Meet Our Members: Sustainable Iowa Land Trust

posted on Thursday, August 24, 2017

By Suzan Erem
President, Sustainable Iowa Land Trust

SuaznWhen we think of farming in Iowa, our minds immediately go to thousands of acres of GMO corn and soybeans, ethanol plants, corn syrup and mucky rivers.

But farming wasn’t always that way. Not so long ago, Iowa farms averaged 34 crops. Iowa led the nation in apples, wine grapes and even potatoes. Our soil can grow food we can eat right out of the ground. We have a generation of young people trying to farm like that again….and few have the opportunity.

The Sustainable Iowa Land Trust is Iowa’s newest land trust. We permanently protect land to grow healthy food. What does that mean?

“Permanent protection” lasts beyond our lifetimes. Humans have an expiration date. Land trusts work in terms of generations. SILT protects land through outright donations (with our mission, we don’t sell off farmland gifts) or through agricultural conservation easements, legal documents attached to the deed that not only prohibits housing development, drilling, mining etc. but also require sustainable food production in perpetuity.

“Land” means enough acres to support a person growing food for sale. With some exceptions, this means a minimum of 10 acres near cities but larger parcels when surrounded by conventional corn and soybean farms.

“Grow healthy” means SILT farmers use truly sustainable growing methods. Farmers can choose from one of 5 third-party certifications - Certified Organic, Certified Naturally Grown, Food Alliance approved, Biodynamic or for livestock farmers, Animal Welfare Approved. SILT also has a list of sustainability guidelines and requirements. On SILT farms you’ll see happy animals, vegetables without synthetic herbicides or pesticides, perennial crops such as fruit and nut trees and timber stands growing mushrooms, ginseng and goldenseal. We encourage the most nature-friendly farming possible, and when imitating nature, of course, we include the crucial role all animals play.sheep

“Food” is stuff we eat with minimal processing. Fruits, vegetables and nuts, hops and wine grapes, even organic corn and soybeans at times, because organic chicken needs organic grains. However, even happy grass-fed meat needs processing. SILT supports diversified farms; so prairie flowers, medicinal, and herbs are welcomed alongside food.

That’s our mission, but why are we doing this? The next generation wants to grow healthy food but land prices are locking them out. Land close to their markets costs farmers $20,000 or more per acre. Cheaper land farther out means buying more of it and traveling farther to sell you food. Most profit ends up in the gas tank instead of farmers’ pockets.

SILT protection solves multiple problems at once. What may turn out to be extensive tax benefits for the person donating the protection becomes not only affordable farmland but a robust regional food system, healthier water and soils and a stronger economy for future generations of Iowans.

Remember No local farms, no local food.

Interested in learning more? See the landowner section on our website. Then give us a call or send a note so we can talk in confidence about your land. 

Interested in joining the Iowa Environmental Council as a member organization or as an individual? Learn More!