Can Community Capital Finance the Next Generation of Farmers?

By Christina Oatfield, Policy Director //

After the 2008 economic recession, banks were more conservative about lending and the general public was more aware of the flaws in our financial institutions and related regulations. Since then, small businesses, start-ups, nonprofits, investors, and ordinary folks with modest savings have shown growing interest in fundraising strategies such as crowdfunding, crowdinvesting, direct public offerings (DPOs), and community capital. These strategies all involve raising money from a large number of supporters, through donations or investment dollars from the business owner's friends and family, customers, and members of the broader community who wan8990215169_23df5741d9_q.jpgt the business to succeed. Community members who have a personal interest in or see the value of a local business are often  willing to take more risk or a more modest return on their investment than would a financial institution or investment professional who seek to maximize profits above all else. This is just one reason why beginning farmers might find community capital attractive.

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We've Found You a New Hobby!

Even if you have plenty of hobbies, you might want to consider adding this one: Making policy. Our studies show that spending even a few hours per month shaping local or state policy can significantly improve the health and happiness of your local community. Sustainable Economies Law Center has a whole project dedicated, more or less, to this slogan:

everyone is a policymaker!

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Why the #DefundDAPL movement is about more than divesting from Wall Street

By Chris Tittle, Director of Organizational Resilience //

At a recent Oakland City Council meeting, Wilson Riles, a community leader and former City Councilmember, reminded us why Wall Street is so-called: it actually had a wall built around it in the 17th century to keep out Native tribes displaced by early colonists.

It’s also worth remembering that Wall Street was the site of New York City’s first slave market, and the first modern financial instruments were developed to collateralize Black bodies in the Trans-Atlantic slave trade.

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Make Soil, Make Laws: How the California Community Compost Coalition is shaping compost policy

By Sue Bennett, Sustainable Economies Law Center staff member //

Last year, the Sustainable Economies Law Center brought together a group of five community composters from around California in a monthly phone call, creating a small, but powerful, California Community Compost Coalition. These amazing individuals are transforming the ways their communities manage food and yard waste, and they are helping California comply with a mandate to divert organic waste from landfills.  Yet, these compost entrepreneurs have been encountering many frustrating legal barriers, prompting them to take action at the city and state level. Already, they are demonstrating that – even without policy advocacy experience – people can shape law and policy when they get organized and speak up!

LA_Compost_sign.jpg

Photo by Brenda Platt, Institute for Local Self Reliance

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California Community Land Trust Network Advocates for Permanently Affordable Housing

By Christina Oatfield, Policy Director //

We believe that community land trusts (CLTs) are an underrated yet critical solution to the housing crisis, not only in the Bay Area but pretty much everywhere. They need more attention, funding, and other forms of support, such as government policies and programs to nurture their development.

Law Center staff and summer interns visiting a limited equity housing cooperative in Berkeley, CA.What is a CLT and why are these organizations so great? Here’s an excerpt from an op-ed I wrote about CLTs last year:

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Harnessing People Power at the State Capitol: An Update on the Workers Compensation Policy Campaign

By Charlotte Tsui, Staff Attorney //

A Call to Action

Late last year, in response to AB 2883 and its adverse consequences on worker cooperatives, Sustainable Economies Law Center put out a call to our cooperative network in California to convene a working group whose primary objective would be to change the law to be more responsive to worker cooperatives. Worker-owners from seven different worker cooperatives responded to the announcement, including The Cheese Board, Drought Smart Cooperative, Niles Pie Company, Three Stone Hearth, Arizmendi Bakery, Home Green Home, and Echo Adventure Team.  

Even with little or no experience in policy work, the worker-owners who enlisted arrived brimming with energy, ideas, and a strong desire to hit the ground running. By the end of the first meeting, participants had divided responsibilities and self-assigned to different committees.

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Racial Justice in the Farm Economy Needs Community Capital

By Neil Thapar, Food and Farmland Attorney //

Big Mesa Farm (credit: Piro Patton)
Photo Credit: Piro Patton

How can we secure food justice in the United States when 98% of all farmland is owned by White people? When Black farmers own less than 3 million acres of rural land today, compared to over 15 million acres just a century ago? When 180 million acres were stolen from Native communities in the 19th and 20th centuries? Developing a just food system requires (1) confronting the reality of racial disparity in farmland ownership and its negative impacts on wealth distribution, health outcomes, and cultural vitality, and (2) replacing the current reality with an equitable distribution of farmland that prioritizes communal stewardship, local control, and diversified ownership.

Successfully developing this future will rely on expanding access to capital for farmers of color beyond the conventional financing institutions that have, so far, failed to meet their needs.

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