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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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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Impact Story: Prospera

May marks our annual People Powered Economies membership campaign. During the month of May, we're sharing stories about how our work at the Sustainable Economies Law Center is building more just, resilient communities. If you ever wondered how your donations were making an impact or why you should become a supporter of our work, read on to learn about our partnership with Prospera building resources for immigrant-owned cooperatives! If you like what you read, please join us today!


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Impact Story: Red Hen Cannery

May marks our annual People Powered Economies membership campaign. During the month of May, we're sharing stories about how our work at the Sustainable Economies Law Center is building more just, resilient communities. If you ever wondered how your donations were making an impact or why you should become a supporter of our workread on to see one story of how our advocacy has changed lives and enabled thousands of homemade food businesses! If you like what you read, please join us today!

For the next 24 hours, we have a $500 matching grant opportunity from a generous supporter, Brian Hicks! All donations made TODAY (5/16) will be matched up to $500. Give now to double your impact and help us reach our $60,000 goal! 

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3 Steps to Building Just Transition Now with a Permanent Community Energy Cooperative

By Subin Varghese for P2P Foundation

rule_one.jpg

Excerpt:

Step 1. Start now

Don’t wait. That’s rule #1 for living in a world where we’re already feeling the impacts of climate change; millions of lives and livelihoods are at risk — or stand to benefit from solutions — in this and future decades. We needed a just transition of our energy economy yesterday. And while there are challenges to universal access and equitably shared benefits from clean energy, there are steps we can take today to start building projects, jobs, and improved health in local communities.

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Impact Story: People of Color Sustainable Housing Network

We're in the middle of our fundraising drive! Throughout this month, we're sharing four stories of how our work is making an impact and building more just, resilient communities. For current members and donors, this is a way for us to share how your support is making a difference. Read about our work with the People of Color Sustainable Housing Network below and join us today.

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A Message from our Cartoonist-in-Chief

I drew you a cartoon, because you’ve probably had days like this lately:

Days when we're overwhelmed

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Afrikatown Tour and Land Liberation Strategy Session

By Van Dell and Chris Tittle, Sustainable Economies Law Center staff

afrikatown community garden

On a warm spring day at the end of April, Sustainable Economies Law Center and Qilombo/Afrikatown hosted an Afrikatown District Tour and Land Liberation Strategy Session as part of an ongoing effort to build solidarity and develop cooperative responses to Oakland's displacement crisis. A diverse group of community organizers, neighbors, funders, lawyers, and comrades gathered in the Afrikatown Community Garden to share visions for community self-determination and introduce our respective work. It quickly became a space for cultivating new relationships and rooting ourselves in the social and material ecology of Afrikatown’s particular project to liberate land for community need.

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3 Steps to Building Just Transition Now with a Permanent Community Energy Cooperative

By Subin Varghese, Community Renewable Energy Director

Step 1. Start now.

Don’t wait. That's rule #1 for living in a world where we're already feeling the impacts of climate change; millions of lives and livelihoods are at risk -- or stand to benefit from solutions -- in this and future decades. We needed a just transition of our energy economy yesterday. And while there are challenges to universal access and equitably shared benefits from clean energy, there are steps we can take today to start building projects, jobs, and improved health in local communities.

rule_one.jpg 

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New Volunteer: Camille Stough

Camille Stough

The Sustainable Economies Law Center is pleased to welcome a new volunteer, Camille Stough, who will be working with us part time for the next six months, focusing on our Community Compost Law & Policy Project and on developing resources to support our Legal Cafe clients.

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