Each Agrarian Commons is governed equally by leaseholders, local community members, and Agrarian Trust. Hear why the Agrarian Commons is important to individuals in each of these categories and more.
Photo of Cameron Terry farming at Garden Variety Harvests
FARMERS AND LEASEHOLDERS
Southwest Virginia is a place with a pretty rich agricultural history. Our chapter of the Agrarian Commons really just wants to move the ball forward and try to build and bolster our local food communities.
A little bit about the business I run, Chloe and I moved here to Roanoke, VA with the mission of starting this urban farming business, Garden Variety Harvests. In that time we've farmed a variety of different urban land including some community garden property, and right now it's made up of several urban backyards. Right now we're working somewhere around a quarter of an acre in total, and we bring a wide range, as the name of the business suggests, we bring a wide range of stuff to the market. So, starting a farming business growing on other people's yards and paying my rent in vegetables was really the only way I had access to a new career in farming. I didn't have a family history in farming, or bags of cash to go buy a farm with, so this is what I settled on as my way of making a sustainable business out of it, and bootstrapping the farm to the point where maybe we would be able to buy our own piece of land. We really believe strongly in the idea that food can bring communities together and food production is a really important part of a healthy community and that's a lot of why we want to take our farm to the next level through the Agrarian Commons model.
I come from a sharecropping family in Sylvester, GA. I've never been to that farm because my grandfather made a deliberate decision to move his children away from that environment because he saw it as deliberately exploitative of people of color, and that land has been held and rented by Ag conglomerates for the last few decades and actually this year they finally bit the bullet and they sold the family farm for a meager sum because they didn't see a sustainable future for that land. And I think it's really important to highlight that older Black folks like my grandfather have never seen agriculture as a plan for success for their children. That's why we were encouraged to go get a four year education, that's why we were encouraged to get white-collar jobs, because the food system was not fair for us, and so that's why I went and got a four year degree that I'm currently paying student loans on right now. And I'm doing something that's completely different from that.
But, my granddad died when I was in kindergarten, and I don't really remember a whole lot about him as a person, but I do remember how prolific his garden was. It was always full of collards, and green beans, and he had this awesome apple tree that we would climb in the yard. So it was really clear that he thought growing food was important, he just didn't think that being part of the exploitative food system was something he wanted his family to be involved in.
And so I'm really excited about the idea that we can engage in agriculture on our own terms, and that's what I think the Agrarian Commons represents for me. I don't need to own the land, what I need is secure tenure on the land so I can stop spending thousands of dollars every year on compost on other peoples' yards.
So, the Agrarian Commons model really embodies these ideas of equity, dignity, affordability, and community ownership and that's why I'm excited to be part of the Commons. It means I can focus on my farm business, employ a small crew, steward lands responsibility, and not worry about hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt hanging over the farm business. And I'll be arm-in-arm with a group of community advocates who want to see the farm thrive, and that's really important to me.
A long-term equitable lease is exactly what my business needs. Growing on yards has been a good start, but I think we're really ready to do something more. So, right now we're looking for the farm's forever home. We're hoping for 3 - 10 acres somewhere within 30min or so of our Grandin Village Farmers Market, we want good road visibility because we want an on-farm store and cafe. We want to be a place where we can host community events, workshops, internships, and maybe even a summer camp. We want to live on farm. Maybe not immediately, but eventually because I'm really tired of driving this beater pickup truck around town everyday to all my farm plots, and I think a farmer deserves to live on farm if they want to.
And we want to capitalize on the skills that Chloe has cultivated over almost a decade in youth work. It's an opportunity to show young people what an agricultural business can be from seed to plate and we can show them every bit of that on our farm business.
