What Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi” Can Teach Us About Preserving the Land

Nov 09, 2022 • Op-Eds • By Noah Wurtz
One sight that has become conspicuously absent from modern life is the small, biodiverse farm. In the 35 years before Big Yellow Taxi was released, the United States lost over five million farms, or more than half of the farms that existed in 1935. While the United States certainly has never been a paradise—most of these lost farms were stolen from Native Americans in the first place—this loss has had dire consequences for rural economies. As small farms disappear, we’ve seen an explosion of industrial farming practices that favor monoculture over diversity, productivity over soil health, and profit over community well-being. 

The Ogallala Aquifer, Water Depletion, and the Promise of the Commons

Oct 31, 2022 • Agrarian Commons, Sustainable Farming • By Noah Wurtz
In California and the Midwest, extended droughts have already caused farmers to draw heavily on aquifers (large, underground reservoirs of water) to water their crops. The Ogallala Aquifer, which stretches across much of the Midwest, a region which produces one-fifth of U.S. wheat, corn, and cotton, and over a third of its beef, has already been significantly depleted.

The Global Roots of Community Land Ownership

Oct 27, 2022 • Agrarian Trust, Land Access Strategies, Land Justice and Equity • By Noah Wurtz
A CLT, according to Center for Community Land Trust Innovation, “is a nonprofit corporation that holds land on behalf of a place-based community, while serving as the long-term steward for affordable housing, community gardens, civic buildings, commercial spaces and other community assets on behalf of a community.” Like the Agrarian Commons, CLTs are based on the premise that land should be held and managed for the benefit of local communities.

Combatting Climate Change

Oct 24, 2022 • Sustainable Farming • By Noah Wurtz
The good news is, while emissions reduction is still the most important way to mitigate climate catastrophe, there is a growing body of evidence that shows that carbon can be removed from the atmosphere—and stored in soil. This process, known as soil sequestration, is being championed by farmers, climate scientists, and nonprofit organizations, including Agrarian Trust, who see it as one of our most valuable tools in the fight against climate change.

Agrarian Trust Co-sponsored the 2022 Food Week of Action

Oct 21, 2022 • Agrarian Commons, Agrarian Trust, Food Systems and Security • By Noah Wurtz
Last week, food justice organizations around the country observed the Food Week of Action, an initiative led by Presbytarian Hunger Program. This year’s Week of Action had the theme People and Planet First,  and centered the work of farmers, fishers, and other agriculturalists as they fight to build food sovereignty across the globe. As part of the Week of Action, participating organizations hosted events, actions, and worship services supporting this critical effort.

Global Spotlight: Community Land Scotland

Oct 12, 2022 • Land Access Stories • By Noah Wurtz
The Agrarian Trust is just one of many organizations across the world dedicated to the advancement of community control of the land. In Scotland, state-level land reform and grassroots organizing have led to the widespread practice of community land ownership. In 2010, Community Land Scotland (CLS) was founded to act as a shared voice for community landowners in Scotland and to provide support for communities as they navigate the complex world of purchasing and managing land as a community body. Today, its members “manage 560,000 acres of land, home to some 25,000 people.” As models like the Agrarian Commons gain traction in the United States, it is worth studying the examples of our global partners. CLS deploys a compelling mix of policy work, training, and networking opportunities to support community land ownership in Scotland.

The Legacy of Land

Oct 09, 2022 • Agrarian Commons, Agrarian Trust, Giving and Fundraisers • By Noah Wurtz
While these are the most common options donors use to transfer land into an Agrarian Commons, every donor is different. Agrarian Trust will work closely with prospective donors to ensure that they are able to make the gift in a way that best suits their needs, while continuing to support the Agrarian Commons. For example, donors can choose to donate only part of their land, or to spread their donation out over a couple of years in order to receive the optimal tax benefits. Nonprofits and land trusts are also welcome to donate land to Agrarian Trust.

