Black-led organization to lease land in Whidbey for ‘agroecological farming village’

Future generations of farmers will be stewards of a significant portion of the island’s farmland, thanks to the formation of a non-profit land organization and the generosity of a South Whidbey donor.

In 2019, Freeland resident Caroline Gardner donated her 10-acre farm to Agrarian Trust, a conservation group dedicated to making farmland more accessible and equitable. As real estate prices rise and 400 million acres of US land change hands as thousands of farmers and ranchers retire, young farmers are struggling to get a foothold. Current lot prices on Whidbey Island range from $18,000 to $125,000 per acre, depending on location.

Gardner’s donation is the first donation of land to the Agrarian Trust. He started a nationwide movement, with other landowners in different states also donating.

The Puget Sound Agrarian Commons recently selected Adasha Turner, founder and director of the Everett-based company Modest family Solutions, as a long-term tenant of Whidbey farmland. Modest Family Solutions will obtain a secure, affordable and capitalizing 99-year lease.

Turner’s organization focuses on agroecological education for young people and growing food hydroponically for distribution. Modest Family Solutions distributes 30,000 to 50,000 pounds of food per month and serves as a “BIPOC food supply chain incubator” in the Puget Sound area, Turner said.

A homeschooled parent, Turner became involved in growing her own food when she found herself hit with a medical condition that wouldn’t allow her to eat synthesized foods.

“When I couldn’t find it, I started growing it,” she said.

“The way we eat increases health care disparities, and we are unable to recover and move forward as a community,” she added.

Realizing the need for children to be educated on this subject, Turner started a gardening club in his neighborhood called Ummah Sustained. Modest Family Solutions has become the first in the state to offer a Junior Master Gardener program.

“We really need to quit fast food, understand food science and what’s going on in our bodies,” she said.

Modest Family Solutions plans to launch Black Seed Agroecology Farm Village on Whidbey land.

Yet Turner is reluctant to share his vision for the property. This is a question many people have asked him.

“Before I start, I want to know what’s possible,” she said. “Show me your barriers, and I can build.”

It’s all uncharted waters.

About 80% of farm workers are people of color, but people of color own less than 2% of US farmland.

“We never received any land,” she said. “All the bouts we’ve had are still in strips. Our people continually suffer from systemic intergenerational oppression.

About 3.5 of the 10 acres are cultivable, with the predominant soil type being Indianola sandy loam. The farm also contains “a small remnant of highly degraded but ecologically significant native grassland”, according to the Agrarian Trust website.

Farmland was previously used for hay. A capital investment of $30,000 can be allocated to a driveway, well, small infrastructure or other identified needs.

Kristina Villa, spokesperson for Agrarian Trust, said the lease with Modest Family Solutions has not yet been finalized and the annual payment is a detail that is still being worked out by the board of trustees. Puget Sound Agrarian Commons, which is comprised of representation from Agrarian Trust, community stakeholders and tenants.

“Payments can be as low as $0 or even just enough to cover property taxes,” she said.

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