Agrarian Trust

Studies of the Agrarian Commons in the Higher Education Community

Agrarian Trust carries the mission to provide land access for next-generation farmers. The method in which the mission is being accomplished is through a new land model called the Agrarian Commons. This model, now in its implementation phase, is being studied by researchers, professors, and students throughout higher education and law school institutions. 

Universities such as Harvard, Yale, Brown, Dartmouth, University of New Hampshire, University of Vermont, Vermont Law School, Penn State, Virginia Tech, Fort Lewis College, and University of California, Berkeley, have hosted guest lecturers from Agrarian Trust to present to collegiate and advanced academic classrooms. Vermont Law School is a close and collaborative partner involved in the development and advancement of the model. University of California, Berkeley, and Penn State have had the Agrarian Commons model put forward by students in innovation competitions.

Research and Academic Papers

Below are select peer-reviewed publications from academic journals, abstracts, and capstone projects. The following varieties of academic research examine the model’s efficacy and impact from many different perspectives, spanning from impacts on individuals to impacts on policy. 

Beyond the market? New agrarianism and cooperative farmland access in North America

Hannah Wittman, Jessica Dennisa, and Heather Pritchard, University of British Columbia, Vancouver 

Journal of Rural Studies

March 7, 2017 

As land and wealth are increasingly concentrated in North America, grassroots organizations are calling into question longstanding norms about the relationships between private property, sustainable agriculture, land governance institutions, and ongoing processes of agrarian transformation. In response to challenges faced by new entrants to agriculture in accessing farmland oriented towards localized and alternative food systems, advocates for farmland protection and cooperative land access point to the potential for community-based land reform to support sustainable land use while promoting social and political equity – areas where they argue an economic system based on individual ownership of farmland has failed. Based on the principles of “new agrarianism,” community-based farmland access initiatives are experimenting with new forms and practices of cooperative and shared land tenure, as an alternative to a state-led model of redistributive land reform based on individual property rights. We analyze here the results of a participatory research project conducted with a cooperative and community-based land trust and land access program in British Columbia, Canada. We assess the efficacy of the community farms program as a potential mechanism to spark a new phase of agrarian transition that can reverse farmland consolidation and support socially and ecologically embedded land relations, as a structural context for food sovereignty in North America. Specifically, we argue that the community foodlands trust movement can be viewed as an insurgent – but fundamentally constrained – “people’s enclosure” within a corporate land regime.
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“We assess the efficacy of the community farms program as a potential mechanism to spark a new phase of agrarian transition…as a structural context for food sovereignty in North America.”

Local Matters! Community-Based Organizations, Changemaking, and the Food System

Tessa Lance, Illinois State University

Summer 2021

This paper begins by discussing and distinguishing the various food movements: food security, food justice, and food sovereignty. Utilizing social capital theory and the principles of food sovereignty, this paper brings attention to the power of community-based organizations (CBOs) and highlights their unique positioning within the food system. This paper analyzes a sample of community-based organizations working within the food system in the United States of America. Drawing upon original data collected through interviews with nine individuals associated with different CBOs working within the food system, this research finds that CBOs are uniquely suited to make change in their local food systems because of their community ties and sense of responsibility to their neighbors. This study also presents findings that support the value of the food sovereignty movement to CBOs and to overall food system reform. These concepts are demonstrated in analyzing CBOs’ responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. This paper concludes by offering a way forward to ensure a better food future, guided by local organizations and food sovereignty.
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“The interviewee from Agrarian Trust explained, “Any lasting and permanent sovereignty must have a foundation of land justice manifesting through ownership, tenure, and equity.” 