Envisioning the Future of Black Seed Agroecological Farm and Village

Oct 04, 2022 • Agrarian Commons, Agrarian Trust, Food Systems and Security, Land Justice and Equity, Sustainable Farming • By Noah Wurtz
Black Seed Agroecological Village and Farm is still in the beginning stages of development. As is the case with most new farming operations, there’s a lot of work that needs to be done before the farm can begin operating at full capacity. New fields need to be cultivated, perennials planted, and new buildings constructed. Turner is currently working with the Washington State Department of Agriculture to define water rights on the farm, and to identify the source of surface water that covers part of the land.

What is Agroecology?

Sep 30, 2022 • Food Systems and Security, Land Access Stories, Land Justice and Equity, Sustainable Farming • By Noah Wurtz
Agroecology is simply a continuation of these millennia of knowledge accumulation. Any one definition of agroecology as a practice would be incomplete. It reaches beyond a limited set of techniques or ideas, instead embracing the efficacy of agricultural techniques produced on a regionally, culturally, and ecologically specific level.

Key Findings From National Young Farmers Coalition’s 2022 Farmer Survey

Sep 29, 2022 • Food Systems and Security, Land Access Stories, Land Justice and Equity, Sustainable Farming • By Noah Wurtz
According to the survey, 59 percent of farmers surveyed reported that finding affordable land was “very or extremely challenging.” An even higher percentage of BIPOC farmers—68 percent of Indigenous respondents and 66 percent of Black respondents—gave the same response.

Rebuilding the Soil with Steve Normanton

Sep 23, 2022 • Agrarian Commons, Sustainable Farming • By Noah Wurtz
Rotational grazing is an exercise in balance and careful observation, requiring the farmer to time the movements of their herd around the life cycles of the grass and the decomposition of manure. If a plot of land is overgrazed, the soil can be polluted by excess manure. If it is not grazed at all, the grass loses the rich nutrients provided by manure and goes to seed, creating fibrous “lignified” organic matter that is less nutrient dense and difficult for cattle to digest.

Ensuring Donated Land Gets Managed Equitably

Sep 12, 2022 • Agrarian Commons, Agrarian Trust, Giving and Fundraisers, Land Justice and Equity • By Noah Wurtz
For Callie, successfully conserving agricultural land with issues of racial equity and environmental sustainability in mind took a lot of time and plenty of careful planning. After inheriting the land in 2015, Callie enrolled in classes at the local college and attended conferences on biological farming in search of farmers who shared her vision. Callie found a number of farmers who were interested in working the land, but only one couple was able to make a long-term commitment. Finally, after years of looking for a good fit, Callie and her husband found the Agrarian Commons model. 

Building the Foundations for Food Sovereignty at Lick Run

Sep 07, 2022 • Agrarian Commons • By Noah Wurtz
Community engagement and youth education play key roles in Terry’s vision for Lick Run Farm—even when it comes to creating a viable farm infrastructure. Building a greenhouse, Terry pointed out, can be an opportunity for teens to acquire important career skills. “Something I learned firsthand when I first started farming was that farming is so much more than raising plants,” said Terry. “You at least have to be competent with plumbing, carpentry, maybe even a bit of electrical work.”

Ostrom’s Eight Design Principles for a Successfully Managed Commons

Aug 31, 2022 • Agrarian Commons, Agrarian Trust • By Noah Wurtz
Torbel came to international attention in 1990, when Ostrom published her groundbreaking study of commons, Governing the Commons: The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action. In the book, Ostrom argued against the dominant understanding of the commons, as exemplified by Garret Hardin’s Tragedy of the Commons, which held that the commons would inevitably—and tragically—be depleted by rational, self-interested actors. The existence of communities like Torbel was evidence enough for Ostrom that Hardin’s model was too abstract.

La Via Campesina

Aug 29, 2022 • Agrarian Trust, Land Access Stories, Land Justice and Equity, Sustainable Farming • By Noah Wurtz
La Via Campesina coined the term food sovereignty in 1996, against the background of an increasingly globalized food system, which heavily favored large agribusinesses over small-scale farmers. The World Trade Organization (WTO) pressured countries to dismantle their local agricultural system, to lower prices, and become competitive on the global market. In order to drive labor costs down, farming became increasingly centralized, driving peasants and Indigenous people off their land at unprecedented rates. Aggressive copyright law and genetic engineering by large agribusinesses robbed peasants of their seeds, rendering them reliant on a volatile global market of pesticides and genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Cheap produce flooded local economies, destroying the livelihoods of farmers who were unable or unwilling to compete.

