June 26, 2017|By M. Zulayka Santiago

On June 15, 2016, a group of eight friends realized a dream almost five years in the making. That’s the day we signed closing documents on 12 acres of land in Northern Durham, North Carolina—the day the Earthseed Land Cooperative went from vision to reality. This was the first of several tremendous leaps of faith into something that has felt both totally unknown and very familiar. 

6 26 photo2Earthseed's founding members. Photo by by Adam Pyburn.

Earthseed Land Cooperative’s mission is to increase the self-determination of ourselves as farmers, our communities and generations to come, by providing access to land and structures that enable us to build wealth, foster environmental sustainability and actualize community wellness. We believe that creating intergenerational relationships and skill sharing promote and increase resourcefulness, community wellness, financial independence and self-determination for our current, past and future generations. 

When 36 adjacent acres of land became available a few months later, we needed creative financing to be able to purchase the property and let our vision continue to grow. We turned to the Natural Capital Investment Fund (NCIF) for a loan and worked with Triangle Land Conservancy, who facilitated a conservation easement to protect 33 acres for Earthseed's use, with the option to build on the remaining 3 acres. NCIF’s focus on diverse businesses that are good stewards of land and water and their ability to be flexible in structuring the loan made them a natural partner for us.

6 26 photo3Photo by Earthseed Founding Members.

As a group of black and brown folks in the Southern United States this acquisition was significant, with implications and ripple effects beyond what we could have imagined. We are farmers, entrepreneurs, professionals, and teachers who are currently engaged in creating alternative models for sustainability, equity, and cooperation within communities of color. We collaborated to acquire this land to provide shared affordable housing, sustainable food production, environmental stewardship, and education space in our community.

As we celebrate the one year anniversary of our Earthseed Land Cooperative, we recognize that these 48 acres that we have acquired don’t belong to us—that getting to walk it, sleep on it, play on it, and grow on it is a privilege available to too few people of color in this country. For these reasons we are grateful for the wildness and expansiveness of this land, for all that this land has held and will continue to hold. It reminds us, compels us, sustains us, and renews us. We are clear that what we are building here together honors those that came before us and those that will come after us. The wealth we are building will not merely be measured in financial gain, and the beauty that we are creating is not solely for our enjoyment. This is for our broader community and for the movements that we are a part of. 

6 26 photo4Photo by Earthseed Founding Members.

The year we’ve spent on this land has reminded us that bringing to life an alternative to the status quo requires us to explore new ways of being, of interacting with one another and with the larger system we navigate on a day-to-day basis. That doing this work requires a significant amount of courage, resilience and commitment. For the remainder of 2017, Earthseed will be focusing our energy on: 

  1. Converting one of our barns into a community gathering space which will host workshops, events and even a community kitchen!
  2. Doing our internal work to strengthen our processes and to articulate fully what living our values actually looks like.
  3. Engaging in a land visioning process in order to create a comprehensive land management plan that will carry us strongly into the future.

6 26 photo5Photo by Earthseed Founding Members.

This work will take time and some serious effort on our part, yet we are clear that this type of intentional work will ensure a solid foundation for all of the amazing things that will certainly happen on Earthseed land in the near and distant future. We have not done this on our own, and none of it would have been possible without the tremendous vote of confidence from our individual supporters and organizational partners like The Conservation Fund, proving the power of cooperation and the good that can come from collective efforts. 

I’d like to leave you with a quote from J. Drew Lantham that has really resonated with me:
“I don’t expect everyone to feel the same way that I do about land. For so many of us, the scars are still too fresh. Fields of cotton stretching to the horizon — land worked, sweated, and suffered over for the profit of others — probably don’t engender warm feelings among most black people. But the land, in spite of its history, still holds hope for making good on the promises we thought it could, especially if we can reconnect to it. The reparations lie not in what someone will give us, but in what we already own. The land can grow crops for us as well as it does for others. It can yield loblolly pine and white oak for us as it has for others. And it can nurture wildlife and the spirit for us, just like it has for others.”
—J. Drew Lanham, author of The Home Place: Memoirs of a Colored Man’s Love Affair With Nature