Farmland Access in the 21st Century ~ Recap from Agrarian Trust Symposium in Berkeley, CA

Screen Shot 2014-04-28 at 8.32.00 PMThree months after Congress passed a new Farm Bill authorizing nearly one trillion dollars over the next decade to support US agriculture, a symposium convened in Berkeley to grapple with the same challenges that the Farm Bill aims to confront: the rising age of the American farmer, loss of farmland, food security, public health, and more. The overwhelming conclusion of this past weekend’s gathering: the new reforms proposed by Capitol Hill hardly scratch the surface.

For one weekend only, agricultural activists and thinkers such as Joel Salatin, Wes Jackson and many more farmers, advocates and industry veterans in the audience came together for Our Land: Farmland Access in the 21st Century, coordinated by the new Agrarian Trust.

Rather than propose new subsidies, food stamps or crop insurance for commodity farmers, the Symposium dug deep, deconstructing the anthropological origins of agriculture, the historical pressures of capitalism on our food system, and proposing that new policy atop existing structures can do little to abate the global trends that threaten our food, economy and environment.

The Trust’s vision is grand and yet grounded in community collaboration and input.  A steering committee of sorts drafted Guiding Principles for the Trust, which they have just now publicized.  They welcome your feedback.

For those who weren’t able to make the Symposium, we’ve shared the audio files summaries from Sunday’s gathering below. You can also view a video of Wes Jackson’s talk from Saturday evening’s plenary.


May 5, 2014 ~ Note: Please see summaries below. Audio files have now been posted on the Agrarian Trust website.

Part One

Severine vT Fleming, Agrarian Trust: Welcoming remarks.

Joel Salatin, Polyface Farm, VA: Comments on and ideas to address the farmland problem in the U.S., including regulation obstacles, young farmers’ difficulty getting in and older farmers’ difficulty getting out of farmland, a “new concept of land development” ~ older farmers partnering with/incubating new farmers, divorcing the farm from the farmland, spending equity on management and information instead of infrastructure, and other tips for new farmers.

Eric Holt-Gimenez, Food First, Oakland CA: State of international farmland land grabs, the “capitalistic agrarian transition” over time, impact of recession on investment in farmland for financial vs production value, ubiquity of disenfranchisement of land-losing farmers, initiatives to fight these trends, and the need for a return to ethics around land, community and territories.


Part Two

Sjoerd Wartena, Terre de Liens, France: Sjoerd discusses the “social algorithm” and financial tools they used to funnel 50 million Euros from 9000 private individuals to protect land to be made available for 100 beginning, organic farms.


Part Three

Jeanne Merrill, CA Climate & Agriculture Network: Announcement about farmland bill AB 1961.

Elizabeth Henderson, Peaceworks Farm/Agricultural Justice Project, NY: Her history learning to farm and growing her farm businesses, turning to “agtivism”, and [39:15 start] her most recent work on the Agricultural Justice Project and the Domestic Fair Trade movement.  The Ag Justice Project has released a new Food Justice Certified label for consumers, and are training other certifiers to now verify and certify for Food Justice Certified.

Gary Nabhan, Author/Professor, AZ: The need for “Grayhorns” older farmers to share their wisdom with “Greenhorns” newer farmers and then “get out of the way”, supporting the web of stakeholders in the integrated food supply chain, fostering community, facilitating capital flow, fostering agro-ecology, and renewing our vows to a sustainable food system and a Young Agrarian Land Covenant.


Part Four

John Chapman: “Eco-llaboration” song.

Severine vT Fleming, Agrarian Trust: Notes on tools & resources.

Dave Henson, Occidental Arts & Ecology Center, CA: Agrarian Trust fundraising for operational costs: ~$100-200k.

Reggie Knox, California Farmlink, Santa Cruz CA: Overview of CA FarmLink’s multi-pronged approach helping farms with access to land, access to capital, and business and technical assistance.

Kathy Ruhf, Land for Good, NH: Commentary on points made throughout the day, insights and ideas regarding transactional solutions, regional food principles, target niches, housing vs land affordability, human perspectives to consider, land values from renting versus owning, supporting both entering and exiting farmers, changing national policy, and many more.

Closing remarks & announcements.


May 5, 2014 ~ Note: The audio files are now posted on the Agrarian Trust website.

Many thanks to Severine vT Fleming and the many participants in the Agrarian Trust for initiating this important conversation and effort.  You can learn more about the Trust and comment on their Guiding Principles on their website

To learn more about farmland conservation and succession planning in general, check out our Farmland Conservation & Estate Planning Toolkit.

Also, check out related blogs: “CA Farmland Protection: Reality or Wishful Thinking ~ Recap from 2013 Conference” and other posts about farmland.

Written by Evan Wiig & Melanie Cheng.

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