Thursday, August 7, 2008

Less Is More: Selling Land to Our Interns

At yesterday's community meeting, for the first time in Sandhill's 34-year history, we agreed in principle to sell some land.

Ann & Kevin have been with us the whole growing season—kind of like extended interns—trying to figure out if they were suited to homesteading, and whether they were suited to life in northeast Missouri. It's turning out that they think the answer to both questions is "yes!" While we pitched to them the idea of membership in our community, they really want their own piece of property (which isn't that hard to understand: 34 years ago, so did we).

Even though we only have 135 acres (small by the standards of modern agri-business), it's plenty for us. We actively cultivate less than 20 acres, and the 14.5-acre piece that Kevin & Ann are proposing to purchase only includes one acre that we regularly cultivate. We can easily adjust and not compromise our basic commitment to growing most of our own food, plus crops for sale.

Our main consideration was not the loss of farmland, but making sure that our high commitment to the land's stewardship is maintained. After living with Kevin & Ann for several months, we're not worried. There's an old rural saying that predates organic farming: the best fertilizer is the footprints of the farmer. With Kevin & Ann purchasing that piece from us, they'll get more fertilized than when we owned it.

In the end, it's not about how much land you own; it's how well you steward the land and work toward a sustainable future—both for the land and the people who live on it. We're excited because we think selling a chunk to Kevin & Ann will be good both for the land and the people. We'll be getting great neighbors (instead of losing interns), and weaving more threads into the alternative social fabric of southern Scotland County. Once the deal goes through, we'll have Sandhill Farm (with eight members), Dancing Rabbit (with about 45 members), Red Earth Farms (with seven members), and Kevin & Ann's homestead—all within three miles of each other. What's more, ex-DR members Penn & Laura are also looking for an acreage in the area. The neighborhood is filling up!

The clumping of alternative communities is a great concept. Not only do the new groups (or even new homesteaders) get the benefit of the prior folks having pioneered good local relations, but the new folks get an instant social network with a strong values match, access to an alternative knowledge base specific to that climate and location, and the chance to borrow tools and equipment from their cooperative neighbors. What's not to like?

When I think about all the Fools Tax we paid as the first community in the area trying to do alternative things that no around here had ever done before, it's surprising we survived. Moving into the area today is almost like drawing a Get Out of Stupid Free Card. There's no end to the mistakes that the new people can avoid by simply talking things through with their neighbors. It's a good feeling.

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