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The Commons to Which We All Belong: A new model for farmland trusts

Date & Time
Wednesday, November 3, 2021, 4:00 PM - 5:00 PM

Community-governed land held outside the private market can increase land access and justice for the next generation of farmers and ranchers. Ian McSweeney, Organizational Director at Agrarian Trust, discusses the Agrarian Commons model with Rhys Thorvald-Hansen. The conversation comes at a time of great transition of farmland—and a time of opportunity to transform land ownership. With a generation of farmers and ranchers soon retiring, and their property often sold to be used for leisure rather than purpose, farmland can be prohibitively expensive for those interested in entering the profession and calling. Agrarian Commons are a new type of land trust that began in 2020 across the US—one that proactively move toward land justice through offering low-barrier access to farm and ranch land to steward through regenerative agricultural practices. Find out more at https://agrariantrust.org/

Session Type
Session Tags
Restoration/Conservation, Food & Agriculture, Social Justice, Relationship with Land
Rewatch On Demand


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 and operationalizing outdoor experience based education programs and later 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. During his tenure, the Russell Foundation worked with 65 land conservation groups, 40 townships, and local, state, and federal partners to assist 60 farms, complete 28 lease and/or management agreements, and complete more than 100 farmland focused projects protecting over 12,000 acres and raising over $16,000,000, all aimed toward providing benefit to farmland, farmers, communities, and the local agrarian economy.

Ian has also participated in many farmland and food systems initiatives and has served as a consultant to a number of organizations, locally, regionally, and nationally. He has served on zoning, conservation, planning, and agricultural Boards and Commissions, County Conservation Districts, Regional Planning Commissions, and a University Extension Coverts Program. Ian speaks on farmland transfer, conservation, secure tenure, and fundraising models across the country. He was recognized as a “40 under 40” leader in New Hampshire and selected for the Leadership Institute at Food Solutions New England. Ian and his wife Liz protected their own small New Hampshire farm with a conservation easement, manage their forest as a Certified Tree Farm, lease their farmland to a Certified Natural vegetable grower, keep bees, manage habitat with an ecological focus, and spend as much time as possible with their two young boys, Dylan and Bridger.

Ian is deeply committed to bringing about innovation to evolve farmland conservation to holistically address equitable, secure, and affordable ownership and tenure arrangements, farm viability, conservation, and community resilience to ensure regenerative, diversified food production that benefits soil, human, and community health. Ian founded Farmland Consulting LLC to support communities through farmland preservation and is excited to lead Agrarian Trust as Organizational Director.
Ian McSweeney
Rhys-Thorvald Hansen is a non-binary artist and facilitator living and working on the northwest coast of the Salish Sea.They are immersed within the landscapes of local food, just land transition, community care, art for cultural transformation, and deep relationships with place. You can find more from them at terracognita.studio
Rhys-Thorvald Hansen