A nonprofit group two years in the making, Sustainable Iowa Land Trust, will attempt to make it easier for young farmers to arrange for land to grow, for example, fruits and nuts, or raise livestock, using  sustainable methods.


Founder Suzan Erem, who has worked as a journalist and union organizer, said the dream would be to have 10 to 15 percent of Iowa's land either owned and protected by the trust or owned by someone else but protected by a conservation easement.


The trust obtained a $20,000 interest-free loan at the Slow Money National Gathering in November, and has added a 40-acre nut tree and cattle farm near Corydon to the program. Another farm near Emmetsburg is in negotiations. The group has been working with Hubbell Homes, Des Moines Water Works, lawmakers from both parties, other developers and farmers while setting up the conservation initiative, which goes by the acronym SILT.


Erem said the effort should help improve water quality, and help Iowa, one of the nation's agricultural leaders, ease imports of food for people.


"Iowa imports 90 percent of its edible food," Erem said. "We should be growing our own."


The trust will focus on land near urban areas to make it easier to serve farmers markets, restaurants and residents. "That land is most in danger of being paved over," Erem said.


Farmers who lease land owned by the trust would pay full market rent, but the charge would be reduced if they agree to add more sustainable techniques.


Money for the trust's operations will come from rent payments, an endowment, arrangements with investors, donations tied to easements and property transfer fees.


Erem noted that land donations qualify for lucrative tax breaks in Iowa, and for federal tax deductions.


Learn more about SILT online.