Regarding food sources for the future, you are the first person who has
recognized what I am talking about - and asked for details! I do have a
model, or Plan. I've been trying to put This Plan into words (but not too
many words) so I could ask for comments from the SANet group, the most lively,
diversified, thoughtful group of people I have encountered so far. Perhaps
now is the time.
This Plan evolved from the view that food is not just important, but
absolutely essential to all life. Some claim that all human civilization
began with agriculture - a few people producing food for the many, leaving the
many free to build temples, compose symphonies, write laws, make money - you
name it. If food is the foundation of civilization, then it makes sense for
those who benefit from civilization to protect the sources of our food - farms
This Plan is based on (a) purchase, protection and ownership of at-risk farms
by non-profit groups who then (b) lease the farms to for-profit farmers, with
priority given to (c) beginning farmers and sustainable agriculture.
Financial incentives to support non-profits already exist - tax deductions.
Resources for such support are greater today than ever (more about that
later.) Moral incentives are being felt, witness the new group of donors,
<Responsible Wealth.> Precedents for saving land already exist - e.g., the
American Farmland Trust and local land trusts.
This Plan is not like the typical land trust, however. The differences are:
1) For the most part, land trusts only purchase development rights (aka
conservation easements). In the case of farms, this preserves the land but
not necessarily the farmer. The land trust, meanwhile, is left with a
liquidated asset with which it can do nothing other than point with pride. In
contrast, This Plan includes the non-profit's outright ownership of real
assets which can accrue in value with good stewardship by the leasing farmer.
2) Most land trusts do not focus on how the land is used, as long as it
remains undeveloped. For This Plan, a major goal is the sustainable - and
sustained - production of food.
3) Generally, land trusts focus more on land than on people. This Plan
seeks to address the problems of beginning farmers, who are needed to replace
retiring farmers, but few of whom can afford to buy farms.
4) Generally, land trusts are concerned with land only. For them, buildings
can be liabilities, unless they are historically significant. This Plan sees
on-farm housing as essential for full time farming.
This Plan, or model, has a very small beginning, call it a beta site.
1) One non-profit organization will purchase, outright, one farm that would
otherwise close down (whether through foreclosure, bankruptcy, or the farmer's
wish to retire while no heirs are prepared to take over).
2) If the farmland is not already protected from possible future development
by a conservation easement, such an easement will be established through sale
or donation of development rights.
3) The farm will then be leased to a beginning farmer who meets the
qualifications (see a-g below). Annual lease payments will be slightly more
than enough to pay the non-profit's expenses for property taxes and insurance.
(This Plan assumes that all farms should pay property taxes, since they do use
4) The land is now free of debt, the non-profit organization owns an asset
which can accrue in value as a farm, and the farmer has a good chance to enjoy
a reasonable living, perhaps earn enough to buy his own farm one day if he
The qualifications required in This Plan are that the leasing farmer must:
a) have limited financial resources,
b) have acquired some related education, training and experience,
c) have developed a five year plan for the farm's improvement,
d) agree to continue or build a diversified, sustainable/organic farm
e) agree to take on at least one farm apprentice each year,
f) commit to being a full time farmer, and
g) let the farm be used, occasionally or full time, to promote This Plan.
When the right funder, the right farm, and the right beginning farmer are
found, headquarters will be established on that farm for the promotion and
expansion of This Plan and the purchase and protection of other farms. If I
am still around I hope to live on that farm myself and run the campaign.
Meanwhile, just in case, I'm creating a list of volunteers for the job.
Beginning with the basic concept, a movement could grow slowly or speedily,
depending on public awareness, which depends on publicity, which is part of
This Plan. I do not think it has to be a unified organization, any more than
organic farming is a unified organization. I do feel it would be helped by
the support of <key figures already in leadership positions>, as you suggest,
but I don't personally know any such people well enough to approach them.
For This Plan to really grow in a hurry, tax laws should change to reflect the
importance of protecting food sources and supporting new food producers. For
this purpose, allowable deductions could be increased, or tax credits could be
given. President Carter initiated tax credits for renewable energy
investments, they did prove effective but were abolished by the next
administration. (My own foundation can't engage in lobbying, so others will
have to work on the tax angle.)
So much for This Plan. If you are interested in the background, read on:
My optimism comes from four years of watching five or six live-in apprentices
a year turn our family farm, idle for thirty years, into a certified organic
market garden operation, growing produce and producing growers, connecting
with the community (CSA, farm stand, farmers' markets, food co-op, and
restaurants). At least six of these wonderful young people want to become
full-time farmers, one has already begun.
My awareness of the Big Picture started with our farm being taken over by
others who felt the farm should be chopped up to grow houses and bigger
profits instead of food. So far, efforts to get the farm back have failed but
they did provide an intensive education in the legal system and its costs.
Meanwhile the farm sits empty and idle, while other courts ponder whether
subdivision can be allowed.
Evolution of This Plan was refueled by the 121 page report published in
January by the USDA's National Commission on Small Farms. The report is
entitled <A Time to Act.> The report is free from the USDA, it does favor
sustainable agriculture, it's well worth reading, although most of its
recommendations seem to be for more studies, more committees, and more ways
for farmers to get more credit (i.e., Debt). Here is a small sample of their
Food in America is an almost $600 Billion industry, but on average only 23
cents out of every dollar spent on food goes to the farmer who produces the
food. The other 77 cents goes to processing, packaging, shipping,
distribution, and advertising - all lumped together by the USDA as
<marketing>. Meanwhile, 80% of the average farmer's gross sales goes to farm
expenses, gets to keep less than 5 cents of every consumer food dollar. (So
far, I have not found how much of the average farm's <expenses> are for debt
Figures are worse for small farms than for large, even though, as admitted in
this report, small farms are at least as productive (efficient) as large.
Small farms, identified as those with annual gross sales less than $250,000,
make up 94% of all farms, but get only 41% of all farm receipts.
Meanwhile, the USDA estimates a beginning farmer needs $500,000 to start a
commercially viable farming operation. (I presume they're talking about
dairy farms, but for any farm, the largest investment is usually in the farm
Resources to Support Non-Profits: The following info is from the book,
<Inside American Philanthropy> by Waldemar Nielsen, University of Oklahoma
Private resources are greater than ever before - the number of taxpayers with
annual adjusted gross income of $1 million or more grew 15 fold from 4,377 in
1980 to 63,642 in 1990. Mean after tax income of this group for 1990 was
$1,700,903. While wealth has increased, philanthropy has declined, due in
part to changes in tax laws. However, studies show that today's wealthy are
more generous in death than in life: Economist Robert Avery in 1993 predicted
that, in addition to giving by the living, philanthropic bequests will
approximate $2 billion a year between 1990 and 2040. One expert predicts
the number, assets, and grantmaking of U.S. foundations to double by 2010.
<Responsible Wealth>: I learned about this new group from our local
newspaper. Members see their latest tax cuts as undeserved, and are
voluntarily pledging their windfalls to government deficit reduction or to
Comments and questions would be much appreciated.
To Unsubscribe: Email email@example.com with "unsubscribe sanet-mg".
To Subscribe to Digest: Email firstname.lastname@example.org with the command