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There's a crop of new farmers springing up in the U.S. They're looking to farm organically and maybe drive their produce into an urban farmers market on the weekend. But there's a big obstacle in their way: the high price of land within range of many cities. Emma Jacobs of member station WHYY reports on one program around Philadelphia that's trying to help.

EMMA JACOBS, BYLINE: Marilyn Anthony is the yenta of the farmers of southeastern Pennsylvania. Anthony works for the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture, helping new growers find land.

MARILYN ANTHONY: When we started this program, we did sort of jokingly refer to it as eFarmony.

JACOBS: She's trying to make matches between these two groups: landowners outside Philadelphia with people who want to farm. And in this case, the match would take the form of a lease.

ANTHONY: No matter who we spoke with, whether it was aspiring farmers or landowners, the notion of leasing land, however, seemed uncomfortable.

JACOBS: Leasing is common for big fields of corn or soybeans, but a little veggie farmer wants to be closer to town and set down roots. Still, leasing is the most affordable solution for wannabe farmers like Wendy Tyson and Ben Pickarski. Right now, they grow produce on their standard suburban lot.

BEN PICKARSKI: You know, house with trimmed lawn, house with trimmed lawn, house with trimmed lawn, house with great trellises and vegetables all over the place.

JACOBS: They want to make the transition to farming full time, and for that, they're going to need more space. And buying is out.

WENDY TYSON: In our area, just finding it would be difficult enough. And then you're probably looking at - I don't even know. I mean, the price is just outrageously high.

PICKARSKI: Yeah. If anybody's selling a big enough piece of property to be used for farming, the only thing they have in their mind is, you know, where are you going to put the road and how many houses are you going to put on it?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: So given the time...

JACOBS: So here they are on a farm 50 minutes outside Philadelphia to see a lease in action. It's a speed-dating event for farmers and landowners and a tour of a successful farm on rented land. The farmers are Chris and TJ Costa.

TJ COSTA: One thing for everybody involved here, it is a little chilly, you know, brisk, and that is definitely part of farming. Sometimes we hear like, oh, yeah, the weather is part of it. But, no, the weather is really part of it.


JACOBS: TJ Costa says they did their own search for space two years ago to expand what was, at that point, a giant organic vegetable garden.

COSTA: Originally, we drafted a letter that we were going to drop in mailboxes. So there's a number of big open fields that, you know, driving around just didn't look well utilized. And, hey, let's drop a, you know, note in, say, here's who we are. Here's what we're looking for. Would you be interested?

JACOBS: The phone never rang. Eventually, they would meet their partners in this farm through the sustainable agriculture program. They formed a CSA, where their customers buy a share of the produce and visit every week to pick it up and just to get a little taste of farm life.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: What kind of chickens are these? I forget.

COSTA: They're...

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: Hey, little girl. You want to come and say hi, huh?


JACOBS: The new farmers say leasing this land has let them grow their farm and that loyal community.

COSTA: You know, sort of no matter what happens and no matter what the weather is, and for us, that's a really huge avenue for support and encouragement and excitement. And so it does really make the hard work worth it.

JACOBS: Other farmers out here are still looking. Got some space you're not using? Give them a call. For NPR News, I'm Emma Jacobs in Philadelphia.



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