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Holding farmland in trust on behalf of our community

The Community Farm Land Trust (CFLT) is a local nonprofit formed in 1997 currently owning two farms and holding a protective agricultural easement on another. As an organization, the Trust has developed a distinct set of values that guide its work. The staff and volunteers keep a focus on our values as we work in the community.

Briefly, the CFLT values are:

• Perpetuity (preserving farmland for the generations)

• Community (working with farm owners and farmers, connecting community members with farmers)

• Equity (working to make land affordable to farmers from all backgrounds)

• Farming, and Creativity (facing challenging tasks with an innovative spirit)

• A way to create affordable access to farmland

The Community Farm Land Trust was created to address economic inequities that preclude affordable access to farmland. It also aims to

keep farmland in production. CLFT’s farmland preservation mechanisms reduce the cost of land access for farmers of lesser financial means.

Farmland in our area often sells for $5,000 to $10,000 per acre. And land is not the only cost farmers face in developing their business. It is

easy to see that staring even a small farm business is not within the financial reach of families without wealth or the privilege of inheriting land. Without that wealth, farmers rely on short-term land leases. They face a constant threat of losing access to the land on which their livelihood depends.

Values reflecting community and trust instead of “the market”

A The CFLT approach is informed by a half century of work addressing land access issues: the “community land trust” model. 2020 marks the 50th anniversary of the first use of this model, the New Communities, Inc. farm, whose development is described in a short 2018 documentary film, Arc of Justice.

The average age of Thurston county farm owners is 58. Older farmers, without younger family members to take over their farm, are seeking ways to see that their land goes to the next generation of farmers. As already noted, many in that next generation are challenged by high land costs.

CFLT harkens back to our “farming,” “community,” and “equity” values to create a way to meet the landowners’ need to secure their retirement by selling their farm while addressing the affordability question for the future generations of farmers.

Groups like the volunteers who initiated the Thurston Community Farmland Trust make farming sustainable for farmers so they can continue contributing to a healthy local food supply – and to a healthy community.

A long-term perspective

CFLT secures grant and local funds to acquire farmland and to maintain permanent ownership of that land. The CFLT enters a partnership with each new farmer for the land, using a long-term, renewable lease (a 99-year lease) instead of a traditional sale. The farmer purchases the farmhouse and other buildings needed for their farm business. When the farmer sells their farm business and buildings, the family keeps only a portion of the increased property value. The remainder is kept by the CFLT, preserving affordability for future low- to moderate-income families.

… separating the ownership of land and buildings is an innovative approach to prevent market factors from causing prices to rise

The idea of separating the ownership of land and buildings is an innovative approach to prevent market factors from causing prices to rise significantly, and hence guarantees that farming the land will remain affordable for future generations.

Today, there are more than 225 land trusts that use the community land trust model, mostly designed to address housing affordability, across the United States. Locally, the Thurston Housing Land Trust also follows this model.

Meeting farmer and community needs

Another approach CFLT uses is to remove the potential for farmland to be sold for development by eliminating the current owners’ incentive to sell farmland for housing. This “agricultural conservation easement” approach grows out of collaborative work with the current landowner but also meets the community need to keep the land in farm production and affordable for the next land owners.

Economic inequality is not, however, the only equity issue, or the only barrier to land access. Farmers of color have been discriminated against by formal government actions that reduced the opportunity for farm ownership even when farmers could afford to buy land. CFLT is working to understand this history, the challenges faced by farmers of color in our community and define how the organization can address some of those challenges.

Producing good food for the community

Another example of acting on our “community” value is evident in the annual Direct Sales Farm Map. The booklet is a way for the community to learn about the many farmers in the region who sell direct to customers. The farm descriptions and location information provide a way for the community to make a deeper connection with local farmers. The 2020 map will be available at farmers markets and food co-ops starting in May.

Currently CFLT owns more than 100 acres in two agricultural properties that support the Garden Raised Bounty (GRuB) and Kirsop Farm. The GRuB farm is the site for a youth leadership training program. Kirsop Farm started in Tumwater, growing produce and poultry on mostly leased land. With affordable access to more acres of rich farmland near Rochester, the farm now produces grains, eggs, poultry, pork and makes these products available through local markets.

CFLT also holds an agricultural conservation easement that precludes development and requires farming at the 39 acres of Oyster Bay Farm, which produces organic meats and eggs. CFLT has a busy season, continuing to work with landowners, farmers and potential funders to protect more farmland on behalf of the community.

Loretta Seppanen is the Chair of the Community Farmland Trust Board

CFLT Values statements

For more information: Executive Director Patrick Rofe, 360-353-4838

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