An expanding ‘Commons’ of farmland. Regenerative farmers making a good living with their own farms, on land owned collectively. The farmers steward the land on our behalf and reap the benefits of any improvements they make. The rest of us invest retirement savings to buy and own the land.
The result will be a growing number of farms, in different places, of different types, managed regeneratively for the benefit of the soil and ecosystem, farm families, and communities.
Access to land is a critical limiting factor to the growth of regenerative agriculture in the U.S. and elsewhere. Farmers often cannot afford to buy land, and lease terms are unfavorable.
We (by which I mean humans) are dependent on healthy soil, land, and ecosystems to an extent we are only now coming to fully understand. And it is the farmers – who touch the land on our behalf – who can be our agents in nursing the damaged land back to health. The power to make a difference is vested in that tiny percentage of our population.
Our mission, therefore, is to accelerate the expansion of regenerative agriculture. Successful outcomes are: First, improved soil health and biodiversity. Second, thriving farm families and communities. Third, modest long-term financial returns to investors.
These three goals are not in conflict. Farmers will understand that soil and land health are connected to their long-term productivity and well-being, and investors will understand that taking care of the land and farmers is consistent with financial success over the long term.
We will invite ordinary people to invest a few thousand dollars so as to broaden the community of people who feel a connection to farmlands and are a part of the regenerative movement. This will not be limited to wealthy investors.
Who will invest and why?
The fund will appeal to slow-money impact investors, that is, people who want to do good with their investments and are not looking for short-term gains. These investors are willing to accept modest returns because they believe in the mission.
Farmland is a safe investment for the long term. It will be a secure and satisfying part of an IRA portfolio. Although there is volatility in farm profits year by year, land values do increase over time. This should be especially true of land farmed regeneratively. Individual investors will find it appealing to be an owner of farmland and a supporter of farmers. Ordinary people will make a place in their retirement portfolio for an investment in this fund.
A fund that buys farmland and leases to regenerative farmers. The terms of the leases will be favorable to the farmers, putting the health of the land and the well-being of the farm families first.
Why is this not happening?
It is, sort of. There are organizations and programs whose purpose is to address this problem and to help organic, sustainable farmers get on the land. These models are important. Some are excellent. Some that we are aware of are: Terre de liens; Iroquois Valley Farms; Sustainable Iowa Land Trust (SILT) ; Our Table; Farmland LP
But there are many reasons why access to land is a problem for new farmers. Some of those reasons:
- Organic and regenerative farming have lower profitability in the first few years. These farmers must make up-front investments whose positive impact on profitability is not immediately realized.
- Land owners prefer short-term leases, to maintain flexibility. But with a short-term lease, farmers have no incentive to spend their time and money to improve the soil or the infrastructure. And if the farmers are looking for a home and community for themselves and family, a short-term lease is unappealing.
- Farmland is expensive, especially within market range of urban areas. New farmers may not qualify for loans, and even if they do, the high land cost makes it very difficult to make a good living.
This page is an overview, and we have more thoughts and proposed detail elsewhere. Certainly we don’t intend to strike out on our own here, but to work with existing organizations. We also appreciate any information that you can add. If you know of any good models we have overlooked or partners we should be working with, or if you would like to help design this, please let us know. Examples of organizations who would be allies (A very incomplete list – and with a California bias because I am in Oakland): Agrarian Trust, Greenhorns, NYFC, Regeneration International, Kitchen Table Advisors, California Farmlink…