A Revolution In Agriculture

Wes Jackson does not apologize for thinking long-term.  He knows such visioning is a practical necessity for achieving a transition to an agriculture that restores and conserves the health of the soil while mitigating the effects of climate change.  He is a plant geneticist, after all, trained to consider future generations.  At The Land Institute, which he founded four decades ago, the task at hand is to breed perennial crops that will feed the people while holding the tilth of the soil.  He is making progress.

Along with his good friend Wendell Berry, Wes is asking Congress to adopt a 50-year Farm Bill—time enough for new farming practices to take hold and show results, time enough for “a revolution in agriculture,” as he called for in his 1981 E. F. Schumacher Lecture.

Wes, who knows young farmers need dependable long-term access to farmland to undertake a 50-year farm plan, is partnering with Agrarian Trust in calling for secure tenure for a new generation of farmers.  He is the keynote speaker at Agrarian Trust’s Symposium in Berkeley, California, Saturday evening, April 26th.  Tickets are still available online.

Sunday’s all-day Symposium is now sold out.  But the presentation by Sjoerd Wartena, founder of Terre de Liens in France, may be viewed in its entirety at the Schumacher Center’s website.  Terre de Liens was formed to address the issue of affordable farmland access and serves as a model for development of the Agrarian Trust.  It includes a foundation to receive gifts of land and money to purchase land and an investment company with over 9,000 individuals who place funds at no interest to acquire land for a farmland commons.  And it partners with multiple regional groups, which then hold the land for the regional community and lease it to farmers through 99-year leases that offer equity in buildings, fencing, perennial stock, and soil improvements.  The lease terms are similar to those used by the Community Land Trust in the Southern Berkshires at Indian Line Farm, the first Community Supported Agriculture farm in the US.

Terre de Liens is an inspiring citizen-initiated response to what is now recognized as a global problem, according to a new report, “Down on the Farm,” from the Oakland Institute.

Institutional investors in hedge funds, private equity, pension funds, and university endowments have recently trained their sights on America’s agricultural infrastructure. They are lining up to purchase some 400 million acres that will become available over the next two decades to use for industrial farming as well as for fracking and fossil-fuel production. Their pursuit of a quick buck is driving land prices up, imperiling farmers’ economic future, the viability of the farm and rural economy, and the long-term health of the land.

Anuradha Mittal, Executive Director of the Oakland Institute, argues that we must act to ensure that farmers, not non-operational owners, are in control of our nation’s farmland. “If we don’t, America’s agricultural heritage—not to mention our ability to produce enough food to feed our people—could disintegrate.” In her talk following Wes Jackson’s on Saturday, she will point to Agrarian Trust and California Farmlink as presenting model initiatives to counteract the corporate farmland grab.

A consortium of regional groups is needed to manage the land that is restored to a community-based system of farmland commons.  Founded in 2005 in Richmond, California, to help create a more sustainable, healthy, and just local food system, Urban Tilth farms, feeds, forages, teaches, trains, builds community, employs, and gives back.  It uses school and community gardens and small urban farms to teach and employ residents of the region to grow, distribute, cook, and consume thousands of pounds of local produce each year. Doria Robinson, Tilth’s creative executive director, will speak at Saturday’s Symposium.

Urban Tilth’s crop of New Agrarians needs a complementary crop of New Economists to forge a local economic infrastructure in order to support a more resilient food system. Richmond’s mayor Gayle McLaughlin is leading this new- economy work by encouraging creation of co-ops that produce goods for local markets, train youth in skills needed in the economy, and fearlessly use the power of eminent domain to re-gather lands and homes in danger of foreclosure.

If you can, please join us Saturday evening, April 26th, at Wheeler Hall, University of California Berkeley for “OUR LAND: A Symposium on Land Access in the 21st Century” with Wes Jackson, Anuradha Mittal, Gayle McLaughlin, and Doria Robinson. Severine von Tscharner Fleming, founder of Agrarian Trust, a project of the Schumacher Center for a New Economics, will introduce the speakers.

For those of you unable to attend, please explore the extensive resources on the websites of our speakers and the following sponsoring organizations: Berkeley Food Institute, California Farmlink, Chelsea Green Publishing, David Brower Center, Roots of Change, and Vital Systems.  Together they are creating a revolution in agriculture.