New Land Trust Offers Healthy Legacy Options to Women Landowners

Women landowners eager to protect their farmland to grow food forever finally have that option with the launch of the Sustainable Iowa Land Trust, or SILT, in January. SILT’s mission is to protect land to grow healthy food. As a nonprofit land trust, the group can receive land and easement (protection on the use of the land) donations and protect them in perpetuity. Donors enjoy considerable tax benefits and the peace of mind their land will always grow healthy food.

SILT’s mission is to protect land to grow healthy food. As a nonprofit land trust, the group can receive land and easement (protection on the use of the land) donations and protect them in perpetuity. Donors enjoy considerable tax benefits and the peace of mind their land will always grow healthy food.

Mary Ellen Miller, 71, was the first to donate her farm to SILT.

“I’ve waited 25 years for this to come along,” she said. “Now I can pass my farm on and make it mean something to the next generation.”

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SILT was created because its founder Suzan Erem couldn’t find an existing organization willing to guarantee that her farm would stay in food production.

“I called everyone in Iowa, and then in the country, and no land trust would promise to keep that land growing food,” she said. “It was a real wake-up call.”

Erem, who had been a community organizer in Iowa the 1980s, had only recently returned to the state, but she dug up the names she remembered from long ago. She approached WFAN founder Denise O’Brien and former state senator Jean Lloyd-Jones, who had added the words  “Land Stewardship” to the Iowa Department of Agriculture when she was a legislator. Those contacts led to others and soon Erem had the Who’s Who of Sustainable Agriculture on an advisory council. The group held a founding retreat in Perry, IA in December 2014 and then launched in January 2015. Since then, 13 landowners have contacted SILT to investigate farmland protection. Nine of these were women, Erem says.

“We’re importing 90 percent of our food to Iowa,” said O’Brien, a SILT board member. “I think that’s a real shame when we have young people here who want to farm. SILT is going to give them that chance.”

Farmland becomes more affordable for the next generation through SILT in two ways.

Donated land that SILT then owns will be leased to farmers for as long as they like. Even their children will be able to inherit the lease. The farmer will earn equity in the house, barn and business. This allows beginning farmers to plow their resources into farming instead of a mortgage payment. The trust will lower the lease rates for the more sustainable practices the farmer employs.

Donated easements will put restrictions on the land to always grow food – that means no more development or commodity price pressures. Families retain ownership of their land to pass down, but the land’s price will only ever compete with other land growing food.

Interested farmland owners and others can contact Suzan at (319) 774-3496 go to silt.org for more information including how to donate, volunteer and sign up for regular updates.

Erem, a New York state native who worked on family farm issues during the agricultural crisis of the 1980s, said, “I have spent my life fighting for economic justice. This is the ultimate issue of economic justice for Iowa – we need affordable, healthy food in urban areas, and farmers need access to affordable farmland. It’s our last chance to save the family farm, with a whole new generation of farmers.”