Agrarian Trust is addressing the realities of farmland owner demographics, wealth disparities, farm viability, and all who are excluded and marginalized from land and food by holding farmland in community-centered commons and providing long-term, equitable land access for next generation farmers and ranchers. We also empower other models of community land ownership through the Commons Alliance and FaithLands initiatives.
How did Agrarian Trust start?
Initially launched as a project of the Schumacher Center for a New Economics, Agrarian Trust was initiated in January 2013 by a group of stakeholders in sustainable agriculture, many of them farmer service providers and beginning farmers who have witnessed firsthand the formidable obstacles we face.
This group saw that there was great work being done to help farmers access land, but it was not enough to make the large-scale change needed. Working together for three days, they came up with a plan of action to address the needs of service providers and next generation farmers.
This plan centered on advancing the cause of land transfer—what Henry George called “the Land Question.” Agrarian Trust’s mission and goals directly support this cause by:
- Supporting stakeholders (landowners, new farmers, investors, farm service providers, farm heirs, farmland owners) to make good decisions for the best interest of the land and its stewards
- Building a farmland commons to hold the land, a gold standard that provokes a powerful conversation about the commons
After another convening at Paicines Ranch in California in January 2014, Agrarian Trust released the organization’s guiding principles, made public at the 2014 OUR LAND Symposium
Agrarian Trust is modeled after the work of Terre de Liens, a French group that has protected more than 100 organic farms, as well as the principles articulated in collaboration with our stakeholder community during the Paicines sessions. Our work is also inspired by “land gifting” in the tradition of the bhoodan movement, and Elinor Ostrom’s Nobel Prize–winning work on governing the commons.
Since the Paicines sessions, Agrarian Trust has partnered with the Sustainable Economies Law Center (SELC) to develop our organization’s governance model and legal tools to hold land in common. Working together, we intend to create legal models that will allow us to fulfill our mission of creating a farmland commons—preserving access to affordable farmland, in perpetuity, for the purposes of ecologically responsible, community-owned food production.
What are the Agrarian Commons and why are they important?
Agrarian Commons are locally governed land holding entities advancing cultural, ecological, and economic justice.
The Agrarian Commons hold land in community-centered entities that are 501(c)(2) or 501(c)(25) subsidiaries of the national 501(c)(3) Agrarian Trust. All decision making within an Agrarian Commons takes place in the local 501(c)(2) or 501(c)(25) governance structures. These Agrarian Commons hold land to convey affordable and equitable leases for the purpose of regenerative farming for secure local food access, ecological sustainability, and community benefit. Each Agrarian Commons is supported in various ways by the national 501(c)(3) Agrarian Trust.
Agrarian Commons interrupt patterns of dispossession and land ownership consolidation, by connecting next generation farmers with land tenure and affordable leases.
Agriculture is in a crisis. Land is being transferred out of the hands of farmers for development, speculation, and consolidation into industrial-scale operations that pollute drinking water and rivers, erode soil, degrade ecosystems, emit greenhouse gas, and impose exploitative labor conditions. Eighty percent of farmworkers are Black, Indigenous, and other people of color, yet as a direct result of colonial and racist acts of dispossession, Black, Indigenous, Latino, Asian American, and other farmers of color own less than two percent of United States farmland. As the farmer population in the US ages, more than 400 million acres of farmland are expected to change hands during this decade and the next. The Agrarian Commons model is an important tool that can be used at the local level to interrupt patterns of consolidation and dispossession and ensure that this farmland is passed on to next-generation farmers with secure and affordable land tenure.
While escalating land values make it nearly impossible for next-generation farmers to compete in the market and buy farmland, Agrarian Commons permanently remove agricultural land from the commodity market, so it never risks being sold to the highest bidder. Affordable long-term leases help farmers cultivate the security and financial viability to invest in farm infrastructure and long-term stewardship. Agrarian Commons are structured in a way that ensures local ownership and governance of land and keeps land in the hands of the community closest to it, including those farming.
Learn more with these FAQs.
What's the biggest challenge Agrarian Trust faces in this work?
The biggest challenge we face in this work is the high cost of land. Another challenge that is more unique to the work of the Agrarian Commons is the cultural mindset shift needed to begin thinking about and talking about land and people’s relationship to it in a different way. Instead of land being a commodity that is bought and sold, held in private ownership, and extracted and profited from, land needs to be seen as a resource that needs to be cared for responsibly and for the benefit of those who live in relationship with it.
What makes us different from a conservation land trust?
Agrarian Trust offers some of the same types of traditional land protection that many land trusts do, but the Agrarian Commons model uses lease agreements to also offer protection of whole farms for land access, equity, and affordability for farmers; health of soils, water, and biodiverse systems; and agrarian enterprises interconnected to community.
The following PDF (Comparing Structures) offers a side-by-side comparison of how our model extends beyond protection of ecosystems to also support land affordability, equity building, and housing security for next generation farmers.
Learn more about our work with radical grassroots land reform here.
How can people support our work?
You can support the mission and work of Agrarian Trust by subscribing to the newsletter, donating to Agrarian Trust, donating to the current Agrarian Commons fundraise campaigns, donating land into the Agrarian Commons, contacting us about a potential partnership or sponsorship, and following Agrarian Trust on your favorite social media.