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Leaders of the Sustainable Agriculture Movement to Convene for April Symposium: With 400 Million Acres of Farmland Set to Change Hands, Who Will Reap the Rewards?

A Pivotal Moment for the Future of Food, Farmers, and Land Stewardship in our Country

(Great Barrington, MA – March 10, 2014) Last week, the USDA released preliminary results from the 2012 Agricultural Census. The new data shows an aging farming population in the US – the average age of the American farmer is now 58, up 1.2 years from 2007. 33% of farmers are now of retirement age (65 or older). Only 6% of principal farm operators are 35 or younger.

The total number of farms in the country decreased to 2,109,363 in 2012. Mid-sized farms are hardest hit by this decline – the number of small farms (less than 10 acres) and large farms (1000 or greater acres) did not change significantly. The average farm size increased 3.8 percent from 2007 to 2012, indicating that mid-sized farms are being consolidated into larger farms. The total landbase being farmed also decreased to 914,603,026 acres, a decline of .8 percent.


The New Generation of Farmers in America

 In the next two decades, 400 million acres of U.S. farmland will change hands, and the question of what will happen to that land when it reaches the market is crucial to the future of our food system. Just in time for this pivotal land transition is a new generation of young farmers, eager to become stewards of their own plot of land and healthfully feed their communities.

Building on the momentum of the organic movement and trained by experienced mentor farmers, these new agrarians are fiercely ambitious; entering sector after sector, from milling flour to brewing beer, making cheese to butchering hogs. They are selling to their communities through CSA’s, farmers markets, restaurants, institutions and subscription programs, and low-income, food-insecure populations through USDA SNAP/Food Assistance programs. The CSA model in particular has galvanized this new farmer movement – the number of CSAs increased from only two farms in 1986 to roughly 6,500 in 2012. Demand for more locally, ethically and sustainably raised food has supported this rising generation of entrepreneurs, greenhorns and new farmers.


Lack of Access to Farmland and Markets Are Key Obstacles to New Farmers

 And yet, despite market demand for better foods, the generation entering agriculture cannot afford the climbing price of land. The cost of farmland has risen by an estimated 213% in the past decade due to speculative purchasing of land by large farm operators as well as by outside investors looking for a safe long-term investment opportunity.

This recent surge in prices compounds a trend of the last 50 years as farmland has become concentrated in the hands of ever fewer owners, supporting ever fewer livelihoods in rural America, and growing a fewer number of crops.  Currently about 2% of U.S. cropland is used to grow fruits and vegetables, while 59% is devoted to commodity crops, including corn and soybeans. These crops are used primarily to produce three things: meat, processed foods such as high fructose corn syrup, and biofuels such as ethanol. More small, sustainable farms means more diversity in the crops we grow, healthier land, healthier consumers and healthier rural communities.

Greyhairs and Greenhorns alike share concern about farmland access. This massive transfer of land is an opportunity for intergenerational collaboration, new forms of partnership, lease-to-own arrangements, easements, trusts and community-driven conservation initiatives.  These new farmers want to steward the land, enriching it for future generations of farmers and eaters. Retiring farmers want to see their land cared for and farmed, but face tough decisions when non-farming investors or developers can offer a higher premium.

How will this land pass forward, and to whom? And what are the implications for our economic, social and ecological landscape?

A Movement to Improve Land Access for Young and Beginning Farmers

Agrarian Trust’s mission is to support the transition of farmland to the next generation of sustainable growers. On April 26 + 27, Agrarian Trust will convene a powerhouse lineup of thinkers, farmers, authors and activists for OURLAND: A Symposium on Land Access in the 21st Century. These speakers will discuss this pivotal moment in our agrarian destiny, and will speak broadly to the topic of land transfer, from the political economy of ownership to the appropriate tools of transfer and social finance, to the magnitude of farmland in question and the environmental impact of its future use.

Speakers include:

Wes Jackson, MacArthur Fellow, and Founder/President of the Land Institute in Salina, Kansas, which is breeding perennial grains and seed crops for a polyculture that would mimic natural ecosystems in native prairies of the Midwest. Jackson is author of New Roots for Agriculture (U Nebraska, 1980), and an advisory team member of Agrarian Trust.

Joel Salatin is a farmer,author and advocate for sustainable farming systems. His latest book Fields of Farmers: Interning, Partnering, Mentoring, Germinating offers practical guidance to various stakeholders in the farmland transition and the training of new farmers.

Anuradha Mittal is Director of the Oakland institute, activist and longtime researcher on land grabbing around the world, and recently in the United States. The Oakland Institute recently released the report ” Down On the Farm: Wall Street – America’s New Farmer

Sjoerd Wartena is the founder of a national land commons or  “Land Fund” in France called Terre De Liens in 2008 that now holds over 100 organic farms, leasing them to organic farmers with long-term, equity-building leases.

Elizabeth Henderson is the Founder of the Agricultural Justice Project. She is a pioneer of Community Supported Agriculture, which she practiced for 25 years on her farm in western New York, Peacework Farm. She is author of Sharing the Harvest: a Citizen’s Guide to Community Supported Agriculture, and is an advisory team member of Agrarian Trust.

This event is co-sponsored by Roots of Change, The David Brower Center, Chelsea Green Publishing, Berkeley Food Institute and California FarmLink.

Event details, complete speaker bios, schedule and tickets can be found at: