I met with Neil Ravenscroft to discuss the setting up of the Biodynamic Land Trust, and to invite him to become an advisor. We had an important discussion on the pros and cons of a national farm land trust versus local farm land trusts, which will be one of the themes of the action research.
The arguments for local land trusts include local knowledge of the land and bioregion, mobilising local support and involvement which results in gift work for running the land trust and the farms, with low land trust running costs. Small is beautiful and locally accountable.
However, a national farm land trust can use long term ground leases, so that farms can be leased to farmers and/or CSAs which themselves are locally connected and accountable. A body of expertise can be built up for facilitation, advice on legal and organisational structures, financing, technical support, and the land trust can be a back stop for the assets of local land trusts should these for whatever reason wind up. This body can also advocate nationally for farm land trust friendly policies, funding, tax benefits, research, education and information.
A biodynamic land trust, though it may also include leasing to organic, permaculture and other forms of sustainable agriculture, is also by definition a specialist, niche activity. And, as Sjoard Wartena of Terre de Liens in France argues, a national body has less overheads than many small land trusts-and the Soil Association now has a national Soil Association Land Trust
Neil is a director of Table Hurst and Plaw Hatch CSA, as well as a land agent, farmer and Professor at the University of Brighton- as well as triggering EU wide research into community connected farming now led by Terre de Liens, he is also researching the learning from CSA stories in Britain and much else.
Plaw Hatch and Tablehurst are inspiring biodynamic, community supported farms near Forest Row, East Sussex. Farming up to 500 acres, with an annual turnover of around £1.5 mn, much of it sold via their award winning butchery and shop, the farm business is capitalised to the tune of over £160,000 by around 400 shareholders in a community benefit co-operative constituted as an Industrial and Provident Society. They lease their land from St Anthony’s Trust, a pioneer land trust. A case study will be put on the Biodynamic Land Trust Website.
However, it would be interesting to hear people’s views on the pros and cons of national vs local farm land trusts?