Research studies new models for finding farmland
Author: Christina Williams
Posted: July 22, 2019
Participants in bus tour of regional farms. Like many June days in in the Pacific Northwest, June 3 started grey and ended up with a dazzling sky and 35 farmers, growers, and advocates spent the day on a tour bus visiting farmland in Washington.

They were on the hunt for innovative models of land ownership for sustainable farmers. Led by Megan Horst, a food systems expert and assistant professor of urban studies and planning, the field trip was a showcase of ways that young farmers, farmers of color, and anyone trying to grow good food without a lot of money to invest in real estate were making it work on the ground.

“The reality is these farmers, whether they are looking for a few acres or hundreds of acres, are facing immense barriers to access.” Horst said. “They are competing for land, sometimes against developers and there’s a dwindling supply of good land with good water access.”

All of these factors — the cost, the competition, and the reality that sustainable agriculture doesn’t generate highly lucrative incomes — means that farmers who want to grow good food for their communities are finding it increasingly difficult to do so. Not to mention the centuries of challenges faced by farmers of color and the debt load faced by young farmers just starting out.

Participants in bus tour of regional farms. Horst set out to find innovative models of land ownership and access that were circumnavigating these obstacles. Then she put together a tour to show them to Portland-area farmers and advocates who are grappling with them.

Horst’s research on farmland is one of two projects at PSU being supported by the 10-university Global Consortium for Sustainability Outcomes, a nonprofit spearheaded by Arizona State University. PSU participates in the GCSO through the Institute for Sustainable Solutions (ISS), which joined the consortium in 2017 with an initial focus on city-university partnerships and resiliency planning.

“Our work with GCSO continues and continues to expand,” said Fletcher Beaudoin, assistant director of ISS who has presented on effective and transformative city-university partnerships at GCSO member universities around the world. “We’re excited to see Megan’s action-oriented research supported. I know a lot of other universities and communities will be able learn from what she's accomplished here.”

The field trip was funded by Horst’s portion of a GCSO grant that was awarded to faculty at four different universities, all of them studying food systems. In addition to putting together the field trip, Horst is working with a research assistant to compile 20-30 case studies of potential models for land access for farmers.

Participants in bus tour of regional farms. On the field trip, the group visited three different farms in Washington. Two of the properties were owned by land trusts, the third was a cooperative farm. Along the way the group also heard from experts in farmland preservation, nonprofit farms, and financing.

In addition to funding the trip itself, Horst is offering mini-grants of up to $1,000 to help support access to land initiatives by anyone who attended.

“I wanted to look at more action-oriented solutions to the difficulties faced of farmers who are selling directly to communities and this project got me closer to that,” Horst said. “The whole idea is to turn this research to action and by offering the mini-grants, we were able to create an incentive for participants to do something with what they learned.”

Mini-grants were awarded to the following organizations:  GrowBlack PDX, The Next Door's Raíces Cooperative Farm, Oregon Agricultural Trust and Outgrowing Hunger. Learn more about the project at the Land for Sustainable Local Food Systems website.