Agrarian Trust

Vermont Agrarian Commons – A New Model of Community Land Partnership for Regenerative Farms

The text for this post comes from a newsletter published by Bread and Butter farm in November, 2020. Read the full newsletter here.

By Corie Pierce

Many of you may have started to hear some rumblings about our incredible partnership with the national organization called the Agrarian Trust. We are still working hard to lay the groundwork behind the exciting fundraising campaign we’ll be launching, but we wanted to tell our dear CSA members more about where things stand and exactly our vision for the future.

SO, I am going to start from the beginning and talk a bit about first-generation farmers and land acquisition. When we first bought this land from the Land Trust and the Leduc Family back in 2009, I had been on a more than decade-long (almost two decades actually) journey of trying to figure out how to buy land and start a farm. As many of you know, as a country, and planet, we are in desperate need of farmers – and not just any farmers, but farmers who are deeply committed to producing food in a way that is in harmony with nature. God knows that as a species, we humans have extracted and pillaged the Earth and her natural resources for a long time. And then introduce farming and, well, we’ve pretty much sealed the deal on our extinction, based on how farming transformed into “highest yields and greatest profits” over the last 100 years. 

So, farming. We need the production of food to be done in a way that is NOT extractive but actually additive to the earth. We need to be farming as a means to build soil and strengthen ecosystems. So, as I set out to farm, this was my vision. A tall task to commit to buying land and supporting a family and all the while being an excellent “land steward” who also produces delicious and non-extractive food!! Over the last 10+ years our mission has grown and we have remained committed to our goals of being a community farm where we nourish the land and the community. Period. We do NOT extract from this beautiful earth and we do not cut corners for the sake of profits. I will get into that at another time, but, let me just say, that is not an easy task. It certainly sounds simple enough, but, believe me when I say that it is arguably impossible. (Again, a story for another time…)

In our 10+ year journey, we continue to ask questions about the best way we should be doing this work. We have brought in more and more people who work here and give of themselves each and every day to the long-term stewardship of this land and this community of eaters. Our vision has grown to include more families’ livelihoods and a broader goal of land health and stewardship for the South Burlington and Shelburne communities.

When the AuClair farm came up for sale in 2017, we knew we had to try to save it. We also knew that we couldn’t afford the mortgage, even after the conservation easement (still in process) was put on the land. We also knew that although we wanted long-term rights to the land to farm this land regeneratively, we didn’t want to be the individual owners of this land. We saw a bigger vision, a vision of all this land, all 500+ acres of it as our communities’ land. We wanted our community to see this land as theirs – not to own, but to know that it would nourish them and their kids and the kids’ kids, forever.

Until we learned about the Agrarian Trust, we didn’t know an economic construct existed that supported this vision, so you can imagine how excited we were when in the fall of 2019 we learned about the Agrarian Trust, 501(c)3!! So, in this model, we formed a local Vermont chapter – the Vermont Agrarian Commons (501(c)2), which will purchase all of the land and be the land-holding entity. The Agrarian Commons will then lease the land back to Bread & Butter Farm, LLC, and we will have a 99 year, renewable lease – and assuming we farm the land according to regenerative standards (think organic but even more strict, so think awesome, and how we are already managing our land), we will have the right to farm this land in perpetuity. And if and when Bread & Butter Farm, LLC the business is no longer, the VT Agrarian Commons will lease this land to another REGENERATIVE farmer (not just to any farmer but one who is committed to this standard, key point here!).
We absolutely love this model because it does so many things!!

  1. Most importantly, it helps to guarantee a high standard of managing land forever by excellent farmers. 
  2. It means that this land WILL be farmed forever! It can never be a gentleman farm that is just mowed each year and owned by an individual who chooses to work elsewhere and not farm but have the luxury of their own 500 acres for themselves.
  3. Bread & Butter Farm is relieved of our mortgages and allows us to make investments in the farm business for the future for the people who work here and for the needed infrastructure.
  4. We commit this land to a commons model where there will be 17 miles of beautiful trails that weave through the 500 acres for the community to enjoy (think Shelburne Farm walking trails in the southeast quadrant of South Burlington!), and…
  5. This will become a model for future farms in Vermont and for the country, which is EXACTLY what we need!!  More viable models so that more amazing land steward/farmers are incentivized to farm and are ABLE to farm so that we can provide nourishing food for our community and simultaneously building soil and health of the land. And many more amazing reasons. 

As of right now, we are pulling together our materials and a short video that will help promote this endeavor and tell the story. We are having conversations with farming organizations and people around the state who are excited about this new model and we are building support. We are getting our ducks in a row for a local fundraising campaign that will help the Vermont Agrarian Commons purchase the land to lease back to Bread & Butter Farm (and Blank Page Café and Music for Sprouts). 

So, please stay tuned but know that this model is incredible, and one we are committed to and one that we believe will propel our farm into the future in a strong and vibrant way.  We will need everyone to come on board with us on this journey and to dig in more to this model and to learn more about it, so please stay tuned and we look forward to telling you more about it!!

~ Corie