Frequently Asked Questions about the Agrarian Commons
General questions about the Agrarian Commons model
The Agrarian Commons is a community-based approach to land-holding which can be used to cultivate just, resilient, and healthy food systems and economies. Agrarian Trust, a national 501(c)(3), supports local Agrarian Commons by fundraising to acquire land. With Agrarian Trust’s support, local Agrarian Commons will hold land in community to convey affordable leases for the purpose of regenerative farming, secure local food access, ecological sustainability, and community benefit.
Agriculture is in a crisis. 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. 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 so2il, degrade ecosystems, emit huge amounts of greenhouse gasses, and impose exploitative labor conditions. Eighty percent of farmworkers, meanwhile, are Black, Indigenous, and other people of color¹—yet as a direct result of colonial and racist acts of dispossession, Black, Indigenous, Latino, Asian American, and farmers of color broadly own less than 2 percent of U.S. farmland. The Agrarian Commons is a 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.
Because decision-making power in the Agrarian Commons lies with a community board, Commons’ name, geography, and farm sizes vary across contexts. For examples, visit our Agrarian Commons page: https://www.agrariantrust.org/initiatives/agrarian-commons/
Agrarian Trust supports each Agrarian Commons to acquire land through fundraising campaigns, together with each local Agrarian Commons board. These campaigns engage the local community, supporters, businesses, advocates, and customers, while simultaneously engaging Agrarian Trust’s national audience. Agrarian Trust also provides technical support to communities and landowners interested in acquiring or donating land, and creating legal frameworks to hold and steward land in common.
You can visit our active campaigns by visiting our homepage where all active campaigns are available. Each campaign demonstrates the uniquely aligned interests specific to each region and land project.
In the same ways the Agrarian Commons is moving land values out of a speculative market, we are also manifesting the same transition with lease rates. The Agrarian Commons model determines lease rates through direct engagement and collective work between potential lessee and lessor to first understand what is affordable within the context of that specific farm’s business model and financial viability. A lease rate is then structured around that.
Transferring land into an Agrarian Commons creates multiple opportunities to reduce financial burdens:
For the landowner: Agrarian Trust is a 501(c)(3) public charity, and there are tax benefits for anyone who transfers property into the Trust for less than the full market value. Land that is transferred to Agrarian Trust will be conveyed as soon as possible to a localized Agrarian Commons for the benefit of the local agrarian community and economy, and it is utilized for the health of people and the earth.
For the farmer: Land transferred to an Agrarian Commons is then leased to farmers who
experience major financial benefits in the form of 99-year lease tenure that is affordable and provides opportunity for equity building. The cost to the farmer under an Agrarian Commons lease is quite different from the debt service that would be incurred to pay a corporate bank for market-based land access and ownership.
For the community: these affordable lease rates are paid to the local Agrarian Commons entity that then reinvests the revenue back into the farms and the Agrarian Commons itself. In this model, money is kept within the local economy rather than being sent off to a corporate bank somewhere disconnected from the local community. By revinesting this revenue back into the farms and the land, an Agrarian Commons is supporting diversified healthy food production for the surrounding community while also healing the land that the community depends on.
We want to form an Agrarian Commons, now what?
Our website offers information on how to form an Agrarian Commons with Agrarian Trust, and includes the ability to apply on-line. For more information, please visit Starting an Agrarian Commons.
The Center for Agriculture & Food Systems (CAFS) also created the following legal guide for anyone interested in establishing an Agrarian Commons. The guide outlines bylaws, land stewardship standards, equitable lease-building, and more.
There are other land commons models that exist outside of Agrarian Trust. To view these other aligned models, and to explore forming a similar model, we invite you to visit the Commons Alliance.
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¹ In this page, we intend to honor and prioritize Indigenous and Black land justice specifically; land justice for people of color generally, and land justice for all. To honor the different experiences of each of these groups, albeit imperfectly, we use the acronym BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, people of color) throughout this page.