Gene Logsdon: The Economy of Eden


From Gene Logsdon
The Contrary Farmer
Sun Magazine, January 1996

[Rummaging around in some boxes in the garage I came across this quintessential essay by Gene Logsdon I had copied from The Sun magazine, more than 10 years before we started working together on his blog. -ds]

“I have learned how to grow healthy crops,,” wrote Sir Albert Howard in his 1940 book An Agricultural Testament, “without the slightest help from mycologists, entomologists, bacteriologists, agricultural chemists, statisticians, spraying machines, insecticides, germicides, and all the other expensive paraphernalia of the modern experiment station.”

If Howard had gone on to write what he took for granted everyone understood — that he had also learned how to grow healthy crops without any help from politicians, economists, churchmen, government subsidies, oil companies, and charitable foundations — he would have written the perfect farmers’ Declarations of Independence for the twenty-first century. For, in truth, not one of these experts is necessary to the production of food. We know how to grow healthy crops from the experience of intelligent gardeners and farmers of today and centuries past. Experience is the best science. There is no big mystery to it. We also know how to craft houses and furniture and clothes and musical insstruments and machines and all the necessary accouterments of civilization without any help from the above-mentioned bureaucratic parasites on the body politic. Howard knew. He was trying to work through the British bureaucracy in India to help that country’s small farmers attain a sustainable, self-reliant, independent system of food production  — Gandhi’s dream. But he soon realized that ‘help’ from the bureaucracy was not needed.

Nor is it today. In America, governmental “help” has only separated us from the necessary knowledge of survival. Abraham Lincoln naively believed people needed a bureaucracy to help them grow food, so he created the Department of Agriculture. Now that we have a Department of Agriculture staffed by thousands of experts, we have two generations of citizens who cannot find a potato in a garden, and who, as Richard Nixon candidly admitted of himself, do not know what a soybean looks like.

The knowledge granted us by our current coterie of university magicians is vastly overrated. The man who built my house never went to college — never read a book, to my knowledge — but you will look long and hard before you’ll find a house as well built for the money. With all our vaunted expertise, we are not even sure how the pyramids were built. Only a tiny number of archaeologists have ever studied the wondrously sophisticated garden farms of the ancient world, which endured for centuries in Mexico, Cambodia, Africa, and Babylon, without even a whisper from our land-grant colleges of agriculture.

I am not a revolutionary; I utter only a plain truth. My wife and I produce most of our food, and some for our children’s families, using knowledge we gained from our parents, and they from their parents, and they from their parents. Not one of our forebears ever cracked an agronomic textbook or knew the Latin name of a single plant. My father and mother, grandfathers and grandmothers, and father-in-law and mother-in-law all held agricultural-extension advisors in disdain. Tradition, supplemented by our own experience and that of other gardeners and farmers, is the key to our food-growing success. Thousands of expert gardeners and farmers are waiting to pass this knowledge on to anyone who wants it. To this day, after forty years of avidlly searching the realms of “modern” agricultural science for information, I have found extremely little new knowledge that helps us to better produce food. The keys to agricultural success, apart from common sense, were articulated by Virgil, and he got them from the Greeks, who in turn got them from the Orient, where for forty centuries China supported a population far denser than ours today, with gardens.

Gardening as it is popular today — that is, as a mere pastime or hobby — is an effete offspring of wealth. The ultimate example of this is Marie Antoinette’s herding a few sheep on her castle lawn, or Louis XIV’s growing orange trees in his Versailles greenhouses while the people of France starved. There are 40 million gardeners in America only because we are the wealthiest nation in the world; half of these gardeners are interested only in flowers and landscaping as an expression of their monied leisure. They are the people who make laws forbidding vegetable plots in suburban front yards.