What can we learn from Deshee Farm? A Visual History

Aug 23, 2022 • Land Access Stories, Land Justice and Equity, Sustainable Farming • By Noah Wurtz
While farms like Deshee failed to take hold in the United States and had significant limitations, its story serves as a reminder that the privatized corporate farming that dominates U.S. agriculture was anything but inevitable. Grassroots organizing by tenant farmers played a key role in securing innovative, state-funded programming whose scale and vision matched the needs of the moment. Had there been more resources to fund similar efforts and more time and autonomy for the members of RA farms to develop the necessary institutions and cultural practices to effectively govern their shared resources, we might have been living in a different, more cooperatively focused world. 

Restoring Native Pollinator Habitats with the Agrarian Commons

Aug 15, 2022 • Agrarian Commons, Agrarian Trust, Sustainable Farming • By Noah Wurtz
In the past twenty years, habitat loss, pests, pathogens, a lack of genetic diversity among pollinator species, and the reckless use of pesticides has caused a drastic drop in the United State’s pollinator population. Between April 2020 and April 2021 alone, beekeepers report losing 45.1 percent of managed honey bee colonies. This loss of pollinators impedes the function of successful ecosystems and poses a direct threat to farmers’ ability to successfully grow food. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), about “one mouthful in three in our diet directly or indirectly benefits from honey bee pollination.”

What are the Rights of Nature?

Aug 09, 2022 • Agrarian Trust, Sustainable Farming • By Noah Wurtz
An ecologically responsible, regenerative approach to land management is at the center of Agrarian Trust’s effort to conserve and increase access to farmland across the United States. When a farmer signs on an Agrarian Commons lease, they agree to adhere to a high standard of ecological land management, and to respect specifically defined “Rights of Nature,” which are included explicitly in the lease. Listed here, the Rights of Nature in the Agrarian Commons lease include, but are not limited to:

Enclosure: Old and New

Jul 25, 2022 • Agrarian Commons, Agrarian Trust, Land Access Stories • By Noah Wurtz
The Agrarian Commons is part of a long history of innovative commoning practices that have been formed in opposition to the commodification of land. Yet the dominant narrative in history textbooks frames the commons as a relic of the past, rendered obsolete by the “enclosures,” or widespread land grabbing that lasted from the 15th to 17th century. This narrative has been challenged by thinkers and activists who recognize that around the world, commoners are still actively fighting against efforts to grab their land and overturn traditional land rights. Agrarian Trust stands with these commoners as they seek to articulate a new, just vision of land tenure. 

Commodity or Commons: Finance Capital and the Commodification of Land

Jul 13, 2022 • Agrarian Commons, Agrarian Trust, Food Systems and Security • By Noah Wurtz
The first major entity to begin investing in farmland as an asset was Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association of America (TIAA)—one of the largest pension firms in the United States, with $1,375 billion in assets. In 2007, the TIAA began purchasing enormous tracts of land. By 2017, the TIAA owned more than 1.9 million acres of farmland worldwide— an area significantly larger than the state of Maryland—including over 490,000 acres in Brazil alone. TIAA’s purchases in Brazil led to the consolidation of power in the hands of a small number of agribusinesses specializing in soy monoculture, driving farmers off their traditional land in record numbers, and leading to widespread deforestation, wildfires, and loss of biodiversity.

Oasis and Community in Petersburg, Virginia

Jun 30, 2022 • Agrarian Commons, Food Systems and Security, Giving and Fundraisers, Land Justice and Equity • By Noah Wurtz
“What it means for our community... it means a sense of hope,” said Cherry. “It’s a light in a very dark time, not just for our city, but even for our country. And its potential for our youth, to know that something besides a place like Walmart exists here—that’s big. Something to be proud about, to say we have a community farm, something we’ve worked for—to have that kind of light in Petersburg.”

Virginia, a Resettlement State

Jun 22, 2022 • Agrarian Commons, Food Systems and Security • By April Jones

America has always been a mix of cultural food traditions. We enjoy the freedom to explore taste and see the bounty of the many foodways, which allows us to be a part of the expansive American awareness. As cities become more culturally diverse, it is a chance for a renewed cultural fusion. 

