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Living in the forest, aging in place - land legacy  RSS feed

 
Michael Forest
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http://chronicle.com/article/The-Rural-Brain-Drain/48425/

Living in the forest - land legacy

The above article is worth reading, at least the second half. I can see the essays of Wendell Berry lingering in the background. As a small land owner I've been concerned for quite awhile about the "legacy problem". That is, how the land will be utilized once my wife and I pass on. We own a plot of forested land and would like it to remain so. The statistics regarding diminishing "small" land owner ship present a dismal trend for the future. As the article points out:

The rise of agribusiness has meant that there are hardly any farmers left in America's agricultural regions: Just 2 percent of Americans operate farms now, and 42 percent of Midwestern farmers earn less than $20,000 per year. Independent family farmers today live more like sharecroppers...........

A few things to note about the quote - it states 2 percent operate farms. It did not say "own". These "independent" farmers are like the indentured servants of colonial times, i e sharecroppers. The article does not mention the legacy aspect at all, focusing more on economic fusion.

The article does not distinguish between survival of the homesteading way of life and the small town community. Although intimately connected, the distinction is important in order to understand that homesteading has an even more challenging "attraction" problem than the small town. Many small land owners assume they'll pass on the property to family members without ever communicating enough with their children to see if the desire for the land is there.

Extracted below is from a 2005 study of forest ownership: Private Forest Landownership in Washington State, conducted by the University of Washington. I recognize it was done before the economic downturn but I haven't been able to find any evidence of a substantial turn around in legacy awareness issues:

Recent findings show that from 1982 to 1997, 10.3 million acres of non-federal forest land converted to non-forest uses, approximately 680,000 acres per year (Alig et al. 2003). It is estimated that close to 44.2 million acres of private forest land in the United States could experience large increases in development pressures between now and 2030 (Stein et al. 2005). Based on the National Woodland Owner Survey, there are an estimated 10.3 million family forest owners (not including corporations, partnerships, tribes, and other non-family organizations) in the United States, owning 262 million acres; 1.8 million acres of this forest land are expected to convert to development in the near future, with close to half of the loss to development taking place in the West (Butler et al. 2004).
Forests come under greatest threat when ownerships change. Table 5 divides U.S. private forest landownerships into two classes, “large” and “small”. At 5,000 acres or less, the important ownership change is intergenerational transfer. In this category, ownerships are entering the 4th or 5th generation; inheritors are many, are subject to divisiveness, and are driven primarily by financial motives.

What is a key take-away from the above lump of facts is what is implied by the last sentence - that is, there is no mention regarding "connection" with the land. 81% of Americans live in urban areas according to the 2010 census. Some estimates suggest 70% of the world's population will live in urban areas by 2050. People are moving "away" from the"natural" world at a rapid rate.

Why write about this here, on this site? Well, my observations indicate there is a lot of positive, diverse energy here. A true counterculture attitude about land use. People express the desire to make fruitful use of land, to practice practical economic efficiency, especially when it comes to food and shelter. But if it remains true that agrarian and forestry stewardship is shrinking, shouldn't the root causes be looked at critically and consistently?
A lot of topical paths cross each other on Permies: families seeking community, individuals seeking land, applying permaculture practices, defining permaculture, discussing acceptable approaches, landowners declaring the need for help, partnerships or offering to create some kind of land agreement, aging in place, etc. All of this gets blended with topics on money, can one make a (subsistence) living as a permies, techniques and technologies, newbie questions regarding "where to begin"? A rich mix of energy and knowledge streams through this site.

I mentioned Wendell Berry at the beginning of this post. What seems to make him such a passionate essayist and speaker is his love for the land and the importance for true connection with it.
Without these elements as part of one's make-up the homesteading lifestyle will continue to diminish. Just what is love of and connection with the land? I suspect deeper discussion on this site regarding these vital attributes would help the"paths" mentioned in the previous paragraph to come together rather than just cross each other. How does the city person recognize those elements within one's self? Perhaps the long time "landowners" hold the answer. The land teaches in unexpected ways. There is the question of values which motivates one's connection with land. Why is land ownership not succeeding in the traditional way of inheritance? A no-fault inability to convey those values to one's children? The "American Way of Life - as "advertised" has a strong magnetic pull world wide. Everyone on Permies knows this. It takes a desire of heart felt energy to "make it with the land", to resist the modern cultural dependency of convenience. What does it take to really know this world as "Mother Earth"?
 
Susan Noyes
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As a small land owner I've been concerned for quite awhile about the "legacy problem". That is, how the land will be utilized once my wife and I pass on. We own a plot of forested land and would like it to remain so. The statistics regarding diminishing "small" land owner ship present a dismal trend for the future.


