> (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.
The model you're espousing sounds like a kind of socally oriented
venture capitalism, where the group investing procurs a controling
interest in order to assure adherence to given set of operating
policies, with the original owner (or in your scenario, socially
targeted partner) participating with a minority interest and an option
on acquiring a controlling interest once the business has become
consolidated in a viable way.
This sounds a little like the franchise type operation that I referred
to in a disparaging way in my last post but could (I suppose) be done in
a legitimate way. It would have to be self supporting and I think this
would be feasible if associated with a national chain of food co-ops.
We are talking about a very complex and large scale project, but one
that could be developed gradually. It's always difficult to coordinate
ideas and efforts of many and diverse participants, and making the
transition from the socially desirable objectives to a economically self
sustaining project through what can not ultimately be a subsidy is a
delicate matter, but this may well be a realistic and probably most
appropriate and worthwhile goal.
The principle factor that should be but isn't in place would be a degree
of ongoing governmental support oriented toward leveling the playing
field in relation to industrialized agribusiness and the resulting
massively monocultured products supemarket chains currently offer.
Until legislation is in place that takes into account environmental
degradation within the cost framework, sustainable farms are at a
disadvantage and OFPA only makes that worse, by widening the gap.
> 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.
Perhaps an effort should be made to preserve the farmer, when possible.
A lease may not provide enough incentive for the kind of commitment it
will take. (After reading further, I see you've had experience with
interns and feel confident that some continuity will occurr - but you
may be underplaying the importance of your own role and experience).
> 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
> town services.)
> 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
There is probably going to be some ongoing debt associated with that
farm. If not, the investment made functions much as a debt would,
although it puts somewhat less pressure on the farmer.
> 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.
When you say "If I am still around" - are you old, ill, about to leave
the country or go to jail?
> 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.
You don't know me either, but we're conversing. A good first step would
be to identify people in government, foundations or public life (i.e
media & the arts) who tend to support iniciatives with these goals.
> 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.)
Changing a tax law is a worthy goal but might take a while. I think
your idea of beginning with a single farm supported by a philanthropic
organization and directed towards self sufficiency is the way to go.
The dedicated consumer co-op link could wait too, since there are
already co-ops and other outlets looking for good products.
> 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.
Have you talked to your Rep. in Congress (both state and fed)? I'd get
the media involved beforehand or simultaneously, so the Rep knows that
his / her support - or lack of it - will be a matter of public record.
The Foundation Center can (for a price - unless one of their libraries
is near you), help you target a foudation that supports sustainable
agricultural and / or community development.
You might also present your predicament (shared by others) and / or
project to media sources that need material (60 Minutes, Dateline,
Agday, or an appropriate PBS show). That might get something generated
or accellerate the process.
> 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,
>From any cooperative extension office? Or a centralized office?
> 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
A pilot project would satisfy that tack.
> 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
Those figures lend credence to my feeling that forming a more direct
farmer consumer link is in order. It is true that packaging, transport,
cold storage, promotion, waste and other aspects related to logistics &
distribution can surpass farm costs, but the burden of the risk factors
are not being shared equitably, and the situation as it stands, lends
itself to excessive speculation. That is, it's loaded in favor of
> 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.
What does that figure - $250,000 - tell us about the small farm
exemption OFPA allows - $5,000. Doesn't jive, does it!
> 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
> Press, 1996.
> 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
> philanthropic organizations.
> Comments and questions would be much appreciated.
> Betty Gras
It sounds like the first candiate for your project might be your own
farm (your original farm or another). On the one hand you need a source
of funding, which in turns depends on developing the concept futher and
locating an organization that shares the goals you state and would
support the modality of operation you refer to. Government should also
be involved and it's important to identify the discrete elements that
are already in place but that need to be drawn together in a more
coherent and effective manner. It's definately the kind of thing that I
myself could get involved in, one way or another. And as I've been
saying, the time is right for this type of thing. For example - here's
an excerpt from the Arthur Little report on "Sustainable Development":
"despite their belief sustainable development strategies can act as
business drivers...little progress has been made towards implementing
progressive concepts of sustainability, such as full-cost accounting,
industrial ecology, or performance measurement.
"Sustainable development" refers to the global push for companies to
their long-term business strategies around three interconnected goals:
economic growth, environmental excellence, and social responsibility."
That statement presumes an awareness of the need to do more. I suspect
that if you have decided to do this, it will come together. Knock on
some doors and keep your eyes open, ready to recognize and act on the
opportunity, as soon as it shows itself. I'll do the same and perhaps a
link between projects will develope.
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