Industry Livelihood

A Love for the Land: Kerhonkson Farmers to form Community Land Trust

Jul 27, 2016 Kristen Warfield

To Kerhonkson farmers Joan Ewing and Wilton Duckworth, land is an eternal partner in life. Living on a beautiful 18 acre farm complete with a budding tribe of goats and rolling green pastures, the pair knows this all too well.

But over the years, they have gradually noticed a change in the way people look at land. Farming has become a rare interest in younger people, families don’t usually stay on the same property for generations anymore, and the rush for development now is sometimes valued over stewardship of the land. In short, things just aren’t like they used to be—and that is why they are planning to start a community land trust in the Hudson Valley.

This group will allow members to use one another’s land and become part of a tribe that not only wants to preserve the land, but also wants to pass on to new generations a culture that respects the land. Land trusts already exist in the region, but to Ewing and Duckworth, what’s missing from these is kinship.

“Typical conservation efforts don’t pass on the farming culture and it [land preservation] becomes a legal transaction, not a cultural one,” Duckworth says. “That’s how our idea is different.”

What Duckworth calls a legal transaction is the work of conservancy land trusts, which are groups that provide maximum and permanent protection to a property to preserve its natural character. They limit the amount of human interaction that can be permitted on the land, such as construction or recreation activities.

A community land trust allows similar preservation efforts, but is less formal on how the land is used and will promote land sharing among involved members. They can also provide protection from gentrification, overdevelopment, and pressures from a speculative real estate market, according to the Institute for Community Economics.

The nature of a community land trust calls for a group of people living in and around the same area to make the rules concerning their land, essentially requiring an established amount of trust among its members to comply with the standards with minimal to no legal paperwork.

“We have the privilege of being on this land and we want to ensure that it lends over to someone else who cares for it just as much,” Ewing said. “We can do that by coming together with others and growing a community around our love for the land.”

This network of like-minded people are interested in preserving their land and supporting permaculture, or the development of agricultural ecosystems intended to be sustainable and self-sufficient. It also aims to facilitate a partnership between people and nature to locally provide food and materials in abundance for future generations.

“No element of a local economy is more basic than the community’s land and natural resource base,” reads a passage from the Institute for Community Economics. “On this land, and from this land, the wealth of the community andmost of its individual members is produced.”

As farmers, Ewing and Duckworth envsion their community land trust to mostly cover working land to inspire other local farmers, gardeners, and land stewards to get involved. But as their land shows, with eight to nine acres of pasture and the other 10 being woodlands, every parcel has unique characteristics that deserve to be protected regardless if it is usable land or not.

“Forging this community will help us all learn from each other to better utilize our working land so more of it can be left wild,” Duckworth says.

Though only in its planning stages, Ewing and Duckworth are committed to the formation of the group and have already began interviewing locals for feedback on how to improve their preliminary ideas. To get involved with the planning process or for more information, email Wilton Duckworth or Joan Ewing at mamajoane@yahoo.com.