The Sustainable Iowa Land Trust (SILT) is working to provide small farmers in Iowa with affordable land that improves environmental resources and access to fresh produce.

“Our food dollars travel around the world and into the pockets of people who don’t live where we grow [food], so they don’t suffer the consequences of poisoned water and pig manure air,” Suzan Erem, Executive Director at SILT, tells Food Tank.

Industrial agriculture’s excessive use of fertilizers is contaminating the water supply, hurting small Iowa farmers and the public, according to a study by the Environmental Working Group.

Farmers are also suffering from consolidated farmland. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) 2017 Census Report shows a decrease of almost three percent of farms over a five-year period. The small and mid-sized farms are not completely lost, but consolidated into larger units, according to Iowa State University.

“The industrial system that sealed the fate of family farms demands bigger farms growing fewer crops,” says Erem. “Most farmers own or lease many hundreds if not thousands of acres of land…They’re on a debt treadmill to pay off farm equipment, seed, spray, and either land or rent.”

SILT aims to redistribute farmland in Iowa and provide opportunities for small farmers who want to practice sustainable farming but do not have access to land. They do so through conservation easements – legal agreements that permanently limit the use of the land – and by leasing land donated to the Trust.

SILT requires the easements to remain farmland and that farmers who buy the land receive a third-party sustainability certification. Because small-scale farmers are the only ones who can follow these requirements, SILT is able to sell the land to small farmers at half of its market value, says Erem.

“America was built on land theft from Native Americans, freed slaves, and farmers who couldn’t make the mortgage,” Erem tells Food Tank. “Our model changes the trajectory of that story to one of land as a common good, not a commodity.”

Read the full article about land trust by Sabrina Endicott at Food Tank.