Grown Here at Home: Southwest Virginia Agrarian Commons working to give farmers more access to land
ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ) - The Agrarian Trust is an organization that started in 2013 – formed by a group of people who experienced the challenges new farmers have in accessing land. In 2019, the Agrarian Trust approached New River Land Trust to begin a partnership.
“When Agrarian Trust was looking at establishing an agrarian commons in this region, they really needed a local partner who had that connection to individual people and other agencies, and the possibility of grant opportunities,” said Kim Kirkbride, assistant director of New River Land Trust and SWVA Agrarian Commons board member.
In 2020, the Agrarian Commons was formed. Currently there are 12 Commons across the country, with one in Southwest Virginia. The Southwest Virginia Agrarian Commons is taking on its first land acquisition project of Lick Run Farm in Northwest Roanoke.
“This idea came across our radar and it really seemed to fit what we were sort of waiting for, which was an opportunity to not just protect the acreage and ground, but to enhance the likelihood of farming on protected lands,” Kirkbride explained.
“The Agrarian Commons wants to hold between four and 12 farms in the Southwest Virginia region, so starting with an urban farm is neat and visible and I think brings a lot of things like community development and consumer involvement and there’s a ton of beauty and visibility with this initial project,” said Regional Agrarian Commons Developer Eliza Spellman.
Kirkbride says residential developments are a leading cause of land loss.
“Once that land is converted, it’s really impossible to get it back as farmland. If we’re not protecting and allocating what we need to maintain our food base, we could in the future be in a real hurt,” she said.
Kirkbride said there are two sides to preserving land. Along the lines conservation she said, “A lot of economic development has come our way in our region, which is great in so many ways, but we also need to think carefully about what land is being taken to do that, and how do we balance multiple needs.
Economically she said, “It’s getting harder and harder to sell farmland, because you can sell it to a developer and they’re going to pay you tenfold an acre what a farmer can pay. Sometimes even more than that, and so again who loses out on opportunities is farmers. We need to set aside farmland, we need to protect it, we need to make sure it’s affordable,” she said.
Fundraising efforts are still underway to purchase Lick Run Farm. You can find ways to donate and more about the project on the Agrarian Trust website.
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