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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Can We Harness Americans’ Retirement Savings to Create Local Sustainable Economies?

sunol_farm.jpgWhat would it take for you to pull your retirement savings out of Wall Street and invest it in things that enrich your local community? Could you invest your IRA or 401(k) in, say, a local farm, solar cooperative, worker cooperative, or housing cooperative?

These questions are so worthy of answers that 15 volunteers and staff of Sustainable Economies Law Center gathered last year for a day at the law library to imagine and design a cooperative that would enable everyday people to direct their retirement savings into local investments. We sought to understand the applicable financial and tax regulations and assess the possibility that ordinary people could come together and form the required custodial entities to enable self-directed IRAs for themselves and their communities. Our key takeaways were: 1) It would be challenging, but not impossible; and 2) There’s so much we can do in the meantime!

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The Future of Farmland (Part 2): Grabbing the Land Back

By Neil Thapar, Food and Farmland Attorney //

black-land-matters-v3-png-design.pngThe first part of this blog introduced the most recent iteration of domestic land grabs, by way of Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs). These investment schemes threaten an equitable and sustainable future for farmland ownership and stewardship by prioritizing profits, commodifying land as a financial asset, and consolidating ownership with absentee-landlords. As the farmland REIT sector grows, Sustainable Economies Law Center is busy researching and piloting alternative models of farmland ownership that prioritize racial equity, ecological sustainability, and long-term stewardship. While consolidation, characterized most recently by REITs, represents the history of farmland ownership, we see the democratic, cooperative, and community-controlled models below as the future.

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The Future of Farmland (Part 1): The New Land Grab

By Neil Thapar, Food and Farmland Attorney //

Land-Grab-300x200.jpgIf you don’t follow investment trends, you may not know that one of the hottest investment opportunities in recent years is land, specifically farmlandMany investors, weary of investing in the stock market in a post-Great Recession era, are seeking alternative, stable investment opportunities. Farmland values have historically increased at a steady rate. As an added bonus, investors can also profit from whatever agricultural activities take place on the land. The flood of investment over the last several years means that agricultural land itself is being treated more and more like a profitable financial asset, instead of a productive natural resource. In a decade where both the average value of farmland and age of farmers have hit all-time highs, increased Wall Street ownership of farmland threatens a just transition by furthering principles of profit maximization, financialization of land, and absentee ownership.

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Homemade Food Bill (AB 626) Stalls in Assembly

By Christina Oatfield, Policy Director

We recently learned that AB 626, the currently pending California homemade food bill, has stalled in the Assembly Appropriations Slide35.JPGCommittee, meaning that no more votes will happen this year. The committee will resume consideration of the bill in January.

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On Farmland Finance for the Next Generation of Farmers

By Christina Oatfield, Sustainable Economies Law Center Policy Director

I just stumbled upon an opinion piece by Adam Calo in the San Francisco Chronicle from several months back, which describes the crisis of farmland access and ownership facing beginning farmers. It very poignantly calls on farmers and eaters to engage in policy, specifically around farmland ownership and lack of access to farmland on reasonable lease terms for beginning farmers.

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70 Experts (Including our Food & Farm Attorney, Neil Thapar) Share Their Best Advocacy Planning, Strategy, Skills and Training Tips

Connectivity - CQ Roll Call

Our Food & Farm Attorney, Neil Thapar, shared this tip on advocacy in this list complied by CQ Roll Call:

As a lawyer, I’ve missed out on training as an organizer. I’m always looking out for opportunities to better understand social change theory and organizing strategy to better understand how I can more effectively be an advocate. With apologies for the sports metaphor, advocacy is a team sport – so the more effective I am at bringing people onto my team, the more successful I will be. – Neil Thapar, Food and Farm Attorney, Sustainable Economies Law Center

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