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Sharecropper is not a dirty word - or at least it doesn't have to be

 
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First of all I do not want to diminish what amounted to slavery in the sharecropping of 100+ years ago, but I feel that sharecropping should be promoted as a viable option in this day and age.  Curtis Stone had demonstrated this by farming in peoples back yards in the city.  My position is I want to eat better, I have land, I have water, I have access to compost and have friends with horses that I can get all the manure I want.  What I don't have is the time, experience or desire to be a vegetable farmer.  I have to believe there are many people in my position just as there are many people without land that want to take a run at running a market garden.  We just have to connect the two parties.

The key to making this successful is to create a mutually beneficial arrangement between the land owner and the sharecropper.  Also I'm not sure this would work where the land owner is looking to get the maximum return on the land.  I my case I have an acre or two that I don't use other than mowing, so anything I get would be a bonus.  There are many zoning problems with providing housing on site for the sharecropper, but if that issue can be solved then that raises the viability for the sharecropper.  Further there would have to be some expectation of a long term arrangement.  No one wants to spend time and money building soil only to have ti taken away from them.

What do you permies think about this.


My Pitch
I am looking for someone to do vegetable farming on my land in Ypsilanti MI.  I can easily provide 2 acres of land off the road and water and initially get paid just in produce.  As it scales up and becomes profitable I would get a share of the profit.  My land is on a main road that has about 7,000 cars a day drive by so a farm stand should be a way to sell produce.  Additionally there are a couple thousand houses within 1/4 mile, so some kind of home delivery service could also be considered.  Also there is also a farmers market less than 5 miles away.  If anyone in the area is interested send me a message.
 
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I am all for it...in fact when I was trying to sell my Homestead, I mentioned it to potential homesteaders that the house was so big, they could get an Intern from either Unity College (8 miles away) or Maine Organic Farmer Gardner Association (6 miles away) and have them stay in one of the big bedrooms, while they helped around the farm.

Myself, I have never been a share cropper, but I have VERY successfully co-farmed. My family had a big dairy farm, and they would use my farm to grow corn and grass, and then haul it back to their farm to use as dairy cow feed. Then, when I needed feed, they would haul some back to me to feed my sheep. This eliminated a lot of waste because small piles of feed tends to waste pretty easily, but big piles of feed, preserve better. It also allowed the dairy farm to get much needed feed, and allowed me to NOT have to buy equipment to put up my own feed.

 
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What made sharecropping so bad? What set of circumstances?

Some knowledge there might help ideas about the right kind of arrangement here and now. Also, probably better not to call it "sharecropping" front and center. I doubt there is a need to, there are other words available. The main thing would be the biz arrangement, anyway.

But still. What led to the huge problem for people 100+ years ago? Lack of choice? Were _all_ landowners in tacit cahoots and screw the little guy? What situation made the sharecropper such victim? Was it mostly a social, class, thing? How was the money made, who controlled what? Why was the share cropper at the wrong end of the stick all the time?


Regards,
Rufus
 
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When slavery ended in the US, the former slaves often entered into sharecropping arrangements that left them earning so little that they could never really get ahead. They had very few options, as they basically became landless migrants.

Jefferson Davis, said that the rules had simply changed. If you control the land, you control the people on it. No need to have taskmasters and slave catchers. No need to provide housing or medical care or anything.

People were in cahoots. Large groups of people agreed amongst themselves to keep the split highly in favour of the landowner. Plenty of poor whites became sharecroppers as well. The deficiency disease pellagra became rampant as people produced the thing that gave the most per acre, and consumed far too much corn.
 
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in a way we all are modern sharecroppers 40 years I worked my job and shared my salary with the land holder ie the government in multiple tax dollars . I am working on building a bunk house to share the work on my place not there yet but think it will be of added value to all who takes advantage of it.
 
Travis Johnson
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Rufus Laggren wrote:What made sharecropping so bad? What set of circumstances?

Some knowledge there might help ideas about the right kind of arrangement here and now. Also, probably better not to call it "sharecropping" front and center. I doubt there is a need to, there are other words available.




