland change and the creation of new farmers. Indeed, barriers to land access is frequently cited as the most pressing problem for new entry farmers. Without ready access, farmers may relinquish pursuit of agriculture, or even if they do obtain a lease for a small plot of land, the owner-tenant dynamics reduces their autonomy to make long term decisions, and threatens their economic viability. In other words, for the beginning farmer movement to become more holistic, the political and structural aspects of land access must be considered and addressed.

Introducing the Farmland Monitoring Project , a research and extension platform to bring issues of land access for small scale farmers to the fore. It is designed for individual farmers who are searching for farmland that matches their production vision and for small farm support organizations who can use the tool in their agricultural campaigns or one-on-one farmer consultations. This tool relies on information submitted by farmers and land owners to monitor farmland availability, and match available parcels with beginning farmers. The tool also aggregates and distributes publicly available records about land ownership so that farmers, land owners, and farmer advocates can assess the shape of farmland ownership in their regions.

The tool has just been released and is in its early stages. The development team is readily looking for feedback and comments about the tool’s design, direction, and potential impacts. Here is an overview of the Farmland Monitoring Project.

The Map Application reveals ownership information of all parcels in the California Central Coast, and allows anyone to submit more detailed information about farmland with a mobile phone or a computer.

The Mapbook page is a series of map stories that look at data related to agriculture including a map detailing the hotspots for pesticide application, the existing agricultural easements in the region, and an estimate of the top 20 corporate owners of farmland in the Central Coast.

The About page shares some more detailed background about land access for small scale scale farmers.

The Blog is a space for contributions on land access as well as details about how the tools were built and the decision making behind each step of the process.

Anyone can Submit data about farmland to the application. The application accepts submissions that detail an existing ranch or describe a piece of available land The submission tool can work on an offline across browsers and on mobile or desktop.

Finally, the Contact page is a great way to connect with the Farmland Monitoring Project, give feedback or a request a feature.