What do regenerative agriculture and real estate agents have in common? These are not things that we generally consider having much overlap, and in some cases would view them as conflicting. However, when it comes to the power to shape our communities and the environment, those who practice regenerative agriculture and those who buy, sell, and develop land have an incredible capacity for positive impact. It is with this understanding that Neal and Alissa Collins have begun to transform their successful real estate business, Latitude, into a movement-building catalyst that embraces the principles of regenerative agriculture with the goal of utilizing real estate as a means for building healthy communities and a healthy planet.
This developing field has been named regenerative real estate by the Collinses, and is at the intersection between health and wellness, sustainability, community orientation, and ecological integration, which together create a holistic environment that helps people thrive. These four principles guide their work at Latitude and inspire them to develop and expand this message within the industry as well as with new partnerships across many interconnected fields.
This fall, Neal and Alissa hosted a Regenerative Real Estate Gathering at The Ecology School in southern Maine, on a 1792 farm nestled along the Saco River. This was a time for restoration and play, for ceremony and reflection, for learning and activating, and for building upon and honoring the wisdom that already exists within this community of dreamers and change-makers. Just over 40 regenerative real estate agents, architects, community creators, and regenerative agriculture–focused leaders from across the country came together for the Gathering, and The Farmers Land Trust was honored to be a part of it, leading two keynote conversations.
Over 40 percent of the nation’s farmland is owned by people over 65, so up to 400 million acres of farmland are changing hands this decade and the next. This will be the largest generational land transfer in the recorded history of the United States, and comes at a crucial time for the health of our planet. In most instances, the retiring farmer is dependent on selling the land for a source of income for their later years. They have usually invested an unquantifiable amount of resources into their land and farm, and need to recoup as much of their investment as possible in order to pay off debt and sustain their life. For many reasons, it is less and less likely that the farm property will be passed on to an owner’s next generation to be used for agriculture. As families are faced with selling their farmland, one of the most influential people they will encounter will be the real estate agent. Through many conversations, the real estate agent supports the land owner with determining land value and sales price, with time frame for the course of the sale and transfer of ownership, and with finding and vetting prospective buyers. The real estate agent is with the seller through this long and sometimes arduous, gut-wrenching process, and can play a pivotal role in determining the positive outcome for the land, the people involved, and our collective future.
It is in this scenario where The Farmers Land Trust and the regenerative real estate movement find their common ground. Both are visionaries that believe in land as a sacred resource around which community and planetary health are strengthened. The work of The Farmers Land Trust and for regenerative real estate, is to move land transactions from a financial model based on the speculative market value that is solely extractive, to a model that honors and provides a return on investment to the land and community while also fostering a diverse, resilient, and sustainability-minded next generation of land. Says Neal Collins in his piece, “What is Regenerative Real Estate?” on Medium.com, “Community does not happen by accident, and it must be intentional with mindfulness of diligence and design. We are all co-creators of the communities we live in.” Therefore, in the all-too-common situation of loss of farmland to development, creating new pathways for conversation about and implementation of the different models of land use, including the Farmland Commons, is an important and vital way that the work of The Farmers Land Trust and regenerative real estate intersect with each other.
In attending the Regenerative Real Estate Gathering,The Farmers Land Trust made and strengthened connections and built relationships with individuals and organizations that are focused on recognizing land, homes, agriculture, and community all through the regenerative lens. Building a national Farmland Commons movement is a collaborative effort that will require much time and trust with land holders, neighbors, and future owners. Collaboration across intersecting stakeholders is a way to reshape our narrative as to how we talk about land use and the future of land ownership, as well as our capacity to preserve farmland in a more just, equitable, and sustainable way. By having advocates for the work of The Farmers Land Trust in the real estate field, it is more assured that the opportunities for land holders to place their land in an alternative ownership model such as a Farmland Commons is presented and supported.
The Gathering was a time of much dreaming and visioning, and also of sharing the information and wisdom held available by attendees. Regenerative practices are being prioritized not only in real estate, but also architecture, design, planning, community building, sales practices, and investment. Each person in attendance represented an organization or business that shared a commitment to farmland preservation, housing equity, regenerative practices, strong community, and the need for new models and collaboration.
At the Gathering, we learned of regenerative frameworks for development and design from Bill Lee and the Regenesis Group. This organization supports sustainability through myriad client services, and supports development beyond architecture and design by embracing the perspective that humans “have a role to play in contributing to the co-evolution of the social and ecological systems within which they are embedded.” (Blog | Regenesis Group). We learned from Neal Collins of Latitude; David Leon, executive director of Farmers Footprint; and Drew Dumsch, president and CEO of The Ecology School, about regenerative finance and capital flow for innovation. We were inspired by Creative Urban Alchemy, urban design and planning consultants that center equity, justice, and regeneration. They introduced us to BT Farms, an agrihood community development project with the mission to support local agriculture and healthy communities by strengthening the natural environment and building green housing and economic opportunity. A theme through all the conversations was the need for community-centered models that build equity and resilience, create new paradigms of power and land ownership, and invest in sustainability that supports the life of our planet and of our future generations.
It was inspiring to meet so many individuals who were ready to move from the extractive real estate model to one in which The Farmers Land Trust can be a part of in the future, when together we can build community-centered farmland commons models across the country. Our time getting to know the regenerative real estate movement at the Gathering gave us many inspiring connections that weave us a strong network of support and experience. As The Farmers Land Trust works to transition land into Farmland Commons, with the vision of food sovereignty and community control, ecological stewardship, and long-term, affordable access for farmers to farmland, we know that we are interdependent and interconnected with many others who share our values and our passion. We are a growing movement, and together we can move land access and acquisition from being merely transactional, to being profoundly transformational.