The days are short, the dark is cold, the stars are bright. It’s time for inside work. My inside work today is a story about trust, a story that includes you and that does not end today.
In November 2014, twenty-five people came together in Perry IA to decide whether or not to launch the Sustainable Iowa Land Trust. They represented 25 leaps of faith. Bill Stowe, Denise O’Brien, Fred Kirschenmann, Cornelia and Jan Flora – people who had spent their lives creating an Iowa that offered a fair shake for every person. They knew that justice – from safe drinking water to successful family farms – was not a radical idea, but fighting for that justice had become a radical act.
Kamyar Enshayan, Tom Wahl and Kathy Dice, LaVon Griffieon, Les Beck, Claire Celsi, Andrea Vaage, Erv Klaas, Jason Grimm and other founders were on the same journey. They didn’t know me or my work. I had been away from Iowa for two decades. I found them after moving back in 2010 and seeing what little was left of our small farms and small towns. I found them after years of talking and talking and talking until, in Denise’s words, I knew when to “start doing.”
They had no reason to trust me. And yet after two days of reviewing the research I had collected from around the country, after sharing their own experiences and frustrations with the way things were, they voted to create SILT.
Because of their names and reputations, people have been trusting the Sustainable Iowa Land Trust ever since, including these landowners:
Joe Driscoll called to give us his 53 acres in Honey Creek before we even had our 501(c)3 status.
Mary Ellen Miller committed her 40 acres in Corydon before we even had a policy for land gifts that reserved a life estate.
Lyle Luzum had me on a 2-year-long email exchange that allowed him to define what we knew and what we didn’t. Then he gave us his family’s 170 acres in Decorah and came onto our board to help us go the next mile.
Steve Beaumont saw me speak at a few different events. He asked us if we preferred a gift in his will that we could turn into cash later or a gift of land we could turn into a story now. We chose land. We knew his story would inspire others, and it has.
Why should they trust a nonprofit organization with no history? Why couldn’t we just sell our farms outright? Why did someone have to check up on them every year? Why could they only own the buildings and not the land under them?
And still, a few brave ones took the leap: Ed and Tricia Jackson at Joe’s place, Will Lorentzen and Adrian White at Steve’s, Andy and Betsy Boone at Lyle’s, and last year, Carolyn Scherf, William Kresse, Dylan Cook and Ilsa Dewald at the SILT farm Paul and I donated in Iowa City.
It hasn’t been easy. We’ve all got stories to tell! But we didn’t sign up for “easy.” Easy would mean we’d be comfortable, for now. We’d live relatively painless lives, for now. We could spend our Saturdays doing laundry and mopping the floors, for now, instead of writing the story of SILT to the world.
But that world would continue to be unfair and unjust, if not to us now, then to those around us and those who will come after us. As long as we tolerate that, we are all at risk.
So here, on the brink of 2020, SILT has grown from the $20,000 interest-free loan we won at the 2014 Slow Money National Gathering to over $3 million in assets, almost all of it donated. But we don’t count our protected land as something we can sell later for a profit. Quite the opposite. We restrict land use to sustainable food farming, and that makes it affordable for future generations.
So, when we ask you for money multiple times at the end of the year, we know we’re part of a braying herd of nonprofits begging for bucks. We know how annoying it can be.
But we also know that there are many of you who feel overwhelmed by the injustice in this world. You can barely breathe some days from the corporate control of our lives. You suspect that recycling glass or driving an electric car is not going to save the planet.
It’s alright to write a check or use your credit card to increase your impact on a better future, because there are so many people who can’t. In fact, that’s exactly what we need – for every single person who believes in our mission and has the ability to support it, to do so now.
Our landowners trust us with their legacy. Our farmers trust us with their futures. Please trust us with your SILT membership so we can build the organization that all Iowans deserve and build an Iowa that gives everyone a fair shake.
Executive Director and SILT Co-Founder
ps Our President Stuart Valentine is much more eloquent than I am. Please see what he says in this great video!