Agrarian Trust

Taking on the Big Land Grab

From the Land Stewardship Project by Sarah Claassen:

This fall, 19 Land Stewardship Project members traveled to county courthouses across Minnesota and dug through real estate transaction records to help compile data on the state of land consolidation in rural areas. These researchers represent an important first step in a major new LSP campaign to organize for better land access for farmers in the Upper Midwest.

This winter, we will be combing through this data to develop a special report on how concentrating ownership of acres in fewer and fewer hands is preventing beginning farmers from attaining affordable, secure land tenure. This report will also address how government policies are contributing to the unprecedented land consolidation we are now experiencing.

The timing is critical. Due to farmers’ dedication, coupled with strong education and support networks like LSP’s Farm Beginnings training program, there is a resurgence of stewardship family farms in the upper Midwest. But poor access to land (see “State of Land Tenure in the U.S.” sidebar), broken farm policy and corporate control continues to prevent family farms from succeeding.

Current land consolidation trends are troubling. LSP believes more people on the land—not fewer—are central to building a sustainable and just farm and food system. We need literally millions of new, diverse farms out on the landscape, and they need to succeed. That means land must be accessible and held by many more farmers so that they can develop good soils and care of the land, establish markets and businesses, build relationships and more.

That’s why this fall LSP launched this initiative to dismantle barriers that keep beginning farmers off of the land. The task is daunting. Federally subsidized crop insurance and commodity payments as they exist today create enormous barriers for beginning and family farmers. They create an unequal playing field for beginning farmers, allowing huge corporate farms to accumulate more land while pushing prices to levels that family farmers can’t compete with.

Reforming these policies will require tens of thousands of people organized and demanding change. Fortunately, LSP brings to this effort over 30 years of experience fighting factory farms, establishing groundbreaking farmer-led education and developing working-lands conservation policy. This new land access campaign will require a powerful base of beginning farmer leaders, strong partnerships and strategic steps over many years.

Over the next several months, LSP will raise public awareness and concern about the extent of the consolidation of land ownership and control. We will paint a clear picture of the wasteful and inequitable federal policy that drives that concentration and its effects on beginning farmers, the land and rural communities.

And over the next several years, LSP will build effective organizing to reform these policies so that family farmers have a fairer chance of accessing land. LSP’s Farm Beginnings Program and our Policy and Organizing Program will collaborate on this work, bringing together the power of grassroots organizing and farmer-led education and relationship building.

Your leadership is critical to this work and there are numerous opportunities to get involved this winter and spring. LSP organizers are seeking people, especially but not limited to beginning farmers, who are interested in:

• building relationships and calling for change in local communities;

• contributing graphic design, editing, or writing skills to the final land consolidation report;

• shaping a media strategy and being spokespeople for this campaign;

• and much more.

Your thoughts, experiences, and suggestions of people to talk to are always welcome. Contact me at 612-722-6377 or [email protected] to learn more and to get involved.

Sarah Claassen is a Land Stewardship Project Farm Beginnings organizer.