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!

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

By Janelle Orsi, Executive Director //

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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