The newly-formed Oregon Agricultural Trust aims to ensure a farming future across the state.
Columbia Land Trust’s conservation vision for the Columbia River region has always encompassed people working on and enjoying the land, including farmland. Yet a farmland conservation problem is looming as farm owners age without the guidance and resources to make succession plans. Despite the state of Oregon being a pioneer in open-space land-use planning, no organization has been ready to tackle the succession problem across the quarter of lands dedicated to agricultural use.
“Columbia Land Trust would receive inquiries from farmland owners interested in protecting their farm for continued use as viable agricultural land,” says Alice Williamson, Ag Lands Program director (formerly a member of the Conservation team at Columbia Land Trust). “We would hand those leads off to conservation districts, but recognizing that some of them didn’t have the capacity, we thought that perhaps lots of other land trusts [in the state] were coming up short in terms of resources.” So in March 2018, taking a page from the entrepreneurial world, the Land Trust met with partners from academia, conservation, and agricultural interests to design a solution that could fill the gap in the conservation “market.”
Columbia Land Trust has since served as an incubator for the organization that grew from those discussions, the Oregon Agricultural Trust (OAT): from that first agenda-setting meeting, through the feasibility study, connecting with funders, and as both a mentor and a fiscal sponsor over the past year. Now that OAT has a solid reputation, a strategic plan, full-time employees, and an enthusiastic board, they are ready to leave the nest, so to speak. However, at their core OAT shares the Land Trust’s belief in a long-term strategy, research-based plans, and strong, cooperative relationships.
The Oregon Agricultural Trust’s primary goal, according to its executive director, Nellie McAdams, is to strategically conserve as much agricultural land as possible. OAT is achieving this by connecting interested landowners to planning resources, working alone or with partners to set up easements when appropriate, supporting state and national advocacy efforts for favorable funding and policies, and offering training on succession planning to relevant professional associations. “We are hoping to bring on more farmers and ranchers as board members by the end of the year,” says McAdams. “For us, it is a matter of earning trust, and deserving it, and continuing to deserve it over time…In part, that comes down to creating results that farmers want to be a part of.”
How does Williamson feel about her start-up future with Oregon Agricultural Trust? “I would say that I’m taking a lot of what I learned at Columbia Land Trust…That desire to not be scared by big ideas, I carry that with me too [as well as] some of the examples that I’ve seen set by staff and board members at Columbia Land Trust, to just go after something even if it seems insurmountable.”
We at Columbia Land Trust are thrilled to have Oregon Agricultural Trust as a close partner in our ongoing mission for the Northwest as a region of thriving communities; local, healthy food; and flourishing landscapes.