Effete horticulture is worlds apart from the gardening of Russian peasants, who kept their country from collapse during fifty years of state-run agriculture, and of the working people and aborigines of three-fourths of the world, who practice small-scale horticulture and husbandry to stay alive comfortably. It is high time that we begin to make this distinction between gardeners and garden farmers in America. Garden farmers are not horticultural dabblers but practitioners of an economically sound food-production system that has many advantages over the current agribusiness economy.

Having keenly followed the world of modern agribusiness for fifty years and having been personally involved in it at least part of that time, I am convinced that the present rush to industrialized farms and animal factories of almost unimaginable size cannot sustain itself, and that forced downsizing will occur, as it has in other bloated businesses. It seems entirely possible, based on history and on shifts already in motion, that the food garden and orchard, broadly defined to include small-scale husbandry and forestry, are capable of taking up the slack and staving off a food crisis if or when the present system falters.

But a declaration of food independence such as I suggest would depend upon a deeper and more profound declaration of interdependence. A nation primarily of garden farms (some large industrial farms would and should continue to operate) would mean a realignment of people into smaller and more local trade complexes based upon personal contact between consumer and producer, and upon biological technology rather than machine technology — a new economy, in other words: the economy of Eden. Then we would understand that people matter, and not only people but all living things upon which people depend. Common interest and self-interest would become one, and that is the definition of a real community.

I may appear to suggest a future that is far more idyllic than we are capable of creating. But I coddle no utopian dream when I envision a nation studded with millions of tiny garden farms and small shop factories — where countryside and city are almost indistinguishable. As an economy, this type of “unglobal” village has stood the test of time not only in China, as mentioned, but in Japan, which, on the basis of an average farm size of under ten acres, has become one of the world’s most financially powerful countries. Asia’s economy is supported by one of the largesst numbers of small shopkeepers per capita in the world.

In America, we are groping in that direction now. Many of those millions of gardeners and an unknown number (about 5 million would be my guess) of garden farmers — some so small they are not counted by the USDA census — are out there working unwittingly toward a new economic paradigm. Architects and builders are desperately trying to design new housing developments to look like, and be like, the rural villages that once supported strong, decentralized trade complexes. In manufacturing, large factories are having an increaskingly difficult time staying efficient. More and more, the auto industry is “farming out” the manufacturing of parts to independently owned satellite factories (often in villages) because these smalleer factories are more efficient. People without land are contracting with small, community-supported farms to buy — and sometimes to help grow and harvest  — their seasonal supplly of fresh fruits and vegetables. The mail-order produce business, which allows farms to remain decentralized, continues to flourish.

I came to my strange notion of garden farming as an economic, if not political, movement not from any of these observaions, however — or even from reading the Wall Street Journal and the Economist, which are full of stories about the treand toward decentralization — but from attending classes in my chicken coop for fifty years. My little red hens understand the meaning of economics far better than humans. For example, they get up at the crack of dawn and roost at twilight so as not to waste electricity on lighting — although utility companies managed to convince several generations of farmers that keeping lights on in the henhouse all night would mean significantly more profit. All it meant was significantly more profit for the utilities. The hens knew. They didn’t ask for lights. They wanted a full night’s sleep so they could live longer and healthier. In thirty years without night lights, I have had exactly one sick hen and have produced just about as many eggs per hen as the experts claim for lighted coops — actually more, because my hens enjoy two or three more years of productive life than public-utility hens.

Yes, the hen is a model of economy. She eats bugs and worms and weeds and grass and table scraps and half-digested grain from cow manure. There is hardly anything she won’t eat, in fact, except citrus. She will keep the barn free of spilled grain that otherwise would draw mice She will even eat mice if she can corner one. She will eat pests in the garden. Three hens can make their entire living off a medium-sized yard plus table and garden scraps and maybe a handful of corn every day. All they need is water, and they can get some of that from dew, rain puddles, and snow. They are much easier to care for than a dog and don’t bark all night. In return, a trio will provide a human family with an adequate annual supply of eggs.