The state of Virginia has a resettlement program that makes space for this cultural interchange, facilitating new boundaries of cultural storytelling.

Press Release: Announcing New Land Acquisition Project for the Central Virginia Agrarian Commons

Jun 16, 2022 • Giving and Fundraisers, Press Releases and Announcements • By Kristina Villa
The Central Virginia Agrarian Commons (AC) is announcing its first land acquisition project. The Central VA AC needs to raise $145,000 through a fundraising campaign to acquire the 5.12-acre urban farm that sits right next door to an elementary school in Petersburg, Virginia. The Central VA AC is a collaboration between Agrarian Trust, Virginia Foodshed Capital, Virginia Cooperative Extension, Virginia Tech, the Petersburg Healthy Opportunities Project, Petersburg League of Urban Growers, and Sankofa Community Orchard to support urban food production and habitat diversity, and to counter high rates of food insecurity. 

Juneteenth: A Celebration of Black Resistance

Jun 13, 2022 • Land Justice and Equity • By April Jones
Using land as a pathway for growth and upward mobility has always been an American tradition, but was only afforded to Black people after Juneteenth. New generations are now benefiting from the long legacy and history of the Black farmer. Juneteenth is an excellent chance for our country to celebrate Black resistance, resilience, and land practices.

Healing the Land Through Community Collaboration in the Southwest Virginia Agrarian Commons

Jun 02, 2022 • Agrarian Commons, Sustainable Farming • By Noah Wurtz
As the campaign to raise $426,250 to purchase Lick Run Farm gains momentum, the Harvest Collective, a Virginia-based collaborative farming group, is already hard at work preparing Lick Run for its new place in the Southwest Virginia Agrarian Commons. Along with Cam Terry, the head farmer at Garden Variety Harvests, the collective has been mowing grass, laying tarps, and completing small construction projects around the land.

Fighting for Domestic and Global Food Sovereignty

May 23, 2022 • Agrarian Trust, Food Systems and Security • By Noah Wurtz
The high cost of land, racial inequity and land grabbing that underpins agriculture in the United States is part of a global trend of expropriative land practice, founded upon centuries of corporate greed and colonial violence. Agrarian Trust is an active member of a global movement that seeks to heal from these destructive forces, while charting a new path forward—beginning with Indigenous knowledge, local control of the land and agroecological growing practices. Since its founding in 2010, the United States Food Sovereignty Alliance (USFSA) has worked “to end poverty, rebuild local food economies, and assert democratic control over the food system” as a partner organization of the International Planning Committee for Food Sovereignty.

Cultivating Resiliency in Roanoke, Virginia

May 17, 2022 • Agrarian Commons, Food Systems and Security, Giving and Fundraisers, Land Access Stories, Land Justice and Equity • By Briana Olson
As a recipient of Roanoke City’s share of American Rescue Plan funding, LEAP is working to create a centralized food hub about a mile down the road from Lick Run Farm farm, where Cam plans to take his vision for growing food and building community to the next level. Once the funds are raised, the land will become the founding farm for the Southwest Virginia Agrarian Commons: a space where Cam can build soil, host workshops, and raise vegetables to be sold on-site as well as through LEAP’s new food hub.

Equity & Justice Research Grant

May 15, 2022 • Agrarian Trust, Food Systems and Security, Land Justice and Equity, Press Releases and Announcements • By Katie Horner
The Gund Institute for Environment, based out of the University of Vermont (UVM), recently announced their inaugural Equity and Justice research grant, which supports projects that aim to address inequities and injustices underlying environmental crises. I was honored to receive one of these grants to support my collaboration with Agrarian Trust exploring how creative approaches improve equitable farmland access and sustainable on-farm practices. To date, land access policy initiatives in the United States have focused exclusively on expanding private property ownership. Recent research, however, indicates that such efforts may not fully address the systemic and structural barriers to equitable farmland access. 

