Black-led organization to lease Whidbey land for ‘agroecology farm village’

Future generations of farmers will be stewards of a prime piece of farmland, thanks to one donor.

Future generations of farmers will be stewards of a prime piece of the island’s farmland, thanks to the formation of a nonprofit landholding organization and the generosity of one South Whidbey donor.

In 2019, Freeland resident Caroline Gardner gifted her 10-acre farm to Agrarian Trust, a conservation group dedicated to making farmland more accessible and equitable. With property prices on the rise and 400 million acres of U.S. land changing hands as thousands of farmers and ranchers retire, young farmers have been struggling to gain 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 land gift to Agrarian Trust. It launched a nationwide movement, with other landowners in different states also making donations.

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

Turner’s organization focuses on agroecology education for youth and growing food hydroponically to be distributed. 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 homeschooling parent, Turner got involved with growing her own food when she found herself impacted by a medical condition that did not allow her to eat synthesized foods.

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

“The way we’re eating is increasing healthcare disparities, and we’re not able to recuperate and move forward as a community,” she added.

Realizing there was a need for kids to be educated about this topic, Turner started a gardening club in her neighborhood called Ummah Sustained. Modest Family Solutions became the first in the state to offer a Junior Master Gardener Program.

“We really need to get off fast food, understand food science and what’s going into our bodies,” she said.

Modest Family Solutions is planning to launch Black Seed Agroecology Farm Village on the Whidbey land.

Yet Turner is hesitant to share her vision for the property. It’s a question many people have been asking her.

“Before I get started, 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 farmworkers are people of color, yet people of color own less than 2% of U.S. farmland.

“We’ve never been given any land,” she said. “Any access we’ve ever had is always in strips. Our people continually suffer from intergenerational systemic oppression.”

Approximately 3.5 of the 10 acres is tillable, with the predominant soil type being Indianola sandy loam. The farm also contains “a small, highly degraded but ecologically important native prairie remnant,” according to Agrarian Trust’s website.

The farmland was previously used for hay. A $30,000 capital investment can be allocated toward a driveway, a well, small infrastructure or other needs as determined.

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

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

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