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The Community Land Trust: Sound Ideas for a Sound Future

By Nathaniel Lewis

How can we continue to enjoy locally grown food with development threatening its very existence?

Community Land Trusts have an answer for this dilemma. The South of the Sound Community Farm Land Trust (SSCFLT) is a private 501 (c) 3 non-profit corporation created to acquire and hold land for the benefit of a community and provide secure affordable access to land and housing for community residents. While the land trust holds title to the land, long-term (99 year) leases provide secure, affordable tenure for ownership of buildings and improvements and for uses of the land that the community wants to support - in our case local, sustainable, agriculture and affordable housing.

Community Land Trusts prohibit speculation and absentee ownership of land and housing, promote ecologically sound land-use practices through land leases, and preserve the long-term affordability of housing and farmland tenure.

The SSCFLT formed in 1996 when members of several interest groups began exploring common goals. Farmers, active citizens, agriculture preservation advocates, and affordable housing advocates created the organization and currently make up our board of directors. Our early work focused on creating a common vision, mission, and general strategy, and establishing a democratically managed nonprofit organization. The "project" focus of our early work tried to save the Evergreen Dairy farm in Littlerock - an icon dairy farm in Thurston County for over sixty years.

With bank foreclosures pending, we prepared a farm plan, secured commitments from farm enterprises to lease land and facilities on the farm, and collaborated with The Community Foundation on a major grant application to the Hitachi Foundation. We gained community support from dozens of local agencies and organizations, and made an offer to purchase the property from the Weiks family prior to foreclosure.

We were unsuccessful - the project was too large and complex, the time too short, our organization too young - yet it enabled us to flesh out the details and feasibility of our strategy of using the community land trust/land tenure model to help preserve the economic viability of small-scale local agriculture.

Our current projects include the Eberhardt Blueberry Farm, and the Parr Family Farm. These two properties reflect only a small percentage of threatened farmland in the South Sound region, but their cultural importance and potential to enrich our local community make them attractive to our organization.

The Eberhardt Blueberry Farm on Steamboat Island Road is a cultural landmark for the Olympia area. Its days as a profitable blueberry farm were highlighted by the development and propagation of the Olympia Blueberry Farm. For the last few decades it has served as a community park. Our Land Trust has submitted a draft easement to MC Construction, the current owner, to preserve this piece of land. We are awaiting a response from the owner, but it seems that the Blueberry Farm will remain a community park for years to come.

The Parr Family Farm is one of the few pieces of productive farmland left inside the urban growth area. Kirsop Farm cultivates 10 of the property's 28 acres and sells the produce they grow through the Farmer's Market, the Olympia Food Co-op, and a subscription farm box program.

The property sits on Littlerock Rd. in Tumwater, adjacent to Black Hills High School. Its proximity to a local public school would allow it to serve as an educational facility for our town's youth. This property is clearly a good match for the Community Land Trust.

We have once again requested funding for the Parr Family Farm project from Thurston County's Conservation Futures Fund, which is a pool of money the County uses for conserving open space. Washington code authorizes counties to levy a "Conservation Futures" tax for acquisition of open space including agriculture lands. At this time in Thurston County, the main criteria for an eligible proposal for money out of the Conservation Futures Fund are to be part of a "comprehensive plan."

Currently, no comprehensive Farmland Preservation Plan exists in Thurston County. Since there is no plan, then no Conservation Futures money can go towards farmland preservation. Therefore, Thurston County cannot apply for state and federal money currently available for farmland preservation, since the State and Federal programs require some sort of matching funds from counties.

Thurston County's 2006 Conservation futures fund receives .05 cents per $1000 of taxable property value. This is your money. To be heard, readers should contact Thurston County's commissioners and encourage them to allocate conservation futures funds for farmland preservation. If the county commissioners know the importance of farmland to their voters, they will be more receptive to farmland preservation applications. We feel that community involvement and support from our local government will help see these projects to completion.

Eric Delvin of The Nature Conservancy has been contracted to help build our organization and to create partnerships that will facilitate future farmland acquisition. With Eric's added energy, 2007 will be a successful year for our organization.

If you would like more information about our Community Farm Land Trust, or if you would like to become a member, please visit our website or write to us.

Nathaniel Lewis is a board member of the South of the Sound Community Farm Land Trust. Their mission is to promote a local food and farming system through education, community supported farmland preservation, and partnerships that increase the opportunities for farms and farmers to flourish.

For more information:
PO Box 12118
Olympia, WA 98508
Website: http://www.communityfarmlandtrust.org
Email: mailto:info@communityfarmlandtrust.org

"Our group believes that maintaining a farming base in our community is essential to community sustainability and the economic and environmental health of our region."

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Updated 2015/01/07 21:14:22