COLLABORATION

Emory’s eco-partnership: Linking landless farmers to new business fields

SOURCE: Rasmus Landgreen/ Unsplash
Connecting landless farmers to a promising ten-year trail, success is set to grow from this new partnership.

Farm income in the US is expected to reach US$88 billion this year, the highest since 2014’s US$92 billion, according to a recent report by the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Economic Research Service.

The forecast augurs well for the farm economy, providing motivation for first-time farmers who might want to hop onto the food production chain.

What’s driving these numbers, the American Farm Bureau Federation says, is largely to do with the increase in federal support. Some examples include trade assistance and insurance indemnities related to Midwest flooding this spring, and a reduction in operating expenses.

But what happens if a first-time farmer lacks access to federal support funds or requires professional assistance to bring their ranch to a reality?

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To help farmers left by the wayside, especially landless farmers, Emory University in Atlanta has teamed up with The Conservation Fund (TCF) from Arlington in a partnership that could evolve into an inspirational solution for others to follow.

By agreeing to buy produce from farms established within 100 miles (160 kilometers) of the city by The Conservation Fund, the university helps the nonprofit to continually place conservation easements on its farmlands, to protect it from development and harm, to lease the land to farmers with a 10-year path to ownership and to sell it to the landless farmers at the end of their lease.

Encouraging next-generation farmers to follow their future goals while bringing the supply of fresh, local, sustainably grown food for Emory’s campus and hospital communities, it’s a partnership that exhibits multiple community benefits.

For Emory’s Sustainability Initiatives Director Ciannat Howett, this collaboration will ensure that farmers have a reliable market for their crops, while improving healthy and sustainable food options for their students, faculty, patients and employees.

“Our commitment to purchase sustainably and locally grown food means The Conservation Fund will be able to provide better market opportunities for farmers, as together we create an innovative new model for funding sustainable agriculture in our region,” Howett says.

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Emory also reveals that this strategy would provide area farmers with a reliable market and collateral for securing loans and financing, while helping the university to meet its goal of procuring 75 percent of food served on campus, and 25 percent in hospitals, from local or sustainably grown sources by 2025.

Setting a sustainable example, Emory’s eco-partnership has the potential to produce new ventures for landless farmers, to harvest healthy and local produce for their campus and to sprout similar ideas into the minds of US universities.

And by connecting landless farmers to leased farmlands, Emory’s collaboration with TCF triggers new entrepreneurial and agricultural avenues for them to explore.

“This is not happening anywhere else, to the best of our knowledge, so we really have an opportunity to develop a model that could be pushed out across the country.

“We’re leading through innovation,” said Emory’s Turner Environmental Law Clinic Director Mindy Goldstein.