Applying the Integrated Strategy: Part 3 – Capacity

In Strategic Planning by Lisa Selzler

This series of posts provides an overview of how A New Integrated Strategy for Success and Sustainability: The Impact Model applies to the unique issues and challenges of land trusts engaged in working lands conservation. In this post, we will look at how the third core component, capacity, applies to these land trusts. The first post explores identity and the second post, constituents.


A land trust’s business model defines how it attracts and deploys resources and capacity to achieve impact. Supporting agricultural working lands often requires updating or adapting various aspects of your capacity (structures, systems, programming, etc.) to meet the unique needs of farm businesses and those who support your farmland preservation efforts. In some cases, the adaptations needed may be extensive and require a reinvention of the overall business model!

As one land trust employee put it:

“We were working hard to protect the region’s farmland but realized that without a new generation of farmers and stronger local food systems, there would be no one to work the land, protected or not.”

Noelle Ferdon, Director of Local Food Systems, Northern California Regional Land Trust

Expanding focus from preservation to include viability of the farm and the farmer is a dramatic change. Farm viability often requires more than just land access. Supporting viability may require efforts to keep farmland affordable (e.g. Vermont Land Trust), working to help ensure market access (e.g. Mount Grace Land Trust in Maine), and even providing training and technical support for beginning farmers. To address these needs, some land trusts have made the strategic choice to adjust their programs to include “wrap-around services” for promoting farm viability and farmer development.

In additional, agricultural working lands are increasingly being used as tools to engage the growing “farm to table” and “foodie” markets in urban areas. Because the impact and success of connecting with these markets varies regionally, land trusts are looking to new fundraising and friend-raising events that connect value-aligned consumers with the land. Programs that include farm dinners, community-supported agriculture, and agritourism can serve this purpose, but often require shifts in an organization’s systems and structures in order to be effectively implemented. For example, some organizations are surprised by the additional insurance costs and potential risks associated with increased on-farm traffic and yet those who do not budget for these expenses before undertaking new programs may find themselves in the difficult position of accepting unexpected risks and expenses, or letting down their constituents.

Keys to Building Successful Capacity:

  • Consider developing additional programs to support farm viability that extend past land access
  • Thoughtfully adapt programs and outreach strategies to engage and retain new markets while balancing traditional markets and core organizational strengths
  • Fully evaluate direct and indirect costs (and revenues) before adding new programs

For all land trusts and related organizations, success and sustainability require the alignment of identity, constituents, and capacity. Organizations that have agricultural working lands face the additional challenge of balancing conservation and business needs in a complex industry. Thus, the careful and thoughtful alignment of identity, constituents, and capacity is even more critical to achieving and sustaining impact.