Our *distanced* Annual Meeting took place over Facetime this year, but we were still able to accomplish all of our annual work (approve financials, sign paperwork, review maintenance work, discuss larger projects). We also decided to post-pone making a By-laws change that was meant to resolve something that had come up in one of our 2020 quarterly check-in meetings. We all felt that the matter had been successfully dealt with since then and may not need a specific by-law entry to resolve any future needs.
We established that a new well would be scheduled for drilling this spring and agreed upon a rough location that would be far enough from the septic field, but close enough to the house for hooking into the existing plumbing. We also resolved to pursue selling our beloved 1949 Ford 8N tractor which, now that the newer and larger Kubota was on the scene, had lost it’s value to the WFC. Rather than let it gather dust, we agreed that it could be passed along to a new caretaker after a thorough tune up. We will discuss the appropriate use of those proceeds once the sale is made.
We learned about several big plans for the farm from our farm-partners at this year’s meeting, besides doing the financials, signed documents, and general review of maintenance projects completed/planned. First, they had researched how/whether to classify the property as farmland for property tax purposes. There was talk about a new well and/or well pump to satisfy the increasing water needs during the hottest months of the year, especially as they plan to add their FOURTH production high tunnel. And they will be investigating the best way to better insulate the old farmhouse. Some of these projects will plan to be launched in 2020, while others may become longer term projects. In general, however, Alison and I were very positive about all the proposals.
However, the biggest news of the previous year was really just a recap of a project that came up during one of our quarterly check-in meetings earlier in the year: we decided, together, that the WFC would sell the Airstream camp trailer that had been used to house farm apprentices, guests, and briefly as an AirBnB income producer for the WFC. We would also sell the Kubota B1700 diesel tractor and bucket loader that had been a workhorse for the Rector’s, and then for our farm partners. Then the WFC would use the proceeds to purchase a new (or ‘new-ish’) tractor with a slightly bigger frame and engine (we settled on the Kubota B2300 series and companion bucket). After hashing through how the financials would work, and then dividing up the research and sales responsibilities, we were able to accomplish all of that, PLUS we had enough income left over from the sales of both pieces of equipment to purchase a new rechargable electric powered ride-on grass mower! It was kind of amazing how well the plan worked out, including seeing the excitement of the new owner of the Airstream and hearing about his plans for it.
This year’s Annual Meeting was very straight-forward from our end; a review of work done / not done in 2018, then a work list for the upcoming year; approved the 2018 financials so they can be sent to our accountant for tax preparations; signing ancillary support documents; and some general discussion about long term plans/goals for infrastructure.
The Annual Meeting was held in February this year, and it began with approval of the minutes of the previous member meeting, a review of the agenda, and then the LLC finanical reports. The group discussed the logistics of adding N&J on as signatories of the LLC’s bank account, and a date was scheduled to accomplish that task. Other financial housekeeping items were also discussed.
The 2017 list of proposed repair and maintenance projects, as well as new items that had been added mid-year were assessed, completed projects crossed off, and incomplete projects were re-prioritized. Then all members discussed adding new items onto the list for 2018 and prioritizing them.
Significantly the members agreed to amend the By-Laws to include a whereby “sunk costs” independently paid for by only one member would be reimbursed by the LLC if member chose to sell their shares. A motion was made regarding agreed upon language, and the members voted to amend the By-Laws.
A new lease agreement for the Farmhouse and the Barn was distributed, reviewed, discussed, and signed by all members.
Eric and Alison proposed initiating scheduled “Quarterly Check-in” meetings when members agreed to informally meet to discuss various on-going LLC business. If any business required an official LLC meeting to be held the members would arrange for that according to the By-Laws. Otherwise it was felt that the LLC business process would flow better and members might feel more informed and have a voice in that business outside of the required Annual Meeting. The group agreed to begin these check-ins.
With no additional business to discuss the meeting was adjourned.
Here is the latest update from the Bangor Daily News on the lives of the farmers we are working with.
In other news we have moved through a hot and dry summer together and everything seems to be proceeding in good order: we “filled in” for the farmers when they spent two nights away from the farm; we harvested our one long row (80′) of garlic beside the many long rows that the farmers had planted last fall; we helped them process 55 chickens (slaughter, pluck, gut, and freeze), most of which had been raised in the existing chicken tractors, in early August for our and their personal use; we have both admired the bumper crop of pears and apples that are developing in the orchard, and I am looking forward to making a good bit of hard cider this fall; they helped us move the Airstream, which had been sitting up buy our new house, down to it’s “final” resting spot between the raspberry patch and a few of the apple trees.