I agree wholeheartedly, and really like the term Co-Farming.

It can be trying to do because as peoples needs change, whether the landowner or the farmer, the agreement between them has to be flexible enough so that both needs are met. This sounds simple, but it could be as easy as property taxes going up, or a crop that was once in vogue suddenly not having its value, that sets the whole agreement into disarray. That is why I say, it has to with the right people that are sensative to that.

Myself, I am in a unique position and co co-farm. I have two fully-functional houses on the same farm, have ample acreage, but due to cancer can no longer farm myself. So co-farming would be possible for us.


 
Travis Johnson
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Beyond just the share cropping days after the American Civil War, I believe the Irish Potato Famine was also a share-cropping arrangement that went terribly bad. It was especially worse since there was the Landowner, and then the middle men who leased out the land yet again to others in smaller sections to people who actually farmed it. In that case it ended up being one farmer working the land, and two people trying to glean money from them. That ended up being a land ownership system teeming with greed.

To some degree, the biggest issue people would have with co-farming is mitigated by law. That is because farmers; even if they do no co-farm, often lease land, and so there MUST be a way for farmers to mitigate improvements they make on land that is not their own, otherwise land improvements would never be made, like fertiizer, fences and lime.

A lot of people do not know this, but every place I know of, including Canada has this law. So lets say I as a farmer spread lime and fertilizer on a leased or co-farmed land, and then the land-owner decides to sell that land to a new person. Any improvement I, as a farmer have done to that land, up to seven years prior, must be compensated for. So if six years ago I put in field tile, and now I can no longer use the field because the new owner wants to use it themselves and no longer lease the land to me, they must pay me for that field tile I put in. But this applies to fertilizer, lime, fences, any long-lasting improvement.

Now granted most farmers do not enforce their rights because the cost of getting a lawyer and going to court would be more expensive then the improvements that they made, but it is enforcable, and has been enforced in the courts.
 
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Must be a geographic thing. My Grandparents were sharecroppers for many years with another family in the area. Everything was split 50/50 with any bonuses the same way. It was the typically egalitarian Australian way to do things. Even to this day, at least 100 years since then, the families still know the surnames and have mutual respect.

Note: sharecropping meant working beside the other partners in the field, NOT leasing the land from the owner to grow things yourself – that is like ye olde serfdom in England.

The name ‘sharecropper’ shouldn’t be seen as bad – it’s about setting up a contract (verbal or written) that outlines the rules, etc. If the name changed to other terms, people may inevitably ask questions and then realise the hidden meaning = seen as a weasel word and some form of deception.

Maybe ‘sharecropping partnership’ addresses it more precisely? Treat people fairly with respect and it’s more often than not reciprocated.




 
Travis Johnson
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It is funny that you mention that arrangement F Agricola.

One side of my family asked my Grandfather that "if he ever stopped growing poatoes, if they could use the fields." That agreement was made way back in the 1970's, and in 1988 we stopped growing poatoes, so my Grandfather remembered his promise, and so the dairy farm started to use the land. My Grandfather dies in 1992, and the man he made a deal with, Francis died in 2008, yet despite both of them being dead, my father, and then me, kept the agreement in place. So did Francis's son, and so from 1988-2015 that one hand shake deal stayed in effect...40 years after the deal was struck, and long after both parties that orginally made the deal were dead.

The only reason the co-farming stopped was, the dairy farm filed for bankrupcy.
 
F Agricola
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Travis Johnson wrote:It is funny that you mention that arrangement F Agricola.

One side of my family asked my Grandfather that "if he ever stopped growing poatoes, if they could use the fields." That agreement was made way back in the 1970's, and in 1988 we stopped growing poatoes, so my Grandfather remembered his promise, and so the dairy farm started to use the land. My Grandfather dies in 1992, and the man he made a deal with, Francis died in 2008, yet despite both of them being dead, my father, and then me, kept the agreement in place. So did Francis's son, and so from 1988-2015 that one hand shake deal stayed in effect...40 years after the deal was struck, and long after both parties that orginally made the deal were dead.

