Some portion of land trusts have always focused on working lands – such as active farmland or forests – because it is part of their mission and conservation strategy. However, land trusts that have historically not had such a focus are looking to add working lands to their conservation portfolios. This increasing interest in working lands is motivated by varying factors, such as:
- Developing new revenue streams (e.g. leasing farm land)
- Stretching land management resources by engaging farmers as stewards
- Creating social investment opportunities that generate profitable economic returns in addition to conservation aims (e.g. NatureVest at TNC, Beartooth Capital, Iroquois Valley Farm, etc.).
Regardless of the motivation, adding an agricultural working lands component is not a panacea; it does not guarantee that a land trust will be stronger or more sustainable.
The Impact Model
Ensuring that your land trust’s working lands program is successful requires a deliberate, data-driven, organizational development approach that aligns identity, constituents, and capacity. The Integrated Strategy for Success and Sustainability: The Impact Model offers a framework to understand how to develop a program that is well-aligned and contributes to your land trust’s overall strength, resiliency, and impact.
I will explore how to apply the Integrated Strategy to agricultural working lands programs in two posts. This first post will focus on identity. Part two will focus on constituents and part three on capacity.
Identity encompasses an organization’s purpose, position, goals, and measures of success. It is the difference it seeks to makes in the world, or needs that it meets. An agricultural working lands program can raise issues that cut to the core of a land trust’s identity.
Land trusts with a working lands component walk a narrow line between land stewardship imperatives and the realities of running a business in the challenging and risky agriculture industry (~85% of US farms are family-owned businesses). Successful organizations primarily position themselves as both a resource and a partner in farm viability and land stewardship.
This dual role can lead to difficult situations where high priority conservation values come into conflict with very real business needs of a family farm (for example, the construction of a permanent road to support larger trucks needed to access wholesale markets). These sorts of dilemmas can call a land trust’s identity into question if not properly managed. Many land trusts have found that working closely with a viable farm business to ensure that both are successful and resilient is the best way to protect and defend certain strategic lands.
Keys to a Successful Identity:
- Position land trust as a key partner for farmers and farm viability
- Cultivate mutually trusting relationships by proactively identifying changes to farm business practices that may have monitoring and defense implications
- Design easements to allow as much flexibility for farm business as is responsible given conservation values and imperatives
Land trusts that have agricultural working lands face the additional challenge of balancing conservation and business needs in a complex industry. Thus, the careful and thoughtful alignment of identity, constituents, and capacity is even more critical to achieving and sustaining impact. In my next two posts, we will explore the implications of this on the constituents and capacity of land trusts with agricultural working lands programs.