Community Ownership of Land for an Equitable, Regenerative Future | Jean Willoughby, Agrarian Trust

January 2024

The video : 36min55

Presented at the 2023 Annual Meeting of the Berkshire Community Land Trust in the Berkshires, Massachusetts.

Agrarian Trust is a national, 501(c)(3) non-profit dedicated to expanding community ownership of farmland, developing legal tools, and fundraising to help communities hold land and lease to next-generation farmers on a long term, affordable basis.

Agrarian Trust proposes alternative approaches to ownership and stewardship to support the next generation, address historic inequities in land ownership, and grow food sustainably. An estimated 400 million acres—more than 40 percent of U.S. farmland—will change hands in the next 15 years as the average age of farmers in the U.S. approaches 60 years old. Next generation farmers, meanwhile, struggle to access land due to skyrocketing costs and insecure, short-term leases. These challenges disproportionately affect farmers of color. The vast majority, 80 percent, of farmworkers are people of color, yet people of color own just a tiny fraction of U.S. farmland—less than 2 percent.

The Berkshire Community Land Trust was founded in 2015 as a 501(c)(3) organization serving Berkshire County in building public awareness of the need to broaden access to land and of the role Community Land Trusts can play in addressing that need. B.C.L.T. acquires working lands by gift or purchase, then develops a land use plan for each site defining its unique ecological characteristics and intended social use, be that workforce housing, sustainable farming, appropriately scaled manufacturing, or locally owned retail and office space.

Through the title-holding Community Land Trust in the Southern Berkshires (a 501(c)2), land acquired by B.C.L.T. is transferred and leased to year-round residents of the Berkshires. The 98-year lease provides the lessee equity in the buildings and other improvements on the land but not in the land itself, effectively taking the land out of the market. C.L.T.S.B. holds 49 acres of land in three sites and leases the land to 24 leaseholders.