History

The History of the Agrarian Commons

The Agrarian Commons is a necessary and innovative land-ownership model that addresses the current realities of how land is owned, how tenure and equity are conveyed, and how land stewardship is carried out. This model challenges corporate and large-scale agriculture land-ownership models and offers a new, sustainable approach for the small farmer.

The first Agrarian Commons were created in 2020, and currently there are 12 Agrarian Commons in varying stages of development. Below is the history of how this new model was developed.

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The Origins of the Agrarian Commons

The Agrarian Commons Creation Committees

Two Agrarian Commons Creation Committees met, the first in 2019 and the second in early 2020, to co-create documents and agreements to guide the first cohort of Agrarian Commons. These committees brought together national leaders, innovators, local and regional stakeholders, and aligned organizations to ensure that broad and diverse perspectives and experience informed the launch of Agrarian Commons. Agrarian Trust hosted and facilitated both committees, and we are grateful for the participants’ expertise and thoughtfulness.

Janelle Orsi, Neil Thapar, Sara Stephens, Cameron Rhudy, and other attorneys at Sustainable Economies Law Center (SELC) initiated the process of developing open source “commons” legal tools for community-owned farmland and equitable tenure for farmers in 2015, and we continued to develop those tools through committee discussions. 

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The 2019 committee included advisors, organizational partners, attorneys, and farmland-access and -tenure practitioners who refined SELC’s draft documents and created templates. 

The 2020 committee, composed of founding farmers, community stakeholders, and Agrarian Commons Founders, localized these documents, refining legal language that covers the following topics:

  • Farmer equity and tenure security with equitable lease / ground lease
  • Agrarian Commons 501(c)(2) and 501(c)(25) bylaws
  • Cultural respect easements
  • Legal language to prohibit market-based sale of land
  • Options to ensure active farming and stewardship
  • Farm standards, forest standards, and ecological-stewardship standards and agreements

Agrarian Commons Creation Committee Members

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Rachel Armstrong

Farm Commons

Kristin King-Ries

Kristin King-Ries

The Working World, CT

The Working World, CT

Sophia Kruszewski

Vermont Law School Center for Agriculture and Food Systems , VT

Laura Bozzi

Yale Climate Change and Health Initiative, CT

Konrad Liegel

Private Practice and WA Agrarian Commons attorney, WA

Ted Bellinger

New Venture Advisors, LLC, CO

Amy Manzelli

BCM Environmental Land Law and NH Agrarian Commons attorney, NH

Amy Laura Cahn

aaaaConservation Law Foundation, MA

Nellie McAdams

Rogue Farm Corps, OR

Miranda Christy

Dodson Parker Behm & Capparella, PC, and TN Agrarian Commons attorney, TN

Jeff Mendelsohn

Local Code, CA

Sara Dewey

Conservation Law Foundation, MA

Ethan Miller

Land in Common, ME

Jonah Fertig-Burd

Cooperative Development Institute, ME

Stephanie Morningstar

The Northeast Farmers of Color network, Ontario, Oneida

Rebecca Fletcher

Rebecca Fletcher

Jim Oldham

Equity Trust, MA

Mike Ghia

Land for Good, VT

Holly-Rippon Butler

National Young Farmers Coalition, NY

Jennifer Hashley

New Entry Sustainable Farming Project, MA

Laurie Ristino

George Washington University Law School, Strategies for a Sustainable Future, NH

Emma Hempstead

Emma Hempstead

Connor Stedman

Connor Stedman

Dorothy Hinkle-Uhlig

Yggdrasil Land Foundation, AL

Sara Stephens

Sustainable Economies Law Center, CA

Jillian Hishaw

FARMS, NC

FARMS, NC

Sustainable Economies Law Center, CA

Kendra Johnson

Kendra Johnson

Sarah Wentzel-Fisher

The Northeast Farmers of Color network, RI

Keefe Keeley

Keefe Keeley

Sustainable Economies Law Center, CA

Sustainable Economies Law Center, CA

Miranda Christy

Dodson Parker Behm & Capparella, PC, and TN Agrarian Commons attorney, TN

Jeff Mendelsohn

Local Code, CA

Sara Dewey

Conservation Law Foundation, MA

Ethan Miller

Land in Common, ME

Jonah Fertig-Burd

Cooperative Development Institute, ME

Stephanie Morningstar

The Northeast Farmers of Color network, Ontario, Oneida

Rebecca Fletcher

Rebecca Fletcher

Jim Oldham

Equity Trust, MA

Mike Ghia

Land for Good, VT

Holly-Rippon Butler

National Young Farmers Coalition, NY

Jennifer Hashley

New Entry Sustainable Farming Project, MA

Laurie Ristino

George Washington University Law School, Strategies for a Sustainable Future, NH

Emma Hempstead

Emma Hempstead

Connor Stedman

Connor Stedman

Dorothy Hinkle-Uhlig

Yggdrasil Land Foundation, AL

Sara Stephens

Sustainable Economies Law Center, CA

Jillian Hishaw

FARMS, NC

FARMS, NC

Sustainable Economies Law Center, CA

Kendra Johnson

Kendra Johnson

Sarah Wentzel-Fisher

The Northeast Farmers of Color network, RI

Keefe Keeley

Keefe Keeley

Sustainable Economies Law Center, CA

Sustainable Economies Law Center, CA

Attorneys

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Kristin King-Ries

Trust Montana, MT

Susan Stokes

Farmers’ Legal Action Group, MN

Amy Manzelli

BCM Environmental & Land Law, PLLC, NH

Sara Stephens

Sustainable Economies Law Center, CA

Miranda Christy

Dodson Parker Behm & Capparella, PC, TN

Neil Thapar

Sustainable Economies Law Center, CA

Suzanne Pierce

CowanPerry PC, VA

Jillian Hishaw

FARMS, NC

Fran Miller

Vermont Law School, VT

Emma Hempstead

FairShake Environmental Legal Services, PA

Konrad Liegel

Konrad J. Liegel Attorney At Law, PLLC, WA

Sara Dewey

Conservation Law Foundation, MA

Elizabeth Dunne

Dunne Law, WA

Amy Laura Cahn

MA

Amy Laura Cahn

Fayette County Assistant Prosecutor, WV

Rachel Armstrong

Farm Commons

Beth Boepple

BCM Environmental & Land Law, PLLC, ME

Clark Arrington

The Working World, CT