Introducing the Good Ground Initiative

Triangle Land Conservancy (TLC) is committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion in all aspects of our work. We believe that our goal of sharing land conservation benefits with every single person in the Triangle cannot be reached without actively working to end systemic racism, which for centuries has led to ongoing inequities in access to enjoyment and ownership of land.

After several years of exploring issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion as an organization and individually, TLC staff has worked with numerous partners to develop a program addressing three problems in the Triangle:

  • Rapid loss of farmland
  • Land retention barriers and lack of land ownership by African American, Latinx, Indigenous, and Asian people
  • Unattainable land prices or leases that don’t provide equity for those seeking farms to grow food

With one solution: using conservation tools to increase land ownership, retention, economic opportunities for people of color at prices unaffected by development potential.

The Good Ground Initiative (GGI) uses “Buy-Conserve-Sell” as an approach to land protection and equity promotion in the agricultural space. Properties designated for Good Ground are bought and managed by either Triangle Land Conservancy through a bargain sale or by conservation buyers—third-party investors who purchase land in a standard real estate transaction with the intention of selling through the GGI.

After land has been purchased, TLC works with investors, eligible funding sources, and participating farmers to place a Working Lands Easement on the property. Easements are voluntary agreements between land trusts or other public agencies and landowners to permanently limit certain land uses (mainly, development) to protect the conservation values of a piece of land (read more about TLC’s land conservation values here).

Because the right to develop is permanently severed from the land, the appraised value of conserved property is markedly less than its fair market value, allowing TLC to sell it at a reduced price to farmers, foresters, and other land seekers of color who can still utilize the land for a multitude of uses. Selling the property transfers ownership and management responsibility from TLC to the new landowners, who become the land’s stewards.

Easements, Equity, and Economic Opportunity

Working Land Easements purchased for farms or forestry projects are beneficial not only because they protect a site’s conservation values, but they also allow for continued use and profitability from the land. In the Triangle region, conserved farmland presents an economic opportunity for interested buyers due to the simultaneous increase in population and loss of critical farmland to development. These easements enable people of color to access, own, manage, and sell land, all while building financial wealth for themselves and subsequent generations.

If you are seeking to own conserved land for the purposes of starting a farm and other land-based activities, please complete this Land Seekers Interest Form to tell us what you are looking for. This helps TLC determine which properties best meet farmer needs. TLC welcomes the participation of collectives and other groups in the Good Ground Initiative. If you know someone seeking land, please share the form with them.

As properties become available, we will distribute more information about the land and the application process. A pdf version can be found here, to be sent via email to Kierra Hyman, Good Ground Associate (khyman@triangleland.org) and Margaret Sands, Land Protection Manager West (msands@triangleland.org) along with any further questions you may have.

Coming Soon!

Applications to purchase the first property designated for the Good Ground Initiative will open in 2022. The site is 50 acres and includes forest and river frontage, active fields, and a house. Complete the interest form linked above to get connected with TLC and receive updates on the property.

Building the Good Ground Initiative

Funding from Self-Help Credit Union enabled TLC to contract Seeds of Change Consulting, who conducted a feasibility study and created an equitable structure for the basis of the Good Ground Initiative.

LaShauna Austria, founder and principal of Seeds of Change Consulting, is a farmer herself who has assisted multiple local and state-level food and farming initiatives. She integrates an understanding of racial equity within the food system in order to help organizations develop policies and campaigns that promote equity and inclusion for historically excluded stakeholders.

Jean Willoughby, lead consultant, has spent more than ten years in economic development and working with farmers and land trusts around the country. Her work has focused on bringing together traditional conservation tools, new legal models, and innovative investment strategies to support small and mid-scale growers.

Phase 1

Kicked off at the beginning of 2021, Austria and Willoughby’s multi-phase approach has continued in three phases. The focus of Phase 1 was information gathering through stakeholder interviews and data analysis to test the feasibility of the proposed program as well as stakeholder interest and capacity for participation. It incorporated partner organizations already engaged in important conversations around land justice and equity in the food systems to ensure that TLC’s efforts uplift and contribute to current initiatives.