Hi folks this is Jeremiah Vernon from Vernon Family Farm on the Seacoast of New Hampshire. We are a pastured livestock operation with a specialy in pastured poulty. We also raise beef cows and lamb, and we are a founding member of the New Hampshire Agrarian Commons. We decided to be a part of the Agrarian Commons because we believe the future of a healthy community requires healthy farms, and the Agrarian Commons is looking to blend just that: farms and communities to create a healthy future and that's a future we believe in and want to be part of. So the Agrarian Commons is incredibly important in our opinion for farm viability because it it ensures not only that farms are protected for future generations for future production for feeding future communities, but also it encourages and helps farms become more sustainable, viable, and financially significant in their situation while they're still in their current operation with their current owners. So my wife and I started the farm, and we're looking to become a viable and thriving operation and we want to show that farming is not a lifestyle of poverty and can lead to a lifestyle of happiness and success. The Agrarian Commons is a way to help facilitate that. In addition, we think that land access and equity are incredibly important. For our farms on the Seacoast of New Hampshire, it is an incredibly expensive place to live, and without the Agrarian Common's help, it would be very hard for farmers to access the land they need, get customers that they want to sell to, and that they can afford their product. So I think that helping secure farmland at a lower-than-market value for farmers is incredibly important for farmers to continue to grow for communities to continue to purchase from them. So thank you so much, appreciate everything the Agrarian Commons and Agrarian Trust is doing, and here's to a healthier future. Thank you.
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. . . .
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!!
Read Corie's full essay on the Agrarian Commons model here.
My name is Kim Kirkbride and I work for the New River Land Trust. We work to conserve farmland, forest, open spaces, and historic places in the New River region of Southwest Virginia. We are pleased to be founding members of the Southwest Virginia Agrarian Commons. We're attracted to the Agrarian Commons model because for years we've seen that in addition to legal mechanisms of land protection, the conservation community needs to support good stewards of land to fully realize a vision of resilient protected landscapes. We were brainstorming ways we could increase our support of local farms in our service area when the Agrarian Commons model was brought to our attention, and it seemed like a natural fit. To me, the Agrarian Commons addresses root causes of exploitation of both land and communities. Land and our relationship to it is literally the basis of life. The Agrarian Commons recognizes that humans are only one component in the interdependent web of life, and that our economies are just another layer of the earth's ecology. Since our current economy is based on commodifying and exploiting the foundation of our well-being, we are on an inevitable path toward our own demise. But I see the Agrarian Commons as a widely adaptable framework for basing a new economy on fairness, health, and abundance instead of exploitation and scarcity. In terms of land access and building racial equity, we can't address the history of racial inequities in America without addressing the history of this land. Returning stolen lands to Indigenous stewardship and offering land as a basis for reparations to Black people are places I think we can start. The Agrarian Commons model acknowledges these wounds and offers one way of redressing them by prioritizing secure and affordable land access for Black and Indigenous folks and people of color. It's my hope that this will be a seed for a new economy that is just and equitable and based on mutual aid.
My name is Hermina Harold. I'm the director of Trust Montana, which is a state-wide community land trust. Trust Montana's mission is to promote community land trusts and hold land in trust to facilitate workforce housing, farmland affordability, and the preservation of vital community assets that keep rural and urban areas livable for Montanans of varied economic means. Trust Montana is a founding member of the Montana Agrarian Commons. We decided to become part of the Agrarian Commons because we've been working on establishing a community land trust that serves the entire state of Montana since 2010, and we have mostly been able to work on affordable housing projects during that time, and we have always been aiming to purchase and protect farmland as well, but it has been very difficult to get funding and other resources to allow us to preserve farmland as permanently affordable. So partnering with the Agrarian Trust on an Agrarian Commons provides a really special opportunity for us to fulfill part of our mission that has been more difficult for us to fulfill up until this point. The Agrarian Commons model signifies hope for me because it will increase access to land for people who are otherwise excluded from owning it and have been for generations. The way land has been handed down from generation to generation in this country has compounded racial and economic disparities and I hope the Commons model, which is much like the community land trust model that Trust Montana is based on, can help undo some of that harm. In respects to the health of both land and people in Montana, the Agrarian Commons is a tool that I hope can level the playing field and make sustainable practices more viable for beginning farmers to use with less of a debt burden for their land. Farmers should be able to take more risks and try new methods that don't rely on conventional methods that deplete the soil or damage ecosystems and pollute the water.
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