OMAHA (DTN) -- Hidden Falls LLC of Decorah, Iowa, was founded on a mission to create land access for beginning farmers while protecting ecologically sensitive land. The group was recently recognized for those efforts with the Practical Farmers of Iowa's 2023 Farmland Owner Legacy Award.
In 2014, Hidden Falls LLC, comprising 16 households, purchased 22 acres of cropland near Decorah to prevent the land from going to auction. Together, they developed a democratic, cooperative structure within an LLC where one share equaled a half-acre of land and one vote in their decision-making process.
During the next eight years, Hidden Falls worked to transfer shares of the LLC to beginning farmer Hannah Breckbill, believing her diversified farm, Humble Hands Harvest, to be the best use of land. They leased the land to her until she could purchase the remaining shares. Breckbill was among the founding members of the LLC who saw the opportunity as a chance to finally own land, starting with an initial 8 acres.
"Once it became clear that I could take it on as a whole, that was the direction we were headed," Breckbill said in an interview with DTN. "Many of the (LLC) members started selling shares to me -- some at a discounted rate -- and I was able to prove my seriousness. They wanted to protect the land and were excited to support a diversified farm."
As of December 2022, Breckbill, along with Humble Hands Harvest partner Emily Fagan, now owns the full 22 acres of land, which resulted in the dissolvement of Hidden Falls LLC and success of its end goal: to preserve the land for a diverse, community-enhancing farm.
Humble Hands Harvest is a diversified vegetable farm that markets through the Decorah Farmers Market, local restaurants and Iowa Food Hub, a nonprofit organization that works to connect farmers, families and food grown close to home. While vegetables are the farm's primary source of income, they also have a flock of sheep and grow perennials that include chestnuts, apples, asparagus and oak trees.
"As a beginning farmer, I never expected to own land," Breckbill said. "I saw the prices and thought, 'There's no way I can do this.' It's really cool that Hidden Falls LLC is willing to make decisions for the benefit of the land rather than the benefit of their pocketbooks."
In addition to Breckbill, members of Hidden Falls LLC include Janet Alexander, Pat Brockett, Barb Dale, Jim Dale, Deb Edwards, Rick Edwards, Julie Fischer, Rob Fischer, George Hagen, Joann Hagen, Louise Hagen, Eric Johnson, Pat Johnson, Paul Johnson, Chris Kelly, Lara Martinsen-Burrell, Neil Martinsen-Burrell, Elsa McCargar, Hannah McCargar, Steve McCargar, Kathryn Preston, David Sliwa, Perry-O Sliwa and Heidi Swets.
The Farmland Owner Legacy Award, which Hidden Falls LLC, was presented on Sept. 10, is granted annually by Practical Farmers to landowners who use their land to help the next generation get started, advance land stewardship and promote long-term sustainability of farm businesses, environmental quality and rural communities. With this award, Practical Farmers calls attention to the important role non-operator farmland owners can play in the future success of sustainable agriculture.
Past recipients of the award include Jefferson, Iowa, landowner Chris Henning in 2022 for collaborative partnership with her farmland tenant on management, cover crop practices, the use of precision agriculture principles to enhance productivity and soil health; and Rose and Mike Roelf of Iowa City in 2021 for purchasing 45 acres of land and creating land access by hosting two beginning farm businesses.
Susan Payne can be reached at email@example.com
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