The Diggers Today: Enclosure, Manure, and Resistance

May 13, 2022 • Agrarian Trust, Land Access Stories • By Noah Wurtz
Such historical examples of commoning practices and resistance to land enclosures not only provide ample opportunity to learn from past struggles, but also serve as proof that, rather than being a static relic of the past, the commons are continuously defended and transformed in the struggle against the exploitative and dehumanizing forces of enclosure. Agrarian Trust and similar grassroots organizations are part of this long lineage of commoners fighting for a more equitable and ecologically oriented relationship with the land. Over three hundred years before the founding of Agrarian Trust, Gerard Winstanley and the Diggers championed a compelling alternative to the early capitalism of the seventeenth century. Their platform centered on the democratic control of land and the restorative power of a simple but often overlooked fertilizing agent—manure.

Explore the Farm and Fundraise with Frankie the Cat

May 09, 2022 • Agrarian Commons, Giving and Fundraisers • By Noah Wurtz
The authors of Frankie Explores the Farm, Courtney Taylor and Harmony Marquardt, are donating the proceeds from their new book to the fundraising campaign for Southwest Virginia Agrarian Commons. By purchasing a copy on Agrarian Trust’s website, you can contribute to Southwest Virginia Agrarian Common’s effort to raise more than $250,000 to purchase Lick Run Farm and ensure that the farm’s 3.5 acres remain accessible and productive.

The International Land Coalition Commits to New Strategy Centered on Restoring Land Rights to Dispossessed Communities

May 07, 2022 • Land Access Strategies, Land Justice and Equity • By Noah Wurtz
The International Land Coalition has released a new strategy that centers on securing land rights for “women, youth, family and peasant farmers, indigenous peoples, pastoralists, forest dwellers, fisher folk, afro‑descendants and local communities.” The Agrarian Trust is a member of the International Land Coalition (ILC), a global coalition of over 300 members dedicated to the advancement of people-centered land governance.

Redlining’s Legacy: Disinvestment in Black Communities in Virginia

Apr 18, 2022 • Food Systems and Security, Land Justice and Equity, Uncategorized • By April Jones
Redlining was a red mark against these robust neighborhoods, meaning that they could not connect to federal funding for home loans. Race was the defining factor in redlining and prevented these communities from gaining full access to the federal support that was needed and that they paid into through the federal tax system. 

Creating Land Access & Tenure for Black Farmers in Virginia

Mar 28, 2022 • Agrarian Commons, Land Justice and Equity • By Kristina Villa
While securing land tenure is a challenge facing farmers of every race in this country, Agrarian Trust knows that land access is a greater barrier for farmers of color, and is centering the work of making affordable land security available to BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) farmers. More than 98% of farmland in the U.S. is owned by white people while more than 70% of the farmworkers who seed, cultivate, weed, and harvest the crops that feed us are people of color. This gross injustice needs to change.

Black-led Modest Family Solutions has been selected as the long-term leaseholder and steward for the Puget Sound Agrarian Commons farmland

Feb 21, 2022 • Agrarian Commons, Land Justice and Equity, Press Releases and Announcements • By Kristina Villa
The Puget Sound Agrarian Commons (AC) has chosen Adasha Turner, founder and director of Modest Family Solutions, as the long-term leaseholding steward of the land gift that started the Puget Sound Agrarian Commons and the Agrarian Commons movement.

Foodlands Cooperative of British Columbia

Sep 27, 2021 • Commons Alliance • By Taylor Plett
If you drive east from Vancouver for about an hour and a half on a Saturday morning, you can join the group of city dwellers, expats, artists and others gathering for the weekend harvest at Abundance Community Farm. “We call it the farmily,” chuckled Amir Niroumand. He purchased the land for Abundance in 2016 as a place for intentional community and collective farming. It was a risky investment – an experiment in communal responsibility – and it worked. Now, Niroumand is thinking about the future.

The Fault in Our Farming

Sep 23, 2020 • Food Systems and Security, Sustainable Farming • By Frankie Wallace
Humanity can no longer afford to ignore the myriad ways in which monoculture is unsustainable and dangerous. Widespread environmental sustainability is virtually impossible under the monoculture farming model. It seems as though we must look to the farmers and stewards of the past to protect public health into the foreseeable future.

