A growing body of evidence, including a report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, supports Regenerate International’s claim. Regenerative agriculture practices, many of which are used by Agrarian Commons farmers, have the potential to remove carbon from the atmosphere and greatly mitigate the effects of climate change.
In 1977, two of the most influential figures in the history of American agriculture met at Manchester College in North Manchester, Indiana, to debate two widely differing visions of farming, culture, and the future of American farmland. Wendell Berry, the renowned poet, farmer, and writer defined the difference between himself and his rival, Earl Butz—the Secretary of Agriculture (1971 to 1976) widely credited with setting in motion the rapid consolidation of farmland in the United States—in simple terms. “We may never meet,” said Berry, “because he’s arguing from quantities while I’m arguing from values.” Where Berry saw the widespread loss of community, rural values, and care for the land, Butz saw an opportunity for increased profits.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.”
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:
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.