About Agrarian Trust

Agrarian Trust’s mission is to support land access for next generation farmers.

Now’s the time for radical grassroots land reform.

Financial speculators, industrial agriculture powerhouses, and wealthy nonfarmers are seizing the moment and snatching up farms across the country. We can’t let their consolidation and commodification of land go unchecked.

To counter these giant forces, we need a different model for farmland ownership, tenure, and equity. Something rooted in community that values people and the planet over profit. We have the tools, the knowledge, and the power to make this transformation together.

Farmland ownership is undergoing a monumental shift.

The average US farm owner is over 62 years old, and 37 midsize farms permanently close every day across the country. More than 400 million acres of US farmland will change hands during this decade and the next. Meanwhile, the next generation of eager and capable farmers struggle to access farmland.

Our relationship to the land is deeply flawed.

The gross inequities of farmland access are a big problem. Most farmland is owned by nonfarmers who treat it as just another investment—a vehicle for development, extraction, and speculation instead of for resilience and community. The vast majority (80 percent) of farmworkers are people of color, yet people of color own just a tiny fraction of US farmland—less than 2 percent.

We’re living with a farming system that’s rooted in unjust landownership and destructive practices. A legacy of colonial exploits and extraction. Left unchallenged, this system will smother us all—humans, animals, and plants—and poison the earth.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

The gross inequities of farmland access are a big problem. Most farmland is owned by nonfarmers who treat it as just another investment—a vehicle for development, extraction, and speculation instead of for resilience and community. The vast majority (80 percent) of farmworkers are people of color, yet people of color own just a tiny fraction of US farmland—less than 2 percent.

We’re living with a farming system that’s rooted in unjust landownership and destructive practices. A legacy of colonial exploits and extraction. Left unchallenged, this system will smother us all—humans, animals, and plants—and poison the earth.

Why Farmland Access Matters

The economics of agriculture are broken.

Market-based farmland prices are totally out of step with what farmers can afford from actually working the land in a sustainable way. Even if the real estate market were reasonable, starting a farm business is already a capital-intensive process—from buying a tractor to building barns and fences to hiring farmhands. Stack on the cost of living, day-to-day operations, market pressures of our cheap-food economy, perishability, and unpredictable weather, and you can see why it takes a brave soul to enter agricultural entrepreneurship.

Farms are cornerstones of thriving communities.

Local farms are exactly what our rural economy needs. Imagine more producers operating at an appropriate scale—with the ability to create jobs, care for the soil and water, and produce healthy food for the people around them. These kinds of farms are cornerstones of thriving communities. And they need support, both to get off the ground and sustain themselves in the long run.

Each year a new crop of eager apprentices enter the field. They train with experienced mentors in Collaborative Regional Alliance for Farmer Training (C.R.A.F.T.) programs, incubator programs, extension education, and more. We have seen an explosion of new farm start-ups in the last decade—but older farmers (age 65 and up) still outnumber younger farmers (age 35 and under) by six to one. As a nation, we have an abundance of high-quality agricultural land and simply need the best farmers and farming techniques to sustain our lands—and ourselves.

How Do We Address Farmland Access?

Agrarian Trust protects farmland for sustainable agriculture and preserves its affordability for new and disadvantaged farmers. We do this by buying, holding, and permanently protecting farmland in communities across the country through our unique Commons approach. We offer new tools for landowners and retiring farmers to partner with beginning and under-resourced farmers, strengthening our local food economies.

Removing Barriers for the Next Generation of Farmers

By owning farmland outright, Agrarian Trust is able to permanently preserve farmland and enter into long-term leases with farmers who can’t afford the increasingly high cost of entry into the agricultural economy. Through lease restrictions and agricultural easements on the land it owns, Agrarian Trust can remove these barriers while requiring organic farming practices, maintaining affordability for future farmers, and ensuring that sensitive ecosystems are protected.

Providing Fair Value & Long-Term Conservation for Landowners

Through a variety of tools, we help landowners ensure an equitable transfer while pursuing long-term conservation and farm-legacy goals.

As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, Agrarian Trust provides landowners with tax benefits for donation or bargain sale transfer. Agrarian Trust then transfers land to its 501(c)(2) title-holding corporation, which gives greater flexibility and community control to the local Commons that will steward the land for decades to come.

Advocacy for Land Access
Agrarian Trust amplifies the issue of land access by convening thought leaders, organizing and collaborating on conferences, giving talks, and publishing communications about land transition. We also support stakeholders with information, online resources, access stories, land and job listings, networks, and the Commons Alliance—a network of aligned land trusts, organizations, communities, and other land-access advocates. 

Agrarian Trust’s History

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Initially launched as a project of the Schumacher Center for a New Economics, Agrarian Trust was initiated in January 2013 by a group of stakeholders in sustainable agriculture, many of them farmer service providers and beginning farmers who have witnessed firsthand the formidable obstacles we face.

This group saw that there was great work being done to help farmers access land, but it was not enough to make the large-scale change needed. Working together for three days, they came up with a plan of action to address the needs of service providers and next generation farmers. This plan centered on advancing the cause of land transfer—what Henry George called “the Land Question.” Agrarian Trust’s mission and goals directly support this cause by:

  1. Supporting stakeholders (landowners, new farmers, investors, farm service providers, farm heirs, farmland owners) to make good decisions for the best interest of the land and its stewards 
  2. Building a farmland commons to hold the land, a gold standard that provokes a powerful conversation about the commons

After another convening at Paicines Ranch in California in January 2014, Agrarian Trust released the organization’s guiding principles, made public at the 2014 OUR LAND Symposium.

Agrarian Trust is modeled after the work of Terre de Liens, a French group that has protected more than 100 organic farms, as well as the principles articulated in collaboration with our stakeholder community during the Paicines sessions. Our work is also inspired by “land gifting” in the tradition of the bhoodan movement, and Elinor Ostrom’s Nobel Prize–winning work on governing the commons.

Since the Paicines sessions, Agrarian Trust has partnered with the Sustainable Economies Law Center (SELC) to develop our organization’s governance model and legal tools to hold land in common. Working together, we intend to create legal models that will allow us to fulfill our mission of creating a farmland commons—preserving access to affordable farmland, in perpetuity, for the purposes of ecologically responsible, community-owned food production.