The hen’s chief form of entertainment is singing, and, while she’s no Streisand, her music is so redolent with contentment as to supply more consolation than a hundred-dollar-an-hour psychiatrist. She likes to take dust baths to protect herself from lice, and will make a suitable tub wherever she can find some dry dirt in which to wallow. She goes to her coop dutifully as dark approaches, without any help from her human caretaker other than closing the door so foxes, raccoons, and coyotes don’t get her. (She will even roost in a tree if allowed to.)

In her coop, the hen is a recycler without peer, making better compost of her manure and bedding than a hundred-thousand-dollar compost turner. By scratching furiously in the beddiing under her roost, she mixes her droppings over and over again until the manure and the bedding become an earthy, granulated, dry odorless compost that you can handle with your bare hands. Chicken-manure compost is so rich that it will increase the yields in your garden and thereby decrrease the size of the plot you need to grow the hen’s corn. Is her scratching just a nervous habit? Not a chance. With knowledge no dietician taught her, she scratches through the bedding to consume tiny specks of litter that provide her with vitamins and minerals, especially vitamin K. If you feed her eggshells back to her, she also gets the extra calcium needed to keep her future eggshells strong. When, at three to five years of age, she ceases to lay enough eggs, she makes her final contribution to the economy: heavenly coq au vin such as you can find only in famous French restaurants like Parker’s in Cleveland, Ohio. (Parker will supply you with his recipe if you ask.)

Now bear with me as I make a significant point (after all, it took me fifty years to understand this): A three-chicken garden farm requires very little work and makes no negative demands on the environment, yet adds to the ecological health of us all. Assume three chickens are kept by each of 100 million people in the U.S., about two-fifths of our population. Add to that number another 10 million thirty-chicken farms (like mine) callling for two- to five-acre homesteads. Then add to that 3 million hundred-chicken farms, operated just like the smaller ones, on ten- to twenty-acre homesteads. You can still substitute labor for capital for a hundred hens — even if you raise all the grain for them yourself (about an acre’s worth) — without any punishing physical work and with minuscule out-of-pocket costs. Unlike big agribusiness, you are not lashed to the world of finance: no payroll to meet; no interest on investment to pay; no stockbrokers to please; and no fear of what the Chicago Board of Trade or the farm-policy politicians will do tomorrow.

I believe my figures add up to 900 million chickens, or approximately 225 billion eggs a year — at a conservative estimate of 250 per hen annually — and an awful lot of coq au vin and chicken soup. Actually, half of those hens could be butchered young and provide every man, woman, and child in the country with nearly two chickens apiece, and there would still be more than enough eggs to go around. Less than half the population — 113 million — would be involved in production. Many people aren’t able to raise even three chickens for various reasons, and many, I’m sure, could not be persuaded that doing so can be a pleasant, interesting experience. They are the ones to whom the other half sells surplus eggs. Most eggs would reach the consumer never having seen the inside of a truck.

The value of this garden economy becomes clear when you compare it with the animal-factory economy we currently have. About ten miles south of where I live, an international company born in Germany is building a complex of egg factories, each of which will house 2.5 million hens, with four or five such factories planned within about a twenty-mile radius. Counting pullets for reproduction, a total of about 14 million chickens will be needed. Each 2.5 million-hen factory will require forty thousand bushels of corn and 420 tons of soybean meal a week. For 14 million hens, that’s nearly 12 million bushels of corn per year, more than the 8.5 million-bushel annual output of my entire county. Fourteen million hens produce about eighty-four thousand tons of manure a year — as much as 2 million people do. Approximately seven hundred chickens per 2.5 million will die each day from “natural” causes, according to the historical averages of operating such facilities. (The Humane Society reports that 9.4 million factory fowl died unnaturally in the heat wave of 1995. And one of the egg factories this company’s owner operates in Germany lost some sixty thousand hens to salmonella last year.)