The only reason the co-farming stopped was, the dairy farm filed for bankrupcy.



Yep, keeping ones word meant (means) everything - no damn lawyers or papers, just an agreement and handshake to live and die by.

 
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We have share-cropped our small 1/4 farm with a handshake agreement since 1994.
It has developed into a profitable venture over the years.
 
steward
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I call myself a vacant lot farmer. Around here, land is a burden to it's owners. They have to mow it for fire mitigation. They receive negative peer pressure for letting it go unkempt. Etc...

I turn down offers every year to farm new pieces of ground. The offer usually goes something like this: "I want you to farm my land, I'll pay for the taxes, and water, you just take care of it for me." I usually offer vegetables, but vegetables are also a burden, cause they would have to be stored, prepared, and cooked.... If I was worried about fair market value, I would be asking to get paid to take care of the land.
 
Travis Johnson
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F Agricola wrote:

Travis Johnson wrote:It is funny that you mention that arrangement F Agricola.

One side of my family asked my Grandfather that "if he ever stopped growing poatoes, if they could use the fields." That agreement was made way back in the 1970's, and in 1988 we stopped growing poatoes, so my Grandfather remembered his promise, and so the dairy farm started to use the land. My Grandfather dies in 1992, and the man he made a deal with, Francis died in 2008, yet despite both of them being dead, my father, and then me, kept the agreement in place. So did Francis's son, and so from 1988-2015 that one hand shake deal stayed in effect...40 years after the deal was struck, and long after both parties that orginally made the deal were dead.

The only reason the co-farming stopped was, the dairy farm filed for bankrupcy.



Yep, keeping ones word meant (means) everything - no damn lawyers or papers, just an agreement and handshake to live and die by.



I rather dislike lawyers, although at the moment I have three on retainer. One for my personal business, one for my farm business, and then one for Federal issues. It does save a lot of grief in some ways, but it is a pain too.


When I was younger (20's) I did not always keep my word, but I really try to know. It is called having integrity (doing what you say you will), and I try hard to keep a good name.
 
Dale Hodgins
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In Canada, you can often expect to get use of small parcels of land for nothing and sometimes for less than nothing. They may even give you water and a few other perks. That's because of something called the farm tax credit.

In order to encourage food production, the owners get a substantial reduction in the cost of land tax, provided that a certain dollar value worth of production is coming off the land.  We have lots of little gentrified farms near the city of Victoria, where the owners have a job in the city and don't do much on the land. So they make it available to someone else. There are several market gardening situations that have been created based on this favorable tax situation.

In the end, it comes down to a way for rich guys to dodge taxes. :-) But at the same time, it gives young farmers a start.
 
Travis Johnson
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I think in some ways, the USA limits that because the determination to be a farmer is so vague. For instance, in the USA, all you have to do is TRY and make $1000 per year to qualify. You do not even actually have to make $1000 in profit, you just have to try. And like where I live, everyone gets the Homestead Property Tax exemption. EVERYONE. And the USDA cannot even explain why I somehow get a subsidy every year, but somehow it goes back to my Great Grandfather Days in the 1930's....

So all this means people get the tax benefits with no need to do anything, so there is no real motivation to actively farm. Obviously a person gets even more incentives if they do, but there is so many as is, there is no real drive to get people to actively use it.

Kind of sad...
 
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Dale Hodgins wrote:In Canada, you can often expect to get use of small parcels of land for nothing and sometimes for less than nothing. They may even give you water and a few other perks. That's because of something called the farm tax credit.

In order to encourage food production, the owners get a substantial reduction in the cost of land tax, provided that a certain dollar value worth of production is coming off the land.  We have lots of little gentrified farms near the city of Victoria, where the owners have a job in the city and don't do much on the land. So they make it available to someone else. There are several market gardening situations that have been created based on this favorable tax situation.

