Goat Cheese for Greta’s Wedding

Greta addressed her wedding invitations in-between sessions at the Schumacher Center’s May training seminar, “Building Sustainable Local Economies.”  Her family’s home was in New Orleans’ Ninth Ward before last year’s hurricane destroyed buildings and scattered friends.  Though busy with wedding arrangements, the seminar promised tools for regathering land and maintaining community control—tools needed for her neighborhood to rebuild.  So Greta traveled to Great Barrington to join the twenty-five other seminar attendees.

Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative is one of the most engaging applications of the community land trust model in an urban area.  By using the threat of eminent domain, a representative citizen group gained control of abandoned and neglected lots in the Roxbury area of Boston and began a redevelopment process shaped by and for the community.  Jason Webb and Caroline Marshall work for Dudley Street.  Jason is the highly skilled director of Dudley Street’s community land trust, arranging all the innovative financing and overseeing building projects.  Jason is always expanding his vision for his neighborhood.  He wondered how a local currency could ensure that the new wealth generated by the hard won community development process could stay and recirculate in the area, building needed jobs.  He and Caroline, a new employee, signed up for the seminar.

Quintin Cross is a young, fourth generation, elected official in his hometown of Hudson, New York, part of Columbia County. The County is quickly becoming a second home community to New York City, raising the cost of land for housing for local working families.  As majority leader on the Hudson City Council, Quintin is concerned to find a way to maintain affordable housing for his constituency.  The community land trust model described the first day of the seminar, caught his attention as providing a method to maintain permanently affordable homeownership.  Quintin arranged for Jason Webb to visit Hudson, see conditions first hand, and strategize.

A week later reporters started calling the Schumacher Center’s office with questions about the seminar and about the Community Land Trust in the Southern Berkshires.  Through Quintin’s good efforts, the city has set aside $25,000 to initiate a Hudson area community land trust and has committed to place suitable city-owned land into the trust for housing development.  Quintin knows how to put ideas into practice and those who elected him are better for it.  The first of several public meetings to introduce the topic to a wider audience will be held at 6 PM on Thursday, August 24th at the John L. Edwards School at 360 State Street in Hudson, New York.  Susan Witt is the speaker.

The Watts area of Los Angeles is notorious for gang violence.  Orland Bishop, Thomas Boffman, Alex Keeve, and Michael Slaughter of the Shade Tree Multicultural Foundation use an African tradition of conscious dialogue to successfully negotiate peace between warring gangs.  Engaged with and by the young men and women with whom they work, the Shade Tree Foundation’s staff is committed to addressing the full spectrum of spiritual, social, and economic problems at the root of the violence.  So motivated, the four Los Angeles’ friends all traveled to the Schumacher Center seminar to study tools for building sustainable communities.  They strategized together throughout the seminar, imagining turning a large housing project into owner-occupied apartments through use of a community land trust.  The ground floor should have spaces for small businesses, community meeting rooms, and daycare centers.  They were instinctively reconstructing the elements of a village in the heart of a city, knowing it was a form that would heal.

To understand the practical working of a community land trust, seminar attendees toured the Forest Row neighborhood of the Community Land Trust in the Southern Berkshires and saw people investing in additions to their homes, secure in the tenancy of their lease and the ability to build equity through their work.  We heard from Alex Thorp and Elizabeth Keen who lease the land at Indian Line Farm and run a Community Supported Agriculture farm.  The community’s purchase of the land at Indian Line through the Community Land Trust and the Nature Conservancy meant that the farmers did not have to finance the land purchase through their organic farm operations.   They carry a mortgage on the buildings and must be responsible for yearly operational costs, but the land itself was purchased through a one-time fund raising effort in the larger community, creating a permanently affordable site for production of food for the local community.

Rawson Brook Farm.

Martin Richards farms in Kentucky and serves on the board of the Community Farm Alliance.  He came to the seminar with CFA staff member Stacy Brooks. Martin is concerned with the loss of Kentucky’s small farms.  Stacy is concerned to educate the residents of the inner city neighborhoods of Louisville and Lexington about the importance of fresh, locally grown foods for their health and the health of their children.  Both recognized the community land trust as a model for helping build a sustainable Kentucky food system.

Rawson Brook Farm provided an example of community investment in farm equipment to secure a source of locally made cheese.  Susan Sellew showed us the detailed process she uses for turning her goats’ milk into a fine chevré.  Of course the goats and their kids stole the show with their graceful antics.  Rawson Brook Farm was the first recipient of a SHARE micro-credit loan; a group of depositors pooled their savings accounts to secure a bank loan for the stainless-steel cheese processing equipment needed to meet state standards for retail sales of the cheese.  The result is that the community feels rightful ownership in the finished product.  Monterey Chevré is a Berkshire staple, much loved and served.

Greta understood why when she tasted the cheese later that afternoon at tea at Joyce Scheffey’s home.  It would be perfect to serve at her wedding reception, but the cost of air shipping the cheese packed in ice seemed prohibitive.  By this time the seminar attendees were engaged in the details of Greta’s wedding.  Secretly they arranged to fly ten pounds of Montery Chevré to New Orleans in time for the wedding.  Greta was touched.  A bit of the Berkshires and the good wishes of all the seminar attendees would be with her on her wedding day.

On June 17th, Greta Adrienne Gladney married James Richard Randels, Jr. in her neighborood church.  It was the first service at the American Baptist Church in New Orleans since the devastation of the hurricane.  Her friends had spent the week before, scrubbing walls and floor, painting, and filling the church with flowering plants—the promise of renewal.  Drummers welcomed the congregation in African tradition.  Her son played the saxophone as his mother walked down the aisle.

A directory of community land trusts around the country and the legal documents of the Community Land Trust in the Southern Berkshires are at the Community Land Trust section of the web site.  Legal documents and more loan stories can be read at the SHARE section.

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