“Local Food a Growing Trend for Land Trusts”
By Erik Hoffner / February 2013
Grist guest contributor
When a land trust in Grayslake, Illinois, made a strategic decision in 2005 to include farmland in its list of property types to preserve, it joined scores of traditional ‘woods and waters’ trusts across the U.S. which are increasingly preserving agricultural lands and building local food systems.While it made sense strategically, since much of the county’s remaining forested and open land has already been conserved, it was also right on mission for Conserve Lake County (CLC). As they got into it, the CLC leadership realized that they didn’t want to convert purchased farms to natural uses, though, but rather to keep them in farming.Yet the conventional corn and soybean farming practiced widely in the region was not on-mission, given the known impacts of those practices. “That sent us searching for a different kind of farming more in keeping with our mission of improving land and water health,” explained Steve Barg, CLC’s Executive Director. Because their preserved agricultural lands are farmed more sustainably, they were then pulled into the nascent food system conversation in the county and are now leading efforts to develop its local food economy.
While land trusts that specialize in farmland, like American Farmland Trust, have been around a long time, this trend of conventional land trusts wading into food systems work is much newer, and it’s growing. Statistics shared by the Land Trust Alliance (LTA), found that of 912 member trusts surveyed in 2010, 22% reported that farm and ranch preservation was “very important,” and 39% said it was “extremely important.” Well over half of the LTA members, then, are strongly invested in this work (for more stats, see American Farmland Trust’s2012 survey of land trusts that specifically work to preserve farms and ranches).
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