In the end, it comes down to a way for rich guys to dodge taxes. :-) But at the same time, it gives young farmers a start.




It's a very convoluted set of rules.

Horse breeding counts. Christmas trees count. Nursery products that will produce food count, ie apple trees.. but some things you only need to produce the requisite amount, market it, and sell at least one unit... while others you can only count actual goods sold.

The part that really screws me up, is that only the production that happens at the same time is counted. Ie, if youplant a hazelnut orchard, they understand it will be a while before it yields, and will give you your tax break in advance.

But... let them know you're also going to sell a few dozen eggs in year one, and that preempts the hazelnuts. Insufficient farm income, denied! You'd have to wait til your nut trees were yielding, then add the hens.

WTF??


It has also led to weird local gluts. Small farm pork often sells for well below the cost of production in my area...
 
Travis Johnson
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I can understand the use of forestry stuff being included as farm income because there are just going to be places on a farm where the best use of the land is to actually grow forest products. I have places like that on my farm, so it is nice to manage those acres, both physically, and fiscally under the farm name. In other words, I can just report my logging income as farm income, and not have to have a separate company for the logging aspect of stuff. And here, the US Forest Service is NOT its own unit, it is an off-shoot of the US Dept of Agriculture.

And I can semi-understand the horse farm being included as agriculture, only because so much of their costs directly benefit the agricultural community, like buying hay, and using vet's, etc.

But then you get into some silly rules as you mentioned as well. Here your Hazelnuts example would count as farming because you are TRYING to make an income of $1,000 or more, again is the US you do not actually have to make $1,000. If they insisted every farm did, oh my, there would not be a dairy farm left in the country. Even then, as a rule a farm only makes income 3 out of 7 years on average.
 
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In theory it sounds good doesn't it?  But I've found that theory and actuality rarely coincide.  A little parallel story here.  I have a unique way of farming that is quite successful for a desert environment.  I felt like I wanted to share that with people.  I offered internships.  Free lodging and food in exchange for work.  The problem was this.  I am a senior citizen...I was raised quite differently from the young ones coming into their own now.  Work ethic is strong in me. Keeping and living by your word as Honorable is at the top of my list.  Honesty and Truthfulness are paramount in my world. What I found, over a three year period of trying this, is that it didn't work.

My idea of work was quite different from the ones that came here.  They all came with some romantic notion of being a farmer.  They had no concept of sacrifice...that as a farmer you do not call in sick. That social life is non existent...you are a farmer....period. No time for endless TV at the end of the day because there is no end to the day. Work stops when you can't lift your finger to do one more thing. The reward to this sacrifice is seen at harvest time. It is seen every time you sit down to eat.

So I urge all that might want to have someone else living on their land as a way to become more profitable, or even to share the load....take a long hard look at what might go wrong that perhaps you won't be able to easily remedy.  In California for instance, once you have someone living on your land in a separate dwelling, you cannot just tell them to leave.  In fact it is almost impossible legally to get rid of them. If you do, it will be a lot of money spent and a lot of court time if they won't leave when you ask them to.  What if they also decide that sharecropping is too much work and they start sitting around doing little, with a lot of excuses.  What if they said they didn't do drugs, and that is important to you, and then you find out they do?  What if their value system of life does not coincide with yours? What if they lie and steal from you?  I say this, because every one of these things happened with me.

I now live on my land....alone. I feel grateful to do so. I tell you, that was the worst experience I ever had.  I spent more money fixing things they broke because they were inexperienced and didn't care enough to ask how to do something, than I ever received from their being here.

 
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jimmy gallop wrote:in a way we all are modern sharecroppers 40 years I worked my job and shared my salary with the land holder ie the government in multiple tax dollars . I am working on building a bunk house to share the work on my place not there yet but think it will be of added value to all who takes advantage of it.



Any shareholder arrangement regarding your salary was mostly with the employer who took a large share of the results of your labor. What sort of car did your boss drive? And what did you drive?

Without taxes, just how would we maintain schools, highways, etc.?
 
