As the source of our food, cradle of our communities, and root of local economies, land is vital to our individual and collective health and well-being. Yet every hour in the United States, roughly 150 acres of natural land and 40 acres of farmland are cleared, paved, and built upon—190 acres per hour! At the same time, the biggest challenge facing young farmers is land access, especially for young black and brown farmers. Increasing interest and pressure on land create the need for land-centric organizations that can work innovatively amid the rapid changes of our world today.
Living Lands Trust—originally Yggdrasil Land Foundational—was founded in 2000 as just such an organization. A 21st-century land trust, created in part to help serve the Biodynamic community and provide an example of how we might begin to move beyond the notion of land as property. Land as property traces its legal basis to Roman Law and the three fundamental rights of possession it established: usus, fructus, and abusus; the right to use, enjoy the benefits of, and to waste or dispose of. Unfortunately, our world reflects centuries of individuals (including corporations) exercising their ancient right of abusus over land—enclosing, clearing, extracting, consuming, speculating, buying, and selling—without an appreciation and respect for the connectivity and entanglement of life and elemental forces.
By holding land as a charitable public entity, Living Lands effectively extinguishes the right of abusus and the wasting and disposing of the living earth and re-centers relationship and reciprocity between people and place. Removing this pillar of possession allows for the cultivation of a sense of stewardship and respect for land and place.
Living Lands Trust not only protects land but also shares it. The lands we hold are made available to Biodynamic and other regenerative farmers through long-term agreements that offer security and flexibility. Today, Living Lands holds places in four states totaling over 2,400 acres, with 17 houses and numerous farm buildings.
In Wisconsin, stewards are fighting and winning the right to sell raw milk while dreaming of creating a micro-dairy that will allow them to bring additional artisan dairy products to the community. In California, stewards are establishing a Redwood nursery among their orchard and vineyard to protect and restore the neighboring 320-acre forest while finding new partners and allies at an innovative farm cooperative. In New Hampshire, stewards are navigating the exciting potential and uncertainty of generational transition. In Texas, young farmers are starting a Biodynamic ranch that will not only feed people in the community but also restore native prairie and protect rare migratory songbirds. In each place, Living Lands seeks to be an advocate and collaborator, serving and empowering to the best of its capacity, never controlling or micro-managing.
Living Lands Trust operated primarily as an all-volunteer organization for the first twenty years of its existence. With the hiring of our first full-time staff person in 2020, during this time of great potential and pressure on land, Living Lands is poised to amplify its efforts for greater reach and impact. In the years ahead, we envision invigorating our association with the Biodynamic Demeter Alliance and finding opportunities to support Biodynamic farmers and advocates with land matters. In the words of scientist, educator, and author Robin Wall Kimmerer, “Here is where our most challenging and most rewarding work lies, in restoring a relationship of respect, responsibility, and reciprocity. And love.”
- David Outman, Executive Director