FSA Farm Loan Update: Complete Application!

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It’s been 54 days today since I dropped off the bulk of my FSA farm loan application with the Somerset County branch of the USDA’s Farm Service Agency. Surprisingly enough, things continue to progress in the direction of ownership of the Swinging Bridge Farm for Runamuk.

sbf the house

The Swinging Bridge Farm was constructed in 1880 and sits on 150 acres in New Portland, Maine!

The Story So Far:

At first I was afraid to hope. I was afraid to imagine myself at that picture-book little farm for fear I would once again come up short. I gave considerable thought to what I will do if the FSA does not approve my loan request. After struggling for years to gain ground with bees and farming I contemplated whether the hardships and sacrifices are truly worth it. I thought long and hard about my life’s ambitions, my needs and the needs of my children.

Introducing Nathan at the Penobscot County FSA!

Due to the volume of applications currently under review at the Somerset branch, my file was sent to the Penobscot County office. There it is being handled by Nathan Persinger who is new to Maine and it’s burgeoning small farm movement. Originally Nathan hails from Kansas (if I remember correctly), where he worked primarily with large-scale farmers growing commodity crops. Nathan has been excellent to work with. He’s been polite and respectful, has kept me in the loop, further explaining the intricacies of the FSA’s process as we go. He’s really been an advocate for me and my farm operation.

It wasn’t until Nathan told me that my business plan was the best he’d ever seen that I began to allow myself to believe that this might all work out. He said that he believed in my project and  he was going to do everything he could to help me get my farm. Still it was hard to fathom success after so many failures.

Then Nathan sent along his Farm Assessment for me to review. This is a narrative of sorts, developed by the FSA agent handling the case, which accompanies my loan application to the State Office. I read the part at the end about how he is recommending my plan for approval and my heart just soared!

It’s not mine yet.

fsa farm loan update

Counting the days til she’s mine!

Remember, we’re still at the regional level. The entire application with the encyclopedia of supporting documentation has yet to go to the State Office for intense scrutiny. The whole thing reminds me somewhat of high school sports lol. You compete on different levels to win the State Championship for title and trophy: first the team competes on a local level, then  regionally, and finally─if you’ve practiced long and hard, and if you’re good enough, determined enough─you compete at the State Championship for the win. Thankfully this is not the Superbowl and I don’t need to go on to a National level.

Before my application can go on to the State Office, there is an environmental assessment and an appraisal of the prospective farm property that need to be done. The FSA performs an environmental assessment largely to ensure that the proposed farming operation will not cause a threat to the surrounding environment. Nathan has to go to the Swinging Bridge Farm and perform an inspection so that he can write up a report. The appraisal is done to ensure that the government is not paying more than what the property is actually worth.

Note: Check out this pdf provided by the USDA to read more about the FSA’s Environmental Compliance requirements, and this one to learn about the whys and hows of the FSA’s Real Estate Appraisal.

The Swinging Bridge Farm Gets Registered With the USDA

In order for the Environmental Assessment to be done, the Swinging Bridge Farm first had to be listed with the USDA. This designates the property boundaries, the types of agriculture happening there, and makes the property eligible to receive services from not only the USDA and the FSA, but also the NRCS.

If you’re a beginning farmer and you’re lucky enough to own your own property, or even if you’re managing property for someone else, it’s worth it to go down to your county USDA office to register your farm and learn what programs your land might be able to take advantage of. It’s a very simple process and the folks at the USDA office are super nice. I’ve done it twice before: once for the land I owned with my ex-husband, and then as farm manager for Jim Murphy’s farm in Starks.

3 Cheers for Mrs. Fletcher!

Let me take this moment to recognize Mrs. Fletcher, the 70-something year old woman who inherited the responsibility of caring for the Swinging Bridge Farm when her husband passed away a few years back. She had multiple offers for the property and did not have to accept mine. We are strangers who have never even met; for all intents and purposes, we live in different worlds. She was under no obligation to work with this wayward farmer from backwoods Maine on a sale that could take the better part of a year at worst, and 5 or 6 months at best to close.  But something about my story, my plans for a pollinator conservation farm, or my passion for taking care of the land struck a chord within her.

Whatever her reasons, I am overflowing with gratitude. None of this would be even remotely possible if we did not have that Sale Contract.

Mrs. Fletcher made up her mind that day on September 14th and she has not wavered since. If the FSA requests documentation from her she is quick to provide, and so this elderly lady took herself half an hour from her home in Kennebunk, to the Scarborough branch of the USDA and registered the Swinging Bridge Farm with the government. It looks like the Environmental Assessment will be scheduled for the week following Thanksgiving, which is good because once we have snow on the ground they can’t do the assessment until next spring, according to Nathan.

A Complete Application

I received word 13 days ago of my Complete FSA Farm Loan Application (officially), though I’m still waiting for my Letter of Eligibility. Nathan has really been pushing my case through, and progress is being made, so I am happy to wait patiently. The pieces continue to line up and where there once was no hope at all, there is now the glimmer of promise. I have allowed myself the pleasure of dreaming, and rather than worrying “What if it doesn’t work out?”, I am instead saying “What if it does???”

Once Nathan has my Letter of Eligibility done, the Environmental Assessment and the Appraisal completed, I believe my application can finally go off to the State Office. There my business plan and my financials will be reviewed and funding will either be approved or denied based on the financial feasibility of it all.

In my mind there is a flurry of questions and concerns. Where is the State Office? Who will be working on my case? Will they agree with Nathan regarding the feasibility of my painstakingly crafted farm-plan? Have I put in enough work? Did I do enough? Am I enough? Is it my turn?

We shall see… Stay tuned!

Share your thoughts, comments or questions!