Monday, March 10, 2008

Live Power Community Farm

At last, an update!

Live Power Community Farm

This was one of my favorite places on our trip thus far, mostly due to two factors that make this farm unique in the world of California agriculture, sustainable or otherwise. Those factors:

1) The Decater family, Steven, Gloria, Christopher, Nick, and Alex use draft animals to till the soil on which they grow 4 acres of vegetables annually. Their horses (specially bred for stockiness and power to pull farm implements like diskers) are complimented by other livestock: sheep, cows, and pigs. Only the horses are used to power the farms’ equipment, but the others also contribute their own pieces to the farm’s health and livelihood; they contribute their feces. Steven pointed out on our first (non-filmed) walk around the farm that the only way to keep their 4 acre plot of soil healthy through year after year of extractive veggie production is to have 36 other acres to support their animals (through annual and perennial pasture). Otherwise, fertility would have to be imported from off-farm sources, which is un-acceptable at Live Power, but common throughout the rest of the organic farming scene.

2) Steven and Gloria farmed the land that is Live Power for many years as tenant farmers, and finally approached the landowner looking to buy the land and put it into some sort of long term stable situation. Considering the raw economic reality of their sort of farming—that you don’t make almost any money—they were unable to buy the land outright. Through a partnership with the land trust organization Equity Trust, out of New York, and the support of their partnering CSA subscribers, the Decaters were able to secure enough funding to purchase the agricultural value of the land, and have the Trust own the speculative (i.e. developmental, non-agricultural) value of the land. This arrangement is similar to other conservation easements, used around the country. However, this easement is unique in that the option to purchase or inherit the land is limited to someone who guarantees to use it for agricultural purposes, and the price of the land will be limited to reflect the agricultural value of it. The intent of this is obvious: to keep the land in agriculture and to keep it affordable for future farmers. Many land trust organizations will not pursue language of this sort in their conservation easement agreements, due to the difficulties in ensuring future compliance to language which demands that a new owners’ income be 50% or more agriculture-based. However, I think it is an interesting approach to taking land out of the economic system where money decides a land’s use, where (as happens all too often) even ag land with a conservation easement becomes so expensive as to only be affordable as a vacation/ranch/country home for the upper class.

1 comment:

Paula said...

the decaters are awesome! heroes of mine. my boyfriend and i used to provide egg shares to the LPCF members. you touch on a crucial issue in the sustainable food movement - land availability. in mendocino county, we are definitely having to be innovative in establishing local farms amidst expensive land. partnering with vineyards, who have the resources and passion for local family farms, is one route that is proving successful. yay, local healthy food! best of luck with your film.