All the grain for these hens must be hauled in and waste hauled out at an enormous cost in fuel, and truck and road maintenance. Odor pollution, judging from other large henhouses, would be considerable. If manure is handled properly, there should not be any great risk of water pollution, but past experience with animal factories indicates that is a very big if. Even when regulations are followed, eventually the manure must be hauled farther and farther away, to the point where the practice becomes unprofitable.

A 2.5 million-hen factory uses 180,000 gallons of water a day, plus three thousand gallons a day for egg washing (the latter necessitating a waste-water lagoon, another potential pollution problem). All that water will come from wells, so neighbors fear that their private wells will run dry. More than that, they fear that their property values will decline because of oder pollution. Worst of all, perhaps, is the strife in the community between those who think they will profit from the huge operation and those who think they will be financially and environmentally harmed. This conflict has unleashed a hatred that I fear will never go away.

The payoff? Large commercial egg producers currently clear about a nickel a dozen. My cost is hardly five cents a dozen. In fact, my operation might actually save me money because, if I weren’t garden farming, I would probably be out spending it on travel.

It doesn’t take a genius to begin to see that a garden economy might not be as preposterous as it first sounds.

I’m a great believer in the pessimistic observation that humans collectively won’t do the right thing unless the right thing also happens to be more pleasurable than the wrong thing, or unless they have no other choice. I do not believe that a significant number of Americans are suddenlly going to roll up their sleeves and start garden farms. But eventually we are going to have to learn to produce food on a small scale, because the alternative is obviously not sustainable. Once the change is forced upon us, people will realize that this new economy isn’t so bad after all. As millions of gardeners will tell you,   horticulture and husbandry on a small scale are quite a bit more enjoyable and interesting than sitting in front of a computer screen for twelve hours a day, or standing on an assembly line for sixty hours a week, or circling O’Hare in an airplane for what seems like half your lifetime, all the while waiting for downsizing to take away your job. All the new economy will require is that you develop a higher regard for manual arts and replace twenty hours per week of your TV-watching time with working in a garden or shop. Those who have made that change already know their lives are better for it.


This Simple Idea is the Reactor at the Heart of the Conservative Death Star…


From Valerie Tarico

Many conservative priorities flow from an ancient narrative built around one planet-busting idea—and progressives sometimes fuel it.  

Human beings are story tellers. We make sense of our lives and the world around us by weaving tales—typically with ourselves and people like us as protagonists and heroes or—when things don’t go our way—victims. Narrative organizes our thinking so that a single concept or sentence can evoke a bigger set of ideas and related emotions. That is why the title of this article invokes an epic story.

Political movements, like other groups, organize themselves around stories—grand narratives scripted to answer questions such as these: What is the plot of history? Who matters? Who are the heroes and villains, and who do they protect or hurt? What is our quest, our promised land, and how do we get there? Sometimes this might be better phrased in more selfish terms—Who is in our tribe, and how do we come out on top? Often though, idealism and self-interest get mixed together, and because we humans are so centered in our own experience and so good at self-deception, it can be difficult to tell the difference. Within the stories that organize our thinking, we all see ourselves as good guys, even if history will later disagree.

Conservatives—including otherwise fair-minded and decent people–often have priorities that defy my sense of reality and morality. As conditions evolve and these priorities don’t, I believe they put at risk not only the future of American democracy but also the future of our planetary life support system. When I try to wrap my brain around what’s going on, I find myself bumping up against an ancient story, one that imbeds an idea so bad and yet so appealing that it may ultimately prove to be a planet buster.

