Transition planning means talking about farm’s future
(Editor’s note: Neith Little is a University of Maryland Extension agent for urban agriculture in Baltimore.)
Transition planning, also called succession planning or estate planning, means having proactive conversations about whether and how your farm has a future beyond you.
For a community urban farm, transition planning might include:
• Working to improve the common problems of burnout and high turnover among not-for-profit farm managers and leading volunteers;
• Identifying and training future leaders;
• Building consensus among community members about the value and purpose of the farm in that community;
• Establishing a not-for-profit organization that can be responsible for the farm long-term; and
• Finding ways to protect the land as green space through re-zoning, purchase, or a land trust
For a for-profit urban agriculture business — whether a back-yard market garden, a high-tech indoor growing operation, or an independent garden center — transition planning might include:
• Evaluating whether the business has the potential to continue beyond the management of the current owner;
• Brainstorming what the current owner would see as a positive outcome (scaling down, selling the business to fund retirement, getting bought out by a larger company, seeing the business continue under new management);
• Quantifying the net worth of the business;
• Talking with the people with an interest in the business (heirs, partners, long-time employees, investors, community members) about what their expectations and hopes are for the future of the business;
• If operating as a sole proprietorship, considering other business structures that might better facilitate transferring the business to new owners;
• Figuring out how the business fits into the owner’s will; and
• Learning about state and federal estate taxes.
All types of farms will need to do three things:
• Clarify goals. What is the main purpose of the farm currently? For what purpose does it need to continue beyond current management?
• Make good recordkeeping routine. This kind of planning will pay off even in the short-term, if the farm manager has an emergency and needs to ask for help temporarily; and
• Seek help from an attorney and an accountant.