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Biodynamic Land Trust Action Research and Feasibility Project

The purpose of this blog is to share the thinking and research arising from action researching the feasibility of a Biodynamic Land Trust in Britain, starting in March 2011. Readers may well be biodynamic farmers, trainee farmers, organic farmers and market gardeners, members of community supported agriculture bodies considering how to secure land, researchers, policy makers, and those wanting to support biodynamic food growing as customers, suppliers, investors, donors and supporters.

The benefits for readers is that you will both get regularly updated on progress of the Project, such as new case studies or pilot farm buy out projects. You will have the opportunity to respond and add your thoughts, questions and experience. This blog will be linked to a website, which should be up and running by the beginning of April 2011. Feel free also to contribute your own blog on the themes of biodynamic farmland trusteeship and ways of securing land for biodynamics to the editor. Case studies of different ways of securing biodynamic farms through trusteeship would be welcome from around the world. There will be a set of case study research questions in the Case Study section of the web site for guidance. Feel free to suggest links and recommend the blog to others interested around the world! As Dolly said, learning is like muck, the more you spread it around, the more things grow!

The Biodynamic Land Blog will be updated regularly. This first blog describes what the Biodynamic Land Trust Action Research and feasibility project is about. So why a land trust?

Firstly, the principle behind land trusteeship is that land is a commons, a common pool resource, to be treated as a right rather than as a commodity to be bought and sold on the market. As Aldo Leopold writes in The Sand County Almanac, ‘We abuse the land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.’

We abuse the land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.’ –Aldo Leopold

Land trusteeship goes way back to common land traditions. In Stroud, for example, we enjoy Rodborough and Minchinhampton Commons, several hundred acres of open space. Commoners can graze cattle there, and it is enjoyed by dog walkers, golfers, kite fliers, hikers, picnickers, the famous Christmas dog tree, the highwayman Tom Long’s Post and bird watchers. There are sites of special scientific interest, and the freehold owner, The National Trust, has established some hillside grazing schemes with belted Galloway cattle to enable rare plant and flowers species such as orchids to grow.

Gerard Winstanley reaffirmed the land as a commons and the right to dig after the English Civil War. He wrote in 1649 after the Diggers were evicted by land owners from St George’s Hill, Surrey, that ‘The earth shall become a common treasury to all, as it was first made and given to the sons of men.’ He was saying, like Ruskin, Tolstoy, Ebenezer Howard, Ghandi, Steiner, John Stuart Mill and many others that land is a shared resource, a commons to be stewarded equitably by society as a bundle of rights, rather than a commodity to be bought and sold on the market. So one aim of the biodynamic land trust project is to enable permanent access to biodynamic farms and land for food growing for farmers, market gardeners and communities in Britain through securing land for biodynamic land trusteeship.

Why is there a need for action researching the feasibility of a UK Biodynamic Land Trust?

There is a crisis in farming, as small and medium sized family farms continue to go out of business. The average age of farmers is increasing and farm incomes are decreasing. Farmers are often isolated in fragmented communities and the costs of buying or leasing farms prevents entry to young farmers. Many have the skills and motivation but little capital. At the same time, the demand for good locally grown organic food increases and people want to re-connect with local farms and build sustainable rural communities, as evidenced by the growth of CSAs in Britain.

Greg Pilley and Martin Large of Stroud Common Wealth carried out an action research project to successfully pioneer community farmland trusteeship from 2005-7. The successful community buy out of Fordhall Farm from 2005-7 was the lead project. Since then, an increasing number of CSAs have been buying land and capitalising the farm business through community share offers, and the Soil Association has set up its own Land Trust.

Biodynamic farmers, though, kept asking the specific question of, How to secure land for biodynamic food growing through land trusteeship? Do we need small local BD land trusts with their overheads, or a national one? Or a combination? Which model is more effective and efficient? How can existing BD farmers ensure their farms keep biodynamic when they get too old to farm and want to pass their farms on? Can a BD land trust help here? How can young biodynamic farmers get access to farms? How can communities help capitalise biodynamic farms? How can existing large-scale biodynamic farming organisations like Camphill preserve their farmland?

