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The Permaculture Conservation Trust

Deborah Berman
Suvia Judd
The Palouse
The Palouse

What is a land trust?

A land trust is an organization which protects land which has particular value to the public.The land may be protected for conservation qualities, for example, such as the presence of wildlife habitat or important ecosystems, or for recreation, or for its historical significance.In all cases, a land trust must demonstrate that it is protecting land for the benefit of the public. Land trusts exist all across the nation, as do the legal mechanisms to support them. There are two kinds of land trust, a conservation land trust, and a community land trust.

Many of us are familiar with the concept of a conservation land trust, which protects land for conservation and conservation-related values.Conservation land trusts may acquire land and hold it in outright ownership, but more often they accept donations of conservation easements from landowners. A conservation easement enables the holder of the easement to protect the particular land parcel from named kinds of development.The ownership of the parcel of land can change multiple times, but the easement stays with the land trust, which monitors compliance with it, and can go to court, if necessary, to enforce it.

A community land trust is a different kind of legal instrument.A community land trust, which is by law a membership organization, can acquire land and then lease it out in so-called “ground leases,” (also called “land leases),” which can run for many years and which may also be heritable.This gives the lessee many of the benefits of ownership, but at a lower cost.A common use today for a community land trust is to create access to affordable housing.

Land leases granted by a community land trust can be used to make farm land accessible to those who want to farm but cannot afford to purchase land.Lack of affordable farmland can be a big problem when expanding suburban areas drive up land prices.

A community land trust can also accept conservation easements just as a conservation land trust does.

A land trust for permaculture

The idea of Permaculture land trust had been batted around for several years but it was a conversation between Permaculture educators Gloria Flora* and Deborah Berman at the North American Permaculture Convergence in 2014 which really jump-started the project.      

So why a land trust for Permaculture?

In Permaculture we build permanent agricultural landscapes. These sites, like natural ecosystems, are based on perennial plants, including, in most permaculture designs, shrubs and trees.Plants, animals (even if only small volunteer ones), fungi, and microorganisms are all integrated into our sites. We humans are part of the design too. Yet often we are a lot shorter-lived than the trees we plant. 

Each developed Permaculture site is a little ecosystem, a miracle of ongoing yields of food and information.A site that continues to have human member/managers can go on for a long time. But what happens when the humans die, get too old to manage the site, or have to move away for some reason?

Thinking about these things, and looking at how some of our teachers are getting older, the Permaculture Conservation Trust founders looked around for ways to ensure that the resource we all have in these well-designed and maturing Permaculture sites can be maintained indefinitely. They settled on the idea of creating a conservation trust for Permaculture, using the mechanism of conservation easements for protecting developed Permaculture sites.

After presenting the Permaculture land trust idea at the Inland Northwest Permaculture Convergence in 2015, and again in 2016, the founders learned that, while people were interested in protecting developed Permaculture sites for posterity, many people were also interested in land access and land tenure.In response to these concerns, the PCT decided to adopt a community land trust model. This allows the Trust to hold conservation easements AND to own land and lease it out to members to farm.

In October of 2016 the Permaculture Conservation Trust was incorporated in the State of Idaho. The purpose of the PCT is to preserve and protect Permaculture sites in perpetuity so that their full potential, and maximum public benefit, can be realized.

By protecting these sites, our goal is to provide models that people can follow to produce abundant local and regional food, while at the same time contributing to increased pollination services, cleaner air and water, improved soil productivity, greater biodiversity, and increased carbon sequestration.

We also aim to connect young and entry level farmers to land, with the dual objective of providing ongoing stewardship of the sites, and of providing people who otherwise have no access to land a chance to farm and practice Permaculture.

Please contact us if you want to participate building this organization.We are interested in your reactions and your creative ideas.We are particularly looking for knowledgeable and energetic people to join our Board of Directors. Since we plan to expand into more states, Idaho, Washington, Oregon, and Montana residents are all most welcome.

* Gloria Flora of Colville, WA, is a forester in ecosystem management and Director of Sustainable Obtainable Solutions, a non-profit organization dedicated to the sustainability of public lands and the plant, animal and human communities that depend on them.

About the Authors:

Deborah Berman, MPH, PhD, is an environmental health scientist, environmental toxicologist, mediator, organic farmer, and certified Permaculture designer and educator. She has studied with many top Permaculture practitioners, including David Holmgren, Sepp Holzer, Michael Pilarski, Jude Hobbs, Andrew Millison, Penny Livingston, Brock Dolman, and John Valenzuela.She is one of the principals of Palouse Permaculture, an ecological design and education consultancy based in Moscow, Idaho, and currently serves as the Board President for Rural Roots, our regional small producers’ organization.

Suvia Judd grew up in rural Vermont, playing in the woods, eating vegetables from a big organic garden, and attending a two-room elementary school.She has degrees in biology, public health nutrition, and law. She has done research on the population biology of salamanders, the diet of college students, alpine lake water quality, and microscopic variables in alpaca fiber.She has worked as a food co-op co-manager, driven school bus, owned and operated a fruit tree nursery, raised alpacas and llamas, rescued, tamed and found homes for feral cats, served 22 years on her local county planning commission, and been a private caregiver. In 1997 she was instrumental in the granting of the first conservation easement accepted by the then newly formed Palouse Land Trust. Her lifetime goal is to improve ecological literacy (including her own). Her favorite vegetables to grow are winter squash and Romano type pole beans. She lives in Moscow, Idaho.

Resource Links:

Agrarian Trust

Berkshire Community Land Trust

Book: Building Sustainable Communities: Tools and Concepts for Self-Reliant Economic Change, Benello, C. George; Swann, Robert; Turnbull, Shann; Morehouse, Ward (ed.)

Center for New Economics (formerly the E.F. Schumacher Society)

Equity Trust

Land for Good

Land Stewardship Project

Young Farmers' Coalition, Land Access Innovations Trainings

Photo: David Dugan

June 1, 2017