The "locally grown" movement has one major hitch: many organic farms aren't located all that close to where potential customers actually live.


The Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture (PASA) has an idea to fix that: Find landowners located closer to urban centers who aren't doing much with their land and match them with small farmers, who would lease the properties. Leases can be as small as a quarter acre, which is enough to grow a couple of organic crops, or as large as hundreds of acres.


"We did sort of jokingly refer to it as 'eFarmony,'" PASA's eastern region director Marilyn Anthony told NPR. She is one of several "matchmakers" trying to connect property owners and farmers. Although people on both sides of the equation are often kind of wary of the idea, Anthony says she is trying something akin to speed dating to break the ice. Farmers and landowners can meet each other in an informal setting and see if they'd like to do business.


PASA has launched a website, Farm Lease Connection, to help further facilitate the "dating." The site offers tips for farmers and landowners, as well as a resource blog and a calendar of upcoming events. There is no cost for either side to participate, and the program offers frequent classes and workshops on farming techniques.


One farmer told NPR the land he leased has become a popular destination for city dwellers who drive out each week to pick up fresh produce. Other farmers are still looking for the right land to lease.


PASA is not alone in its connection quest. In New York's Hudson Valley, the Columbia Land Conservancy (CLC) runs a Farmer Landowner Match Program, which as of this spring had made 21 landowner-farmer matches, resulting in more than 1,000 acres of new farms. The CLC also has a list of leasing resources, as well as links to several similar projects throughout the Northeast.


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