Commodifying the Commons: American Individualism and Corporate Agriculture

Sarah Cryer, Fordham University 

May 15, 2021

An individualistic ideology strongly defines the American value system, shaping the economic and political landscape of the country. It encourages a competitive, free-market economy with little government restriction, prioritizing short term economic growth over environmental and social sustainability. This paper addresses how American individualism fuels the commodification of food and corporately controlled agriculture. The egocentric ideology opens the door for unfettered corporate control of farming, meant to maximize profit and control resources, despite its effects on food insecurity and small farms. Consolidated agriculture, corporate contracts, and farm subsidies are meant to expand the pockets of corporations, though leaving low income communities with little access to healthy food. The modern food system is incompatible with a more collective ideology necessary to treat food as a commons, for sustainable access to all. Chapter 1 utilizes quantitative sources such as USDA reports to outline the evolution of American agriculture alongside increasing industrialization, while highlighting the prevalence of food insecurity. Chapter 2 delves into some history of American individualism, and how the ideology supports privatization and social inequalities. Chapter 3 specifically unfolds the economic incentives for agribusiness monopolies and privatized food. Chapter 4 employs the ethics of food and environmental justice to emphasize the importance of creating food as a commons. Finally, chapter 5 argues that a collectivist ideology would be more compatible with sustainable forms of cooperative farming to better distribute wealth and resources.
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“Agrarian Trust is a perfect example of an NGO that works with local communities to distributeland. Agrarian Trust recognizes the economic barrier to buying new land for small farmers, andthe unsustainability of short term corporate contracts.”

How food in the commons can help to address inequity in US food and land access

Molly D. Anderson, Middlebury College

February 19, 2021

Through most of the world, food is recognized as a human right. This is not the case in the US. Even though the US does not formally recognize this human right, it is still obligated under international agreements to respect, protect, and, under emergency conditions, fulfill this right. The right to food is met when all people have access to healthy, culturally appropriate food produced in sustainable ways. The main ways to meet the right to food are by having an income high enough for purchasing food for one’s household; growing, foraging, fishing, or hunting it; or receiving federal assistance, such as food stamps, at a level sufficient to ensure a healthy diet. Not recognizing the right to food might be tolerable if the US had an adequate system for ensuring that everyone could access healthy and culturally appropriate food at all times in a sustainable way. But US food access is grossly inadequate and inequitable, and food production is unsustainable.
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“Food commons already can be found in the US. Farmland is managed as commons under innovative programs such as the Food Commons in Fresno, California; Soul Fire Farm in Albany, New York; and the new Agrarian Commons…”

Land access for beginning and disadvantaged farmers

Green New Deal policy series: food & agriculture

Meleiza Figueroa, University of California, Berkeley

Leah Pennimen, Soul Fire Farm

March 2020 

The Green New Deal is a broad and ambitious agenda to invest in communities, infrastructure and technology, creating good jobs and helping the United States achieve environmental and economic justice. Green New Deal policies must help current and future farmers transition into agroecology and regenerative farming. One of the major long-term solutions is securing access to affordable, high quality farmland, as accessibility to land is the greatest barrier to new farmers’ entry and success.
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Law and Policy for a New Economy

Chapter 6: Three legal principles for organizations rebuilding the commons

Janelle Orsi, Sustainable Economies Law Center

May 26, 2017

This chapter describes three principles for organizations to embed in their legal, financial, and governance structures in order to build commons and move beyond the extractive structures of conventional business. “The commons” is emerging as a unifying framework for the creation of sustainable and equitable economies, and organizations everywhere will increasingly ask their lawyers for guidance on how to set up a “commons-based” entity structure. Land trusts, energy cooperatives, water mutuals, worker cooperatives, food cooperatives and housing cooperatives will all require that lawyers approach legal structural design with a mindset that decisively rejects business-as-usual. These principles emerge from practice and are designed to be immediately applicable in any organization.

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Agrarian Trust continues to work closely with the research community, and encourages in-depth explorations into the land model. We welcome continued inquiry, ideas, and innovations in order to continue to evolve and innovate the model.

To follow the most current research publications, follow “Agrarian Trust” on Google Scholars.