New guide supports farmland owners in advancing land justice

Farmland access and tenure are among the most pressing issues in agriculture today. These land challenges must be considered in their historic and contemporary contexts. Systemic racism, a legacy of land theft, and policies that advantage white people perpetuate inequality and limit land access for farmers and communities of color. Farmland owners have the opportunity to shift power in the food system.

Toward Land Justice: Actions White Farmland Owners Can Take was motivated by our organizations—Land For Good and Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association—hearing from white landowners who want to do something with their land to advance social justice. This guide is one contribution to the conversation about farmland access, how it can be made more equitable, and what white landowners can do on their own to meaningfully redress past harms and be part of new opportunities.

“Land justice is the idea that people and communities that have been historically oppressed have a right to land and territory. It recognizes the central role of [farmland] in culture, in society, and in relations of power, as well as its restorative, protective and healing potential.”

Eric Holt-Gimenez and Justine M. Williams
tree trunk photographed from base looking up with ten hands reaching in from the side of the frame and resting on the trunk
Photo credit: Shane Rounce

We believe that this guide can inspire and assist white farmland owners to partner with farmers and communities of color to access land. We approached this guide with enthusiasm and conviction, and we understand its limitations. Staff from Land For Good and OEFFA did the research, grappled with terminology, and sought subject matter experts. We solicited and integrated comments/input from nineteen reviewers: white landowners, farmers of color, organizations led by Black, Indigenous, and other people of color (BIPOC), and land access organizations. Together, we learned about the topic. We also grew our awareness about the challenges and how to talk about them with respect and humility. This guide is a work in progress; we welcome comments and dialogue.

The target audience for this guide is white owners of farm and ranch lands in the United States. That said, the methods are generic; they could be considered by other landowners who want to improve land access for disempowered groups. It is meant to have national application, but our direct experiences are mainly in the Northeast and Midwest. And while not directed at farmers, producers can take advantage of the guide’s ideas and resources.

Successfully transitioning or sharing land can be challenging, but it is possible. This guide grounds us in history, invites us to reflect on guided questions, and explores options for making farmland available. 

Do you have comments to share after reading this publication? We recognize the sensitivity around topics of racial inequities, historic harms, and future needs. We welcome your input for future revisions or new resources. Thanks for your collaboration.  Submit Feedback

Read on to learn more about the main sections in this guide.

Methods for making farmland available

This section explores practical options for making land available to BIPOC farmers and communities. The methods can be applied to other disempowered groups to promote social justice goals and partnerships that are meaningful to you. An overview is provided for each method, along with important considerations and resources for further learning. Any methods chosen should be pursued conscientiously and in partnership with those you are seeking to support. 

The methods section is divided into two parts. The first part focuses on what farmland owners can do with their land to meet their social justice intentions while retaining land ownership. The second part addresses methods to transfer ownership. Each method is briefly described, noting advantages and disadvantages. Additional resources are included and provide more detail and guidance.

  • Part I. Retaining Ownership—acknowledgement, invitation, use agreement (license), lease, easement
  • Part II. Transferring Ownership—sale, gift, donation, bequest

The work of making farmland available is likely to be challenging, take longer than planned, and perhaps go in unexpected directions. If landowners are committed to doing the work thoughtfully and in good faith, it will also be worthwhile.

Supporting Land Justice

The methods section focuses on ways to make farmland available to BIPOC farmers and communities of color through use or transfer. There are also other ways to support land justice. 

Some additional actions to consider include:

  • Share the story—actions taken, mistakes made along the way, learnings—with neighboring landowners, in farming, conservation, church, or civic groups, and through social media channels and local press.
  • Advocate for building awareness, supporting BIPOC communities, and changing public policies.
  • Implement a voluntary land tax.

For Service Providers

two rows of yellow flowers separated by a dirt pathway, blue sky background
Photo credit: Annie Spratt

This guide is targeted to white farmland owners who want to explore how to promote equity and opportunity through their land, specifically with BIPOC farmers and communities. Achieving  these goals requires a team effort. It requires skills, experience, expertise, insights, and on-going support that exceed any one individual’s capacity. Service providers may be positioned to help advance this work, and to be a part of a team that supports landowners as well as BIPOC farmers and communities in their area. 

The service provider section of the guide is a brief primer to assist service providers in evaluating their own readiness and enhancing their ability to support equity-focused farmland access opportunities.

Production of this guide was supported by the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, USDA, Grant #2019-49400-30033 and #2021-49400-35642.

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