The word conservative doesn’t mean the same thing to all who describe themselves that way. For example, libertarian conservatism has different roots from cultural conservatism. But deep in the minds of many self-described conservatives lies an ancient, archetypal narrative that has shaped human societies for millennia. The basic story can be told in religious or secular language, but these two have been woven together for most of history, so I will tell the Western theistic version believed by my parents and our conservative Evangelical community:

The Ancestral Story  

With God in his heaven and his appointed authorities in their appointed positions, all is well with the world. Hierarchy provides order and stability, and each of us has his or her place in the proper order of things. From the beginning, this has meant men over women over children, bosses or masters over workers, “chosen” bloodlines over others, powerful tribes and civilizations over weak, and humans over other animals. Creation is man’s for the taking because it was made for us, who were made in the image of God, though some more so than others. Heaven on earth is when everyone recognizes and lives properly in accordance with divinely-appointed roles and rules. Wealth and military victories accrue to the righteous.

I call this narrative the Ancestral Story because it is the story believed by our ancestors and because it is the ancestor of most modern political theories, which split off as either reactions against it or reactions against reactions. In one form or another, with one god or many or none, it has been the dominant paradigm for millennia. It can be traced as far back as the Iron Age, where it underlies the familiar stories and laws of the Hebrew Bible and Quran; and in some parts of the world today, roles it defined then have changed little in the intervening centuries. What liberals may think of as a genetic lottery, much of humanity has been seen as part of a divine plan that properly confers power on chosen men, bloodlines, or tribes.

Since the Ancestral Story stretches back in time, which makes it the story of the past and the present, people who believe this story are fundamentally change-averse—in a word, conservative. Many harken back to golden ages, real or imagined, when this model was ascendant and provided social order, stability, and prosperity to those who most mattered.

Because this script for how society should work is hierarchical and male-centric, cognitive linguist George Lakoff called it the strict father theory of politics. It should be noted, though, that the organizing principle of the story is more primal than the words “strict father” might imply. Human relationships—and our relationships to other species—in this narrative, largely trace back to one simple concept: might makes right. At its biological root, the strict father model of the family derives from the same underlying principle. Men ruled and protected women and children because they were physically stronger; masters ruled slaves because they could.

Since winners write history, we see historical events through a lens that further binds together might and right. We tend to think that good guys win and, conversely, that guys who win are good—because that’s how winners tell the story. Strength and virtue end up closely paired, and hierarchies that evolved eons ago from might makes right end up seeming intuitive and natural.  

Modeling an individual life or a political system on the Ancestral Story doesn’t necessarily lead to a dog-eat-dog way of life. It can.  But within the overarching structure, exceptions and nuance abound, and through the ages, humanity has developed words for these exceptions like grace, mercy, charity, pardons, or noblesse oblige. Religions that sanctify the traditional power hierarchy also encourage people to temper their use of power, and people who are religiously or culturally conservative often care deeply about those they perceive as weak—women, children, the poor and ill— those that Jesus in the Gospel According to Matthew calls “the least of these.”

The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me. –Matthew 25:40 NIV

But aspiring to a benevolent hierarchy, one that treats the weak with kindness, is different from thinking the weak have a right to band together and insist on equality. And voluntary self-restraint on the use of power feels very different from external restraints imposed by law and regulation.

One Theme to Bind Them

Today, defenders of traditional hierarchy and derivative priorities often deploy reasoning that doesn’t invoke theology and most wouldn’t explicitly endorse the idea that might makes right. Even so, the lineage of their thinking can be traced back through cultural institutions and sacred texts to the Ancestral Story and the human tendency to confound power with virtue Some, of course, make no bones about the fact that their priorities derive from Iron Age texts.

Once you superimpose the Ancestral Story, seemingly unrelated or contradictory conservative priorities cohere: strong military, gun rights, nationalism, the sanctity of the patriarchal family (including opposition to child protections and female-controlled contraception), racial favoritism, the ambivalent courtship of church and state, oligarchic government, low taxes for the wealthy, unfettered capitalism, resistance to worker rights, minimal safety net programs, freedom to pollute or use up natural resources, and a deep wariness of outside tribes that might compete for power.

Liberal social policies benefit many conservative voters, especially those who are struggling to get by, but they almost all, to some degree, threaten the conservative cultural narrative. To people who have internalized that narrative and played by its rules, expecting specific perks from society in return, that threat can feel personal and visceral.

