Agrarian Trust

LOCATION: United States

SUMMARY: Agrarian Trust’s goal is to nurture the birth of a paradigm shifting, cooperatively owned farmland commons. With 400 million acres of America’s farmland transitioning in ownership and 70% of farmers set to retire over the next two decades, and with very few young farmers able to afford their own properties, the risks of the consolidation of farmland into the hands of a small handful of giant corporations and of the irreversible dominance of a system of industrial agriculture are very real unless new mechanisms for intergenerational stewardship are forged. Agrarian Trust seeks to develop and experiment with a range of holistic strategies and models to address this crisis: nonprofit trusts, gifts and bequests of farmland, the creation of farmland commons with lifetime leases for young farmers, and democratic management by regional committees, shareholder, and investor based land acquisition.

PROBLEM SPACE: “In the face of climate disruption and humanity’s growing demands on the earth, Agrarian Trust proposes a systematic approach to transform our relationship with land, particularly the farmland, agricultural systems, and land-use paradigms that sustain us. Farmland is the practical interface for humanity and ecology–the ultimate place of traction for rebuilding an authentic regional economy and a food system resilient enough to withstand the pressures of climate change.

With 400 million acres of America’s farmland transitioning in ownership and 70% of farmers retiring over the next two decades, now is the time to articulate a clear set of values about how we undertake the transition of land, wealth, and power. Farmland loss, speculation, exorbitant personal and student loan debt, and corporate concentration threaten to undermine the critical shift to locally-owned, sustainably-managed, diversified, and restorative agricultural systems. If we fail to intervene, we will witness a corporate, investor-driven land grab unparalleled in civilization.

Confronted with these formidable land access issues and a global agricultural system responsible for up to 29% of total carbon emissions, nowhere is there a better opportunity to simultaneously address climate change, reconnect to the natural world, and build the economics of sharing than with farmland and food.”

SOLUTION: “The ultimate goal is providing a mechanism for intergenerational farmland stewardship, in time for the 70% of farmers poised to retire in the coming decade. Upon incorporation of Agrarian Trust, a national nonprofit landholding entity, we’ll begin accepting farmland bequests nationwide. The first land bequest is the Greenhorns headquarters farm on 17 acres in Westport, NY, home of a new fruit and nut tree nursery operation led by a young farmer.

The land, once brought into the nonprofit trust, will never be sold again. Its stewardship will be contractually prescribed: local, organic, community-based farming will be the only legal use for this land. We will operate, in sum, by: 1. buying and accepting gifts of farmland; 2. holding it as a farmland commons; 3. placing it in the hands of next-generation sustainable farmers with lifetime leases through which farmers can build equity. Land will be managed by regional committees through a democratic decision-making model. Rental income will help fund operations and management.

In 2016, we hope to launch a shareholder and investor based land acquisition model. Community members will be able to buy out retiring farmers, preserving farmland in perpetuity and ensuring that it transitions to a sustainable farmer.”