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The Challenges of Land Reform Work

Farmland in Russia.

This year’s Annual Lectures will focus on new forms of land holding, and present three speakers intimately familiar with the challenges of land reform work: Wes Jackson, co-founder of The Land Institute, whose current project is the revitalization of Kansas prairie town Mattfield Green; Winona LaDuke, an Anishinaabe of the White Earth Reservation in northern Minnesota, whois using the Community Land Trust as a model for her work as director of the White Earth Land Recovery Project; and George Davis, an international land planning consultant and head of the Lake Baikal Watershed Project in Siberia. We hope that you can join us at Yale on October 23rd to be part of this timely discussion. If you are unable to attend, please know that transcripts of the speeches will be available in pamphlet form through the Center’s publication service.

In September the Center participated in the annual Mayors’ Institute conference, held on Vancouver Island, British Columbia. Attending were mayors from throughout the province, representing villages as small as 350 and cities as large as half a million. Land and land claims were a central concern at the conference, as 50% of British Columbia’s territory is presently claimed by Native Canadian groups. The tenor of discussion at the conference was that the land claims are just, and should be honored. The Native Canadian representatives offer assurances to people living and working on claimed lands that their equity is secure. However, the lack of legal precedents for such land holding agreements only increases tension over existing claims.

Fortunately, the Community Land Trust lease agreements introduced to this country by Center President Robert Swann (and proposed to our colleagues on the Lake Baikal Project) could provide British Columbia with a solution. The CLT lease agreements provide a legal mode! for establishing ownership of buildings and land use rights while simultaneously transferring land titles to the Native Canadian governments. Such a transfer would be complicated, but significant and ultimately healing for all concerned. British Columbia’s land ownership controversy underscores the timeliness of the proposal put forth by staff members Matthew Taylor and Kael Loftus. They propose to write a book that clearly describes the various applications of the leasehold concept for resolving issues of land use and rights, those which balance ecological concerns with appropriate use. Such a work would be a valuable resource for anyone working on land use and land reform issues.

LEFT: Susan Witt, Peter C. Webber (State Senator for Berkshire County) with his son, and Joe Savage, founding board member of SHARE, in 1985.

The recent national media focus on micro-lending programs has kindled new interest in the Center’s SHARE program. SHARE (Self-Help Association for a Regional Economy) differs from peer-lending programs in that it links consumer with producer, rather than just linking producers. This connection builds community awareness of small regional businesses and instills the responsibility to support them. In her new book Systems for Survival (Random House, 1992) Jane Jacobs comments: “SHARE improves the local availability of things people seem to want or need. Giving customers convenient access to what they want is part of Bob and Susan’s notion of improving the regional economy. The most important advantage of SHARE is that when a business is serving the community well, the community wants it to succeed. This support is as valuable as the loans themselves.” In her notes, Jane refers the Center to readers interested in SHARE or other forms of “local economic development (e.g. land trusts, issues of local currency)”.

Speaking of local currency, the Center’s local scrip program was another program that found a responsive audience at the Mayor’s Institute. Mayor Bob Boce of Surrey, BC is interested in local scrip as a means of helping neighborhoods to further define themselves and gain greater economic autonomy.   At the last session of the Institute, Mayor Boce commented movingly on the experiences of small community mayors; he suggested that his large city, Surrey, would be better managed as a federation of smaller, more autonomous neighborhood governments, and announced his intention to initiate such a change.  An important part of that decentralizing process, he argued, was the creation of local scrips in each neighborhood.

The Center has collected the legal documents for both the SHARE program and Community Land Trust into ring binders, which are for sale through its publication service. The CLT collection is part of the raw material of Matt and Kael’s book, which will also offer commentary, history, and case studies of land trusts. A future book on micro-lending and local scrip is in the works.

It is with great pressure that the Center announces the first recipients of its new scholarship program to England’s Schumacher College at Dartington Hall. Angie Decherd graduated this past summer from Rutgers with special distinction for her work in conservation ecology. She has a long-standing interest in small-scale development and political decentralization. Angie has chosen to attend the Ecology and Technology course offered by Nancy and John Todd.   Tracy Dyke is a junior at Oberlin College, majoring in Biology and Ecological Studies.   Her studies of ecological systems have led to an interest in the ecological impact of economic systems. Following her work at Schumacher College, she will spend a term in Costa Rica. Tracy has also chosen to attend the Todd’s Ecology and Technology course.

If you are interested in joining our scholarship recipients at Dartington Hall, please see the course program for Schumacher College. College founder and chairman Satish Kumar will be in the Cambridge, Massachusetts area the evening of October 31st for a public lecture discussing the College and its courses. He will be joined by Nancy and John Todd, the founders of Ocean Arks International and publishers of Annals of Earth. The Todds will be discussing their Schumacher College course, Ecology and Technology. 

We look forward to seeing you at the Lectures.