Given that biodynamic farms like Temple Wilton, New Hampshire, USA, and Plaw Hatch and Table Hurst Farms in Sussex helped pioneer farm land trusts, how can their learning inspire putting more acres into biodynamic farming through land trusteeship? Biodynamic farms are special, each with a unique story and sense of place and the potential to animate the local rural community through the shared sense of long-term trusteeship.

As third generation tenant farmers of Fordhall Farm, we see community farm ownership as the way to secure the land for continuing community benefit-for food growing, wildlife, access, enterprises, heritage, education activities and offering a ‘green lung’ to Market Drayton. —Charlotte and Ben Hollins, Fordhall Farm

The Biodynamic Land Trust Action Research and Feasibility Project

The aim of this project is to enable the development of a UK biodynamic farmland trust for the purpose of sustainable agriculture and horticulture.
We will research how existing farm land trusts work, in Britain, the USA and Europe; provide opportunities to share knowledge and pool experience; evaluate the range of benefits of land trusteeship for farmers, the biodynamic movement and the community including customers; identify and evaluate best practise; create an Action Resource Pack for implementation; enable pilot farm trust buy outs and build a feasible, appropriate BLT (Biodynamic land Trust) implementation plan, in partnership with the BDA.

Project Activities

The project will:

  • Research farm land trust case studies and good practise
  • Research viable farm business models as alternatives to conventional models
  • Establish collaboration, learning and action between farmers, community connected farm initiatives and other relevant, supportive organisations
  • Work with 2-3 farm and market garden projects as pilots for putting land into trust
  • Organise a conference on the why, what and how of farmland trusts
  • Research biodynamic farm succession and inheritance questions
  • Research what helps and hinders community share issues for farm land purchase, and for capitalising farms
  • Research appropriate legal and governance structures for the BLT for holding land in trust, ground leases and tenures
  • Make a feasibility study report to the BDA with recommendations for a viable BLT
  • Develop a group of people with the skills and knowledge to provide technical assistance and facilitation for biodynamic farm and food growing land acquisition and farm business development
  • Produce an Action Resource Pack
  • Disseminate learning through a website, articles, blog, talks and workshops

What will be the result of the project?

We expect to see a range of outcomes including:

  • Ways for communities to participatively plan land use
  • Mechanisms for enabling young entrant biodynamic farmers to access permanently affordable farms
  • Pilot new organisational and legal structures
  • Farm tenancy agreements, ground lease and social land use agreements for a range of community benefits
  • Increased co-operation with other farmers and associative working with enterprises and customers
  • New ways of raising land purchase capital, working capital and financial support
    Development of biodynamic food economies – getting a higher and a fairer return for products
  • Bio diverse farms accessible to the public
  • Reconnection of farms with local community
  • More access to farms for education, work, care, leisure, training
  • Building of farmer and community capacity, trust, social inclusion and support networks
  • A viable Biodynamic Land Trust that acquires, secures and stewards farm land in perpetuity

Biodynamic Land Trust Action Research and Feasibility Project Resourcing

The project is made possible by the generous gift of a donor, which will also help seed fund securing initial pilot farm buy out projects so as to establish the Biodynamic Land Trust.

Project Advisors and Partners

The project is carried out in partnership with the Biodynamic Agricultural Association, and is supported by Stroud Common Wealth.

How can I get involved?

You may want:

  1. Help to consider the long term future of your farm or land, and the option to put it into a biodynamic land trust
  2. More information: see this website or blog
  3. A presentation, workshop or facilitated planning event to introduce the option of putting land into trust to establish or secure a new local biodynamic farm
  4. To attend a working conference or workshop (See BDA events and website)
  5. To invest and or give capital for securing farmland into trust
  6. To offer relevant technical, land, professional services to assist the work of the Biodynamic Land Trust
  7. A Resource Action Pack (from Summer 2011)
  8. To respond to blogs or send your in own proposed blog, or article for consideration

 

Contact

Project leader Martin Large

Biodynamic Land Trust Action Research and Feasibility Project
Hawthorn House
1 Lansdown Lane
Stroud, Gloucestershire,
GL5 1BJ

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