Victor Skaggs
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The problem is not the word "sharecropping", but the unfairness of the arrangement which was the historical norm.

Make a decent fair arrangement and it can benefit all parties involved.

One explanation here described sharecropping in the south as a means for keeping the former slaves down, but let's not forget that many sharecroppers were white, generally just as or nearly as poor as their black counterparts.

Whenever the landowner has more power than the workers, guess who will suffer?

We certainly see this in extremis in California where farmworkers have no power and live in boxes, while the agribusiness owners are millionaires.
 
D Nikolls
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Purity Lopez wrote:In theory it sounds good doesn't it?  But I've found that theory and actuality rarely coincide.  A little parallel story here.  I have a unique way of farming that is quite successful for a desert environment.  I felt like I wanted to share that with people.  I offered internships.  Free lodging and food in exchange for work.  The problem was this.  I am a senior citizen...I was raised quite differently from the young ones coming into their own now.  Work ethic is strong in me. Keeping and living by your word as Honorable is at the top of my list.  Honesty and Truthfulness are paramount in my world. What I found, over a three year period of trying this, is that it didn't work.

My idea of work was quite different from the ones that came here.  They all came with some romantic notion of being a farmer.  They had no concept of sacrifice...that as a farmer you do not call in sick. That social life is non existent...you are a farmer....period. No time for endless TV at the end of the day because there is no end to the day. Work stops when you can't lift your finger to do one more thing. The reward to this sacrifice is seen at harvest time. It is seen every time you sit down to eat.

So I urge all that might want to have someone else living on their land as a way to become more profitable, or even to share the load....take a long hard look at what might go wrong that perhaps you won't be able to easily remedy.  In California for instance, once you have someone living on your land in a separate dwelling, you cannot just tell them to leave.  In fact it is almost impossible legally to get rid of them. If you do, it will be a lot of money spent and a lot of court time if they won't leave when you ask them to.  What if they also decide that sharecropping is too much work and they start sitting around doing little, with a lot of excuses.  What if they said they didn't do drugs, and that is important to you, and then you find out they do?  What if their value system of life does not coincide with yours? What if they lie and steal from you?  I say this, because every one of these things happened with me.

I now live on my land....alone. I feel grateful to do so. I tell you, that was the worst experience I ever had.  I spent more money fixing things they broke because they were inexperienced and didn't care enough to ask how to do something, than I ever received from their being here.



My first farming experience was as an intern on someone else's farm. Many other volunteers were arranged for the season. Most of them, simply did not show up, with pretty rough results for the seasons plans, as the farmer had left no margin for anyone not showing up. Despite having had this happen before.

On the other hand, it is asking a lot of a helper, to put in a farmers hours. They don't have the same stake. I have helpxed and volunteered on several other farms, and have always been appreciated because I was able to find something that needs doing and take care of it, with no instruction or supervision. The time and attention to supervise a worker or two that need babysitting, is very hard to come by.

I worked hard, but never put in the 80+ hours that I do on my own land. It was expected that helpers would have time to take weekend trips, relax in the evenings, etc.

On a farm that I stayed at about 1.5 years, many helpers came through. Most were good, but not self directed. Some were outstanding and could work alone. About half as many as that, were pretty crummy, but mostly they left promptly.. we all felt this was a very lucky run, better than usual.

Very important advice to look at the exit plan. Laws.here have also swung very strongly in the tenants favour.

Here in BC, a pair of 'worktrade' types decided they didn't like the farm any more, and they would like to leave, and also retroactively be paid. They sued and won. Not very encouraging from a host perspective.
 
Joseph Lofthouse
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I visit some farms, which have had the same farm manager for decades. They seem to be doing things right.

I visit other farms, which have a new farm manager every time I visit. When I made discrete inquiries about what was going on at one of these farms, it turns out that the farmer's wife has a habit of flying into delirious rages at the tenant farm managers, and does things like evicting them without notice. I think that it's unfortunate, that the farm managers have a habit of fleeing to safety, rather than invoking the social norms of protection that are available to them.

 
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