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October 24, 2013

Is this Land Made for You and Me?

We all know the tune, “This land is your land.  This land is my land.  From California to the New York Island.  From the redwood forest, to the gulf stream waters.  This land was made for you and me.”  But is it?  Is America’s land really your land and my land or is it control by a select few leaving all others as pawns in the land grab game.   

Within recent years the food justice movement has put the sparkle back into the young eyes of a select view itching to get back to Agrarian lifestyles their great-grandparents knew.  Numerous young folks have immersed their time, energy, and money into college careers to learn more about sustainable farming in hopes of a promising career upon graduation.  But are we building false dreams for these do-gooders?  

 An article from Civil Eats brings it to light, “Yet their ambition will be fruitless, because unless they come from families of good fortune, they won’t be able to afford the land, they will be priced out of the market by institutional investors and large-scale farm operations.”  While the agrarian do-gooders have the right intentions their intentions might always come to fruition.

 The New Geopolitics of Food Scarcity article paints a clear image of what our land and food have become, “The world is in transition from an era of food abundance to one of food scarcity. Over the last decade, world grain reserves have fallen by one third. World food prices have more than doubled, triggering a worldwide land rush and ushering in a new geopolitics of food. Food is the new oil. Land is the new gold.” 

 In the same article author, Lester Brown depicts a grim reality, “Food shortages undermined earlier civilizations. The Sumerians and Mayans are just two of the many early civilizations that declined apparently because they moved onto an agricultural path that was environmentally unsustainable. For the Sumerians, rising salt levels in the soil as a result of a defect in their otherwise well-engineered irrigation system eventually brought down their food system and thus their civilization. For the Mayans, soil erosion was one of the keys to their downfall, as it was for so many other early civilizations. We, too, are on such a path. While the Sumerians suffered from rising salt levels in the soil, our modern-day agriculture is suffering from rising carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere. And like the Mayans, we are mismanaging our land and generating record losses of soil from erosion.”

 Now that we’ve all been bummed out by the harsh reality, what can we do?  The problem seems unattainable and out of reach but with anything there is hope.  We need serious land reform to ensure that the land we still have goes to those who will treat it with respect and ensure its quality for the future.  

 Below is a clear solution laid out by Bob St. Peter and Raj Patel:

...1) allow a new generation of landless Americans to steward the land for the public good; 2) build a vibrant and productive rural economy; and 3) make rural retirement possible without poverty.

At a minimum, these would involve:

* Ceilings maximum acreage on agricultural land ownership. A 1970s Congressional bill would have prohibited corporations with more than $3 million in non-farm assets from buying land;

* Conservation easement legislation to guarantee that small farmland remains in production and under small-farm ownership;

* Student debt forgiveness in exchange for farming;

* Farmworkers’ right to organize and to living wages;

* Investment in rural healthcare infrastructure;

* Financially secure retirement options for rural elders;

* Support for the agroecological farming needed for 21st Century agriculture.”

Hopefully, one day we will in fact be able to sing, “This land is your land. This land is our land... this land was made for you and me” and actually mean it!

For more information, I encourage you to read both articles.  They can be found by clicking any links above or below:


***Whitney is currently serving as a PHP VISTA in Indianapolis combating food justice issues one day at a time.  Originally from Kentucky, she day dreams of getting back to her roots, diggin' up some dirt, and living the so called simple life.

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