IOWA’S UNIQUE FARM LAND TRUST PROMOTES SUSTAINABLE LOCAL FOOD PRODUCTION & LAND CONSERVATION PRACTICES
By Mary Ellen Miller, SILT Board Member and member of the LWV UMRR Board
Iowa is No. 1 in a lot of things, but the most relevant to those who care about the health of our waters is that we're now the No. 1 contributor to the Dead Zone in the Gulf of Mexico. Every year we allow five tons of top soil per acre to blow or wash away. Efforts to correct the flow of our precious topsoil and excess nutrients down the Mississippi River include implementing aggressive conservation programs and changing current farming practices. Iowa currently imports over 90 percent of its food while boasting that we “feed the world.” The growing local food movement has created an opportunity for farmers interested in growing local, healthy foods sustainably. However, access to land is the No. 1 obstacle for beginning farmers, and the high cost of land disproportionately affects farmers who want to grow local, healthy food.
Iowa boasts one of the most unique land trusts in the Midwest, the Sustainable Iowa Land Trust (SILT), a group formed in response to a multitude of problems caused by industrial agriculture. Dedicated to protecting land to grow healthy food, this nonprofit founded in 2014 uses conservation easements and land donations to keep future land use for nature-friendly, neighborhood-friendly, table food farms. Often called "market farms" this land that rings growing communities is always under pressure from housing development. Federal commodity supports also keep land values out of reach for beginning local food farmers. In these days of a pandemic, the wisdom of keeping local land dedicated to local food should be more appreciated than ever.
SILT does not allow annual crops of any kind to be grown on any slopes, reducing the amount of eroded soil that ends up in our waters. SILT encourages the planting of perennial crops on slopes to help a farmer continue to make a living while still holding soil. And SILT requires a reduction to nearly zero of synthetic chemicals because we believe healthy soils provide all the nutrients they need to grow food. Every SILT farm includes an aggressive conservation plan to preserve the land for future generations.
SILT helps Iowans reclaim our rich farming history – the growing of healthy food for our families and neighbors – by helping landowners pass on their legacy to the next generation of farmers. SILT has protected 935 acres across nine farms in its five years and has another half-dozen farms slated for protection this year and next. It has helped 15 next generation farmers gain access to affordable land. For more information, scenic videos and more, go to www.silt.org.
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