One of our biggest accomplishments was solving an issue with the 1948 Ford 8N tractor that had kept it from being in regular use (we still have a compact diesel Kubota doing the rest of the machine work). It would run well for the first ten or fifteen minutes, but then the engine would begin to choke and cut-off. If we waited a few minutes and then restarted the engine we could work for one or two minutes more before it would sputter and cut-off again. This was going to be a problem because I was counting on using the 8N for all the brush hogging around the shared fields, as well as my own fields, and losing the 8N would mean tight scheduling of the Kubota for mowing and all the other needs, especially as the farmers are interested in expanding their tilled working space. I had reserved a time for my ‘tractor guy’ to make a site visit and start tearing apart the governor to look for the issue, but he suggested, before he arrive, that we try putting a makeshift heat shield between the fuel filter and the engine block just to rule out vapor lock. And wouldn’t you know, one sheet of aluminum foil later, I was up and mowing with the 8N for hours at a time after that with no issues.
Our tenants’s story has attracted the attention of a local reporter, and the first in (what is hoped to be) a series of reports (including a video) on their progress of building their farm can now be found at the Bangor Daily News web site. It came out in the weekend paper today.
The reporter, Gabor Degre, is a photographer for the paper as well as a reporter and is focused on using video to tell the story. He had been intrigued by the growth of small farms started by young people in this area of Maine, and he found out about our tenants just as he was looking for someone to profile that might help describe this latest “back to the land” movement. As part of his reporting, Gabor has visited the farm multiple times and interview us as well.
Our first annual meeting of the Windswept Farmstead Cooperative, LLC took place in front of a roaring masonry heater in the Farmhouse on a blustery March evening ahead of sharing a dinner. Following are the items discussed and/or decided upon for the upcoming year. Attending were the current tenants and current members.
We reviewed several areas that were in need of repair, as well as improvements that the tenants would like to make (and pay for as allowed for in our LLC Agreement) and sought the Consent of Members for them. The tenants are planning a big event in the fall of 2015 and there was some discussion about the timeline and use of sub-assets for that event.
In addition there were some areas where the tenants wanted instruction, and we all discussed the best way for them to learn about these areas, either from one of the LLC members, or from a recommended outside source.
I can describe the specifics about how we went about forming our Farmstead Cooperative and then separately worked out a method that would allow some folks to become members of that FC. Our “one way” is probably unique to our collective situation (and therefore one of many ways to do it). The specifics described here are likely unique to our group. Another group may decide to organize in a different manner, as they should, according to their own collective requirements and goals.
Transferring access to farm land (partially or completely) using a Farmstead Cooperative is not easy. In fact when compared to a cash sale, mortgage sale, or lease agreement it’s probably the most difficult method for a seller to use. Significantly, while it allows for shared access to land, it also demands shared responsibility for that land as long as one remains an equity member of any fraction.
The Farmstead Cooperative idea became the only way I could achieve our goals of keeping our farm agriculturally viable into the future, and offering a new farmer fair equity when they worked to maintain and improve the land. As we began the formal process of creating an “entity” under which we could organize the idea of a working Farmstead Cooperative, I sent a letter to the lawyer that we had chosen to work with on the transfer paperwork. He immediately dubbed it “The Manifesto.”
The letter reworked the outline we had sent to a lawyer friend who helped us find a Maine lawyer who specialized in land use issues. I used the letter to organize and clarify the ideas I had been thinking about around this effort, and to help me communicate to the lawyer what we wanted to create.
My wife and I moved to mid-coast Maine from Boston in 1990. We both had grown up in the suburbs, and we both had lived an urban life after college. We enjoyed the Big City, but we wondered what was out there beyond the last street light. Mostly I wondered — having worked in many food services positions (cook, waiter, bakery manager) through high school, college, and post-college — where did the ingredients prepared and consumed come from before they were hauled through the service entrance in boxes, big bags, and tubs? I thought, “surely we could spend a year investigating that mystery and then return to Boston with wisdom and experience well beyond our peers?”