Bringing farmland back into the hands of our communities, with Ian McSweeny of The Agrarian Trust


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One of the biggest challenges that I’ve heard repeatedly both in the interviews in this series on regenerative agriculture as well as with peers and clients that I’ve collaborated with, is the difficulty for aspiring farmers to get access to land. This is true back in the States as well as in Europe and other parts of the world where I’ve traveled, and it’s part of a much larger problem in the trends of land ownership that reduce land to a commodity. As prices for land soar and the rapidly aging population of farmers struggle to keep their businesses afloat, we’re entering into a tipping point. Massive amounts of land are now set to change ownership in the coming decades, and the hands they’ll end up in are yet to be determined. Though from what I can tell, there’s no shortage of young and motivated people looking to get into farming, this land ownership issue is keeping many of them from getting started. 

I’ve been looking for a while at creative approaches to farmland access and tenure, and in my search I found Ian McSweeny the organizational director of Agrarian Trust through his role in organizing and advocating for a return to community owned land and commonland management. Far from being a new or novel approach to land stewardship, these forms of management are much older than private ownership and might just hold the key to large scale landscape regeneration by returning this precious resource to the whole community. 

Ian’s career and his life’s work has been focused on the human connection to soil and food. He first worked as a social worker focused on developing outdoor experience based education programs. Later he sought more direct work with the connections to soil and food in real estate, by founding a brokerage and consulting company to focus on prioritizing conservation, agriculture, and community within typical land development. Most recently, he served as Executive Director of the Russell Foundation, a private foundation focused on assisting landowners and farmers through customized approaches to farmland ownership, conservation, management, and stewardship. 

Ian has also participated in many farmland and food systems initiatives and has served as a consultant to a number of organizations, and was recognized as a “40 under 40” leader in New Hampshire and was also selected for the Leadership Institute at Food Solutions New England. 

In this interview Ian speaks about farmland transfer, conservation, secure tenure, and fundraising models across the US. He also gives inspiring examples of the first handful of members across the country that are blazing a new trail for communities invested in their agricultural future and the diversity of people who steward their farms. This is just one potential way to bring land equity back to the commons and I’m still very interested in exploring other models and ways for a whole new generation of people looking to care for the natural capital that we share to gain affordable access to land, so if you know of any other ideas or organizations that are working on these issues, please reach out to me through email at info(at) or come and join the conversation on our dedicated facebook page. I’m really looking forward to bringing more voices on these topics to the podcast.


The Agrarian Trust website

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