American Farmland Trust
American Farmland Trust
Headquartered in Washington, DC, the American Farmland Trust (AFT) is an advocacy group for farmers and farmland. It was founded in 1980 to help reverse or at least slow the rapid decline in the number of productive acres nationwide, and it is particularly concerned with protecting land held by private farmers. The principles that motivate the AFT are perhaps best summarized in a line from William Jennings Bryan that the organization has often quoted: "Destroy our farms, and the grass will grow in the streets of every city in the country."
Over one million acres (404,700 ha) of farmland in the United States is lost each year to development, according to the AFT, and in Illinois one and a half bushels of topsoil are lost for every bushel of corn produced. The AFT argues that such a decline poses a serious threat to the future of the American economy. As farmers are forced to cultivate increasingly marginal land, food will become more expensive, and the United States could become a net importer of agricultural products, damaging its international economic position. The organization believes that a declining farm industry would also affect American culture, depriving the country of traditional products such as cherries, cranberries, and oranges and imperiling a sense of national identity that is still in many ways agricultural.
The AFT works closely with farmers, business people, legislators, and environmentalists "to encourage sound farming practices and wise use of land." The group directs lobbying efforts in Washington, working with legislators and policymakers and frequently testifying at congressional and public hearings on issues related to farming. In addition to mediating between farmers and state and federal government, the trust is also involved in political organizing at the grassroots level, conducting public opinion polls, contesting proposals for incinerators and toxic waste sites, and drafting model conservation easements . They conduct workshops and seminars across the country to discuss farming methods and soil conservation programs, and they worked with the State of Illinois to establish the Illinois Sustainable Agriculture Society. The group is currently developing kits for distribution to schoolchildren in both rural and urban areas called "Seed for the Future," which teach the benefits of agriculture and help each child grow a plant.
The AFT has a reputation for innovative and determined efforts to realize its goals, and former Secretary of Agriculture John R. Block has said that "this organization has probably done more than any other to preserve the American farm." Since its founding the trust has been instrumental in protecting nearly 30,000 acres (12,140 ha) of farmland in 19 states. In 1989, the group protected a 507-acre (205-ha) cherry farm known as the Murray Farm in Michigan, and it has helped preserve 300 acres (121 ha) of farm and wetlands in Virginia's Tidewater region. The AFT continues to battle urban sprawl in areas such as California's Central Valley and Berks County, Pennsylvania, as well as working to support farms in states such as Vermont, which are threatened not so much by development but by a poor agricultural economy. The AFT promotes a wetland policy that is fair to farmers while meeting environment standards, and it recently won a national award from the Soil and Water Conservation Society for its publication Does Farmland Protection Pay?
The AFT has 20,000 members and an annual budget of $3,850,000. The trust publishes a quarterly magazine called American Farmland, a newsletter called Farmland Update, and a variety of brochures and pamphlets which offer practical information on soil erosion , the cost of community services, and estate planning. They also distribute videos, including The Future of America's Farmland, which explains the sale and purchase of development rights.
[Douglas Smith ]