The funding allocated to Agrarian Trust and its partners will go towards providing technical assistance and securing land for farmers who are Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) in Texas, Nebraska, New York, and Tennessee.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
“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.”
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.
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.
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.