Sustainable Iowa Land Trust to Support Young Farmers

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DES MOINES, Iowa - A group promoting organic, sustainable farming wants to make it easier for younger people to enter the industry across the state.

The Sustainable Iowa Land Trust, or SILT, announced a new initiative Wednesday allowing current farmers and landowners to donate their property to a land trust aimed at helping younger farmers start a business "without paying an arm and a leg."

SILT founder, Suzan Erem, says Iowa imports 90 percent of its edible food, and she thinks the state should grow more of its own.

"Meanwhile, our young people want to farm. But volatile land prices, pushed up by development on one side, and commodity corn prices on the other, make it impossible," she said. "They will give up. They will go away. And I don't think that's good for Iowa, and neither do the leaders of SILT."

Wednesday, SILT called on Iowa farmers who don't have a long-term plan for their land once they retire to donate that land to the SILT land trust. SILT will own the land, but bring young farmers onto it to start their own businesses. While the farmers won't have to share any profits with SILT, they will have to abide by whatever agreements were made about the usage of the land when it came under SILT ownership (for instance, a stipulation that no GMO-crops be produced on the land.)

In addition to any donated land SILT gets from farmers, the organization also received a $20,000 interest-free loan from Slow Money National Gathering to begin adding farms to its conservation initiative.

2 comments

  • Brett Williams

    This story really bothers me. They want people to donate land to a group which states it’s hopes to eventually have control of 10 to 15 percent of Iowa’s farmland. I don’t care what their goals are. No group should have control of that much of the states land. Not only that, but they would have control, or put another way, title to the land while not paying the taxes which would be the burden of the tenant. If they get control of say 10%, that means there is even less land for beginner farmers to buy. Some how the term share cropper keeps popping into my mind

    • suzan63

      Hey Brett, you got a lot of assumptions going on here. I don’t blame you – this is complicated stuff and can’t be explained entirely in 1 minute and 21 seconds, but I suggest you read up at silt.org and give us a call. Here’s some basics – First, a nonprofit land trust is just that – nonprofit – which means our mission has to serve the common good. In this case making land more accessible AND affordable for beginning farmers while keeping them close to their local food markets. Second, many land trusts, and we plan to follow, make payments in lieu of taxes so counties don’t suffer. Finally, there will be more than one model – land SILT owns, but the farmer earns equity in the house, the barn and the business, and land SILT just protects for sustainable ag, that others own. It’s called an “easement.” We just take on the responsibility of monitoring it so it grows food and that keeps it from competing against development or commodity pressures. And we’ll be connecting those landowners WITH beginning farmers who want to grow food of course – it’s in everyone’s self interest. Will SILT ever get 10 to 15 percent of Iowa land in healthy, local food production? Who knows? Will our population continue to grow and probably want their food grown closer to home? That’s what we’re thinking – viable farming careers, healthy food, strong local economies, a healthier environment. If Iowans 50 years from now don’t think that’s a good idea, I’m sure they’ll do something about it. Suzan@silt.org

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