The appropriate ecological stewardship and community practices are place-specific. The decisions on how best to steward land and nurture community should be reached collaboratively, and with cultural and place-specific values in mind.
There are various ways to set stewardship standards in a lease. Standards can be region or even ecosystem specific, and can use different metrics (soil health, air quality, etc.). Including clear, flexible stewardship standards that honor those who may currently be stewarding the land/a farmer-lessee and their regenerative practices is important to the Agrarian Trust’s mission. An AC can support beneficial practices and ecosystem health improvement through equity payments in a lease to the lessee.
Tying Ecological Standards into Lease Agreement
Soil and land health are more important to the mission of the Agrarian Trust than production. Including stewardship standards in the lease can help establish measurements and support of healthy land. For instance, rent forgiveness or lower rental payments can be implemented when soil is degraded at the start and lessees are re-building it.
Indigenous Land Plan
Land stewardship plans should be a collaborative effort with native nations. This ensures ACs do not reproduce and maintain structures of colonization, naturalization of settler spaces, and appropriation of Indigenous territories and ways of being.
Negotiable Ecological Standards
While setting aspirational ecological goals, make sure rigorous standards are not a breaking-point for renegotiating a lease, which would create land tenure insecurity for the farmers.
Some groups may have a goal of establishing diverse farms with shared soil practices. This necessitates a shared protocol for soil testing and ecosystem services. The aggregation of soil-testing and data-collection, and the opportunity for data-sharing, may be appealing to philanthropic investors. This could lead to raising additional funds to then funnel back into farms.
Ecological Stewardship and Farm and Ranch Standards are intended to be broad, with the ability to be flexible and adapted to local ACs and farms.
Agrarian Trust works with farms that prioritize production of healthy food, balanced with ecological stewardship of soils, water and habitats, and engagement in a local agrarian economy and the community. Local Agrarian Commons provide farms with secure and equitable tenure, along with living soil, clean water, and viable agricultural opportunities. Land may also be stewarded as refuge for humans and all sentient beings. A refuge may include healing space for mind-body-spirit, protecting diverse ecosystems, and/or enhancing ecological biodiversity.
Farms that are part of the Commons must create, support, and enhance ecological and biological diversity. Farmers should protect natural communities and set aside at least 10% of each predominant land/habitat type (e.g. field, forest) on the farm as natural reserve. Farmers can manage land for diversity of habitat types and transition zones, planting botanical species for insects, birds, and other life.
Tillage can be done as needed, with priority toward reducing tillage where possible. Tilled ground should not cause water and soil degradation, and when resting, should be cover cropped.
Water conservation can be supported through soil organic matter, on-contour agriculture, mulching, efficient irrigation, buffers along waterways, tree cover, and more.
Compost should be integrated into perennial and annual cropping and may include: livestock, green manure, legumes and/or cover cropping, wood chips, and vegetable products.
Land is used for agriculture to foster the symbiotic relationship between the soil and human and animal health. No confinement agriculture is allowed and no synthetic and/or chemical fertilizers, pesticides, fungicides, or herbicides may be used as part of farming practices, land management, or ecological stewardship.
Rotation should be integrated into any animal grazing, crop production, composting, and resting the land.
Soil health is focused on nutrient, micro-nutrient, trace element, and organic matter levels, aeration, microbial and earthworm life, and how health flows through the system.
The Center for Agriculture and Food Systems is an initiative of Vermont Law School, and this toolkit provides general legal information for educational purposes only. It is not meant to substitute, and should not be relied upon, for legal advice. Each farmer’s circumstances are unique, state laws vary, and the information contained herein is specific to the time of publication. Accordingly, for legal advice, please consult an attorney licensed in your state.