Phase 2

Used the information gathered from the community in Phase 1 to inform detailed development of the Good Ground Initiative. Conservation tools were adapted to address the gaps identified in Phase 1, while conforming to Land Trust Alliance accreditation and IRS 501c3 standards. Based on the results of Phase 1, TLC staff are designing a structure, identifying program partners, and establishing protocols for the pilot project.

Phase 3

Carries out established procedures by opening applications to properties identified for Good Ground purposes. The application and interview process invites applicants to define their vision and agricultural plans and assesses the conservation values demonstrated by them. These are reviewed and elected by a third-party committee of community members who represent professions relevant to the Good Ground Initiative. Chosen recipients participate in finalizing the structure of the land’s easement during the transfer process. They are connected to resources that facilitate their becoming successful land stewards. TLC will review lessons learned from the pilot project and incorporate improvements for future properties.

As Good Ground progresses, we will continue working to implement more programs that turn organizational resources and power into to conservation and stewardship benefits accessible to all in our community.

Read below to learn about how TLC’s decade-long equity journey, the history of land in North Carolina, and the organization’s commitment to supporting local farms inspired development of the Good Ground Initiative.

Justice Loop Trail Sign

The modern Justice family is descended from some of the first enslaved people ever recorded at Stagville: Ned, Esther, Betty, and Cato. Photo by Don Kinney.

Since 2012, we have worked to help tell the story of the land at our nature preserves. That year, TLC opened Horton Grove Nature Preserve and named the trails in honor of the descendants of enslaved Black people who were forced to live and work on the land for generations. We’ve also worked to document and share the histories of Black and Indigenous communities at the Bailey and Sarah Williamson Preserve.

In 2016, TLC hired a third party to complete an equity audit, which revealed several areas for improvement that have guided TLC’s conduct as an employer, community representative, and recreational resource. Following this audit, TLC recognized that since 1983, many of the organization’s projects have reflected the lack of diversity in land ownership. Uncovering and understanding both our state’s and our own history has made it impossible to ignore the people who stewarded, cultivated, and cared for the lands we now conserve without official recognition in the ownership structure or a share in the wealth that land yields.

Though North Carolina is home to a long lineage of Indigenous and Black land stewards, they are scarcely reflected in land ownership and agriculture. In 1920, Black farmers owned 14 percent of American farms. Today however, they account for 1.4 percent of the country’s 3.4 million producers.

In 1997, a North Carolina farmer brought what would become the largest civil rights class action lawsuit in our country’s history. Leveled against the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Pigford v. Glickman case uncovered systemic discrimination against Black farmers and helped lay the groundwork for two decades of further legal action by Indigenous, Latinx, and female farmers.

While monetary relief flowed from these settlements, structural change was not forthcoming. Today, 98 percent of farmland is owned by white producers and much of it is under threat of development. Without a concerted, long-term effort, this profound inequity will continue to burden not only rural communities but American agriculture and land stewardship for generations to come.

TLC has protected more than 4,000 acres of farmland since 1983 in the Triangle region, which is under enormous pressure from development. Between 2001 and 2016, more than 731,600 acres of agricultural land in North Carolina were developed or compromised. Of the 46,000 farms that remain in the state, there are five times as many farmers over the age of 65 as under 35. With the population of North Carolina growing nearly 10% in just 10 years, TLC recognizes the urgency of creating opportunities for younger farmers to secure critical land and sustainably grow food on it.

The reality of historic discrimination and present-day farmland loss in North Carolina helped define the Good Ground Initiative’s main objectives to address. We understand the necessity of administering equity-based programs with measurable outcomes, such that in the process of doing conservation, TLC will engage in the reversal of disparities in land stewardship and wealth building.

 

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