As we all have read or heard many times, the Tea Party and the Trump voting base include people whose lives haven’t played out as they hoped or whose wellbeing feels fragile. That alone is a hard burden to bear, but on top of that stress, many feel their social contract has been violated. The give and get promised by the Ancestral Story relies on assumptions of stability and continuity. But that is not what we’ve got. Familiar extraction and manufacturing jobs have become obsolete; many main streets are boarded up; young people move away and abandon the church; a young man often can’t afford to support a wife and children on a single income like his father did; some families are downwardly mobile; and change is accelerating with no end in sight.

These cultural and economic trends have many causes—globalization, consolidation, automation, resource depletion, and—not the least—policy decisions. But rather than finding explanations in some objective set of data (which is really hard for any of us), we humans tend to interpret our experiences through the lens of the script we have trusted all along. And for believers, the Ancestral Story points to a set of culprits. Women are claiming their own bodies, poor blacks are challenging authority, marriage is being reshaped, atheists are scorning the sacred, and immigrants who sneak across the border are receiving scholarships to colleges that working class white kids can’t afford. By the conservative book, it’s all very wrong. And from any point of view, the consequences for both individuals and our culture at large are enormous. Small wonder these violations of the old order generate anxiety, alienation, and, sometimes, rage. Small wonder conservatives deploy the power they have in an effort to set things right.

The Lure for Progressives

Conservative efforts to live and legislate the Ancestral Story seem obvious to many progressives. What may be less obvious is this: When progressives don’t notice that might makes right is the reactor at the heart of the conservative death star, we sometimes fuel it—usually by sending double messages—even though it is fundamentally at odds with liberal or progressive aspirations.

It’s easiest to see this, perhaps, in some of the fantasy stories that we love. Consider two recent movies that have shattered barriers by upending the traditional power hierarchy, Wonder Woman and Black Panther. Both movies broke through iconic blockages; they were literally block-busters, and I hope Black Panther wins Oscars next year. But both, in a way that is deeply satisfying to conservatives and progressives alike, also underscore the linkage between physical strength and moral strength and so send mixed signals.

In Black Panther, the scene where the two prospective kings wrestle at the side of a cliff takes might makes right back to its most primal roots in human history: May the best man win, where strongest fighter and best suited to rule are synonymous. At an archetypal level, the epic battles in both movies—or Star Wars or Lord of the Rings—fit the NRA playbook: the only way to stop a bad guy with a big bad weapon is a good guy, or now woman, with an even bigger, badder weapon. (These well-loved epics also reinforce a second dimension of the Ancestral Story—that some bloodlines are special and should rule others—but that is a different article.)

I point this out not because I think that these two movies could or should have been different, given what they set out to do and the genre. Nobody can tackle everything at once, and the satisfaction we get from stories that fuse right with might help draw crowds to the theaters to experience the novel ideas on offer. (It helped draw you to this article, too.) Also, Black Panther pivots the heroes from winning power to sharing it. It repudiates the human pattern of power-hoarding, while in Wonder Woman, metaphorically, truth and peace defeat war. I have no desire to challenge the movie writers; but I do want to challenge fellow progressives to be self-aware.

Sometimes, perhaps, the only effective challenge to brute force is brute force. Sometimes, perhaps, only the master’s tools can dismantle the master’s house. But we must never forget that is what we are using, because what those tools can’t do is build something radically different. Beating force with greater force can flip a dominance hierarchy, but unless something truly novel happens afterwards, that is just a new variation on an old storyline.

Worse still, reality being what it is, might-makes-right storylines inevitably in the long run advantage those who traditionally have held power: the men with the biggest weapons. Men will always, on average, be physically stronger and more aggressive than women. Wealth will always be stronger than poverty. Humanity is unlikely, any time soon, to abandon a global arms race that traces all the way back to sticks and stones.

