There has been much discussion of and consternation at the statistics regarding the loss of farmland by Black farmers. In 1910, Black farmers owned approximately 16 million acres of farmland in the US, but as of the 2017 Census of Agriculture, farmers who are Black, Indigenous, and people of color owned less than 3 million acres. This is the result of devastating and systemic racial discrimination, including Jim Crow laws and lynchings forcing migration, lack of access to capital and credit due to USDA discrimination, the theft of land held as heirs’ property, and corruption by the legal system. We must make amends.
At the same time, American Farmland Trust tells us that there are 370 million acres of land changing hands in the next two decades. While much of that land will be passed on via inheritance, speculation by developers, private investors and corporate agribusiness is driving up land prices and creating more barriers to land access for new and beginning farmers and farmers of color.
A group of farmer activists decided to act at this critical juncture with the goals of helping underrepresented communities get access to rural land, supporting urban growers, and protecting the earth from the ravages of agribusiness. We began by blending the traditions from conservation land trust and community land trust worlds to create a hybrid called an “Agrarian Commons.” Agrarian Trust acts as an ally, providing fundraising, legal and other support for local partner organizations, many of which are engaged in their own liberatory activities through farming. In both urban and rural contexts, local projects are working to promote food sovereignty, preserve ecologically stewarded farmland in perpetuity, and provide affordable, long-term land tenure to farmers who face barriers to land access. Agrarian Trust continues to learn from our partners as we change and grow and strive to be better allies.
Panel participants will hear inspiring stories of this hybrid land trust organization’s transformative journey, and what we and our local project leaders have learned as we make the crucial leap from theory to practice. You will hear what we are grappling with legally and ethically in order to support the sovereignty of local communities. Most importantly, participants will learn what this effort looks like on the ground, from a farmer and member of the board of the Central Virginia Agrarian Commons. Panelists include Agrarian Trust staff, Agrarian Commons board members, a farmer, and attorneys helping develop and refine legal tools.