New Report: “Driving Dispossession: The Global Push to “Unlock the Economic Potential of Land”

Jul 14, 2020 • Commons Alliance • By Agrarian Trust
driving disposessionDriving Dispossession: The Global Push to “Unlock the Economic Potential of Land,” sounds the alarm on the unprecedented wave of privatization of natural resources that is underway around the world. Through six case studies—Ukraine, Zambia, Myanmar, Papua New Guinea, Sri Lanka, and Brazil—the report details the myriad ways by which governments—willingly or under the pressure of financial institutions and Western donor agencies—are putting more land into so-called “productive use” in the name of development.

Vernon Family Farm: Joining the New Hampshire Agrarian Commons

May 13, 2020 • Agrarian Commons, Press Releases and Announcements • By Darby Weaver
Situated on 33 acres in Newfields, NH, Vernon Family Farm is a pastured poultry operation focused on regenerating soils, community, and connections to food. The chickens are raised with non-GMO grains, are USDA certified, Halal inspected, air chilled, and every part of the animal is processed and used. Along with a value added product line named “Wicked Chicken” which includes a rotisserie chicken, soup, and pot pie, the farm offers an incredible selection of cuts and preparations for their customers such as chicken sausage, ground, offal, skins, and broths. In addition to their meat offerings, Vernon Family Farm also sells rainbow eggs from their pasture raised hens and a variety of farm products from Brookford Farm and other local NH farms.

The 100 Year History of the San Pedro Commons

Sep 30, 2019 • Agrarian Commons, Commons Alliance, Land Access Stories, Land Access Strategies, Land Justice and Equity • By Agrarian Trust
2018 marked the hundred-year anniversary of the privatization of the San Pedro Land grant, the place where I was born and still call home. It is an arid piece of high desert, covered in piñon and juniper, located in the eastern and northern foothills of the Sandia Mountains in central New Mexico. It was an anniversary no one marked publicly, not even the heirs to the land still living in San Antonito, the village just down the road. It is part of a story lost, for the most part, to so-called progress.

Land in Common: A Bold and Patient Model for Agrarian Reform in Maine

Sep 30, 2019 • Agrarian Commons, Commons Alliance, Land Access Strategies • By Eliza Spellman Taylor
Land in Common is a Community Land Trust in Maine, born out of a community-focused, land justice centered living space that has evolved over the past twenty years. Officially founded in 2008, Land in Common is a nonprofit organization that removes land from the commodity market and places it into a member-run trust where it can be stewarded by residents. Its goal is to create “a multi-generational land base for sustainable livelihoods that supports communities working for just, cooperative, and resilient futures.”

Truthout: A Green New Deal Must Prioritize Regenerative Agriculture

May 01, 2019 • Land Access Strategies, Sustainable Farming • By Agrarian Trust
"Agrarian Trust, a nonprofit committed to supporting land access for the next generation of farmers, is experimenting with community-controlled land commons to collectively and democratically own the land, while giving 99-year leases to regenerative farmers. This model prioritizes broader community involvement and investment in local farms, while giving farmers long-term land security and equity interests so that they can fully commit to restoring the land over many decades."

Woodland Community Land Trust: An Antidote to Extraction in Rural Appalachia

Apr 18, 2019 • Commons Alliance, Land Access Strategies, Land Justice and Equity • By Eliza Spellman Taylor
The Woodland Community Land Trust was incorporated in 1979, making it one of the oldest Community Land Trusts (CLTs) established in the United States. Located in the Clearfork Valley of northeastern Tennessee, a low-income Appalachian community dominated by extractive industry and concentrated land holding, economic, and political power, Woodland recently marked its 40th year in operation. Today, Woodland’s vision of community ownership still resounds in possibilities for Appalachian people and confronts the realities of peasant land dispossession throughout U.S. history and worldwide.

FaithLands Pilot Project in North Carolina Welcomes Our New Coordinator, Josie Walker

Apr 18, 2019 • Faithlands, Land Access Strategies • By Agrarian Trust
We’re thrilled to welcome Josie Walker to our team as our Eastern North Carolina Project Coordinator for FaithLands, a coalition-led initiative that supports faith communities in making lands available for sustainable, agroecological farming, especially to those in society marginalized by virtue of class, race, gender, economic status, and other factors.