Ultimately, then, the only way to create real and durable change is not to flip who is on top—the future is female, brown is the new white—but to flip our gut reaction to the fundamental premise underlying most of human history, to restructure our thinking and emotions to the point that we no longer find might-makes-right stories intuitive and satisfying.

Permanently Affordable Housing: Challenges and Potential Paths Forward…


From Resilience

Julie Gilgoff: While billion dollar development companies eat up affordable housing units throughout the Bay Area, dedicated teams of organizers, nonprofit service providers, community development corporations, and others fight a relentless battle along side and on behalf of those at threat of displacement. Some are seeking to transform the current system of land ownership, removing profit incentives, and assuring that the land is used for the benefit of longtime community residents.

Community Land Trusts (CLTs) are nonprofit organizations that acquire land with the goal of creating permanently affordable housing. There are various regional CLTs whose purpose is to acquire land for low-income residents, and keep it out of the speculative market indefinitely. These CLTs would be able to do their job more effectively, however, if there were adequate funding sources and legal mechanisms to enable them to compete with private developers. As it is now, few private banks are willing to offer loans to housing cooperatives and other CLT projects. California law entitles nonprofits to intervene on tax-defaulted properties after five years of delinquency and before a private developer is given the opportunity to bid (CAL. REV. & TAX. CODE § 3791.4), but this law is rarely enforced. In a world where the poor, elderly, and disabled are being thrown to the streets without relocation fees because of loopholes in rent control laws (such as Costa Hawkins and the Golden Duplex Rule), CLTs must be adequately funded so that they can intervene when property becomes available.

In San Francisco, supportive legislation called the Small Sites Acquisition Fund was recently passed to help enable nonprofit developers to acquire properties before tenants are evicted through the Ellis Act. But the amount allocated by the fund per unit is still not enough to keep the property affordable to low-income tenants. Many CLTs are stuck waiting for land to be donated or sold to them below market rate in order to accomplish their mission.

Other housing models in the Bay have also challenged the status quo of property ownership. The Sustainable Economies Law Center and the People of Color Sustainable Housing Network have teamed up to create the East Bay Permanent Real Estate Cooperative (EBPREC), which combines features of CLTs, limited equity housing cooperatives, and self-organizing social movements. In addition to residents, members of EBPREC will include neighbors who want to support the initiative by investing what they are able (up to $1000) to empower the community to take ownership of their neighborhoods. Although this model has a broad base of support in its incipient phase, start-up funding is still necessary to acquire land and begin its first project.

Many private banks and lending institutions hesitate to fund projects that benefit local communities because they determine that it is too risky, or not profitable enough. The federal statute, the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA), was supposed to require banks to address the needs of low and moderate income communities where they do business. The CRA is currently under attack by the Trump Administration, and even without changes in the law, there is still inadequate oversight to require banks to live up to this standard. At least 97% of banks receive outstanding or satisfactory ratings under CRA standards, despite evidence that many have engaged in discriminatory practices, including but not limited to the predatory lending that took place during the 2008 foreclosure crisis. There are examples of banks doing the right thing, however. For example, OneUnited Bank in Boston created a loan fund specifically for Community Land Trusts. More banks must follow their example to invest in the communities and projects that need capital the most.

Instead of waiting for more banks to do the right thing though, we must take matters of capital investment into our own hands. Public banks have been proposed in the cities of Oakland and San Francisco. We must demand not only that they are created, and that these banking institutions refrain from investing in pipelines, prisons, and other destructive institutions, but also that these banks invest in enterprises and organizations that benefit the community directly, and that they be governed by the community, with adequate oversight that they stay true to their mission. (See this essay by the Defenders of Mother Earth – Huichin coalition for a discussion of how to create accountability over public banks.) The creation of permanently affordable and community controlled housing, the kind created by CLTs and the PREC model, must be prioritized and funded to benefit local residents at risk of being displaced.

Here are a number of ways you can get involved: