DES MOINES, Iowa – On Wednesday, the Sustainable Iowa Land Trust (SILT) launched in Des Moines, with a goal of keeping more of Iowa’s land in local food production.
It works like this: landowners donate their own acres to the trust as gifts, or place their land into a conservation easement with the trust, which allows them to still enjoy its use while protecting its conservation value. Placing land with SILT, whether as a gift or an easement, keeps it working to produce fruits, vegetables, and even livestock on a local scale.
The partnership brings landowners together with real estate companies like Hubbell Realty and Peoples Company, as well as farmers who are just starting out. SILT President Suzan Erem expects that partnership to remain intact well into the future.
“I see pockets of farms all around every one of our communities,” she says of a day five decades away. “Maybe our communities have even swallowed up those farms, but the farms are still there. And the market and the farmer are right next to each other. The farmer can grow the food, and out the back door they’re selling it to the neighborhood. I see an opportunity for a young farmer to that time 50 years from now to come to SILT and say, ‘Show me what you’ve got around the state, because I don’t really want to live near Des Moines, but I’d like to live near Sioux City or Iowa City.'”
Erem says farmers can rent land directly from SILT if it owns a particular parcel, or SILT will network farmers with landowners who have conservation easements in the trust. The SILT model is also aimed at removing high land prices from the equation, which Erem says is a significant barrier to beginning farmers who want to get into the business of producing local food, and to keep doing it.
“Who’s doing this?” she asks. “Tell me who’s making food producing land affordable in Iowa? I don’t see anybody doing that. I don’t see anybody protecting our ground to grow food. So, even the LLCs that are out there; the investors. Their entire model is built on the increased price of land. That’s how they make their money, even if they’re putting organic farmers on the land; even if they’re putting beginning farmers on the land. Ten years from now, they’re going to sell it at market rates, because that’s where they get their profit and that’s fine, I don’t mind that. But nobody’s protecting the land in a way that keeps that price down.”
To hear more about SILT and what it’s doing to ensure the free flow of food grown locally, click the audio player above this story.