If I were to buy land it would be a woodland or forested land. If that doesn't come to pass I hope to find a community that practices agroforestry where I can work/live. One of the most interesting permaculture homesteads I've read about is the Ben Law property in the UK. Coppicing and fence-making are two activities I hope to learn about. And basket-making.

A lot of topical paths cross each other on Permies: families seeking community, individuals seeking land, applying permaculture practices, defining permaculture, discussing acceptable approaches, landowners declaring the need for help, partnerships or offering to create some kind of land agreement, aging in place, etc. All of this gets blended with topics on money, can one make a (subsistence) living as a permies, techniques and technologies, newbie questions regarding "where to begin"? A rich mix of energy and knowledge streams through this site.


As I am in my sixties, aging in place is becoming very topical for me. I plan for it to be less urban - a lot less urban(I live in Dallas)! I need to get moving on it. I hope this thread discusses some of the possibilities you've mentioned: landowners declaring the need for help, partnerships or offering to create some kind of land agreement, aging in place - in particular. Especially landowners needing help. I'm a gardener (mostly native plants for wildlife) but plan to begin incorporating fruit and nut trees and some vegetables. I hope to take a PDC next year and then start looking for land or a community that practices some agroforestry.

Why is land ownership not succeeding in the traditional way of inheritance?


I too would like to see discussion on this topic. If I acquire land I plan to involve my daughters' families as much as I can and will be very pleased if they take even half the interest in permaculture that I have.
 
Tyler Ludens
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I think a lot of landowners need help (I do!) but may not have a place for workers to live on the land (I don't). I think most people who want to work on the land want to live in a house with conveniences, not in a tent. So that's a problem. Other problems are those which are in common with any intentional gathering of people; problems of trust, responsibility, risk, communication, etc etc (see Diana Leafe Christians posts).

Keeping land preserved for particular use may be legally secured through a land trust. I hope we'll be learning more about land trusts over at PRI where Bob Corker will be answering questions about this subject: http://forums.permaculturenews.org/showthread.php?16179-Round-5-Ask-Bob-Corker-a-Question-on-Community-Land-Trusts
 
Michael Forest
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It may be best to approach our desires backwards. That is, from our final goal with the land to the present. My wife and I have as our goal - to be able to live out our lives completely on the land, age in place,so to speak. That's it. So that means as aging slows us down, zaps strength and stamina,we need someone to assume more and more of the homesteading routines. The logical assumption which follows is "we need someone younger to take on the tasks".
After a lot of thought I'm questioning that assumption. (We relish our privacy, our uninterrupted communing with nature, it's why we live here the way we do. As I mentioned in my opening post the core introspective question which needs to be answered is "what is one's connection with the land"? There is no wrong answer). The practical side says homesteading requires grunt work, but I'm intrigued by those in their 50's and 60's wanting to engage such a life style. Although our culture belittles aging, the value of it needs more of a voice in these permies discussions.

As to getting relatives involved, that may be more complicated than interacting with others. A lot of not only assumptions are made but it is too easy to get caught up in our projections of each other. Creating contracts with strangers is challenging enough,but with family members, good luck. As Tyler mentioned trusts may be the way to go. Remember the vast majority of Americans are not interested in homesteads, then there's the tier below that who have romantic ideas about the lifestyle. There's nothing wrong with an idealistic view point, if it leads one to discover their commitment to the land. I tend not to mention the word permaculture here much because it's practice is not dependent on homesteading. If less than 20% of Americans are interested in living in a rural environment,what percent have the desire/will to homestead?

As to getting help, I have an inquiry. To those who have been successful in getting help,however defined, who has found it locally? By local I mean there is no need for the"help"to be housed on the homestead. Or are most who are seeking assistance quite remote?

I think the challenge with finding the right fit for one's situation is one of articulation; both from the side of the one needing others, as well as those seeking place. This is why I stress the importance of engaging ourselves internally in ways which help us discover the "value" of the land we have or wish to gain. Without knowing what the land means to us it makes it harder to be clear about expected commitment from the seeker.
 
Judith Browning
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Thank you, Michael, for opening this conversation. This subject is on my mind also. We (my husband and I now, but our children also when they were growing up) tend to immediately become almost literally attached to the land we live on...walking the paths, learning it's wildlife and cycles of plants and insects...observation (mindful wandering might be another description) has always been a large part of our relationship with our surroundings. I know this is why Leila H.'s animism thread interests me so much.
We would love to share that feeling of connectedness but also value our privacy.
We want to stay on our land and hope to find our long term ideal "neighbor".
 
Michael Forest
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Recently I was sent a well meant pm suggesting looking into conservation easements as a way of securing a property's future use. I happen to know a little about them,as I did in fact research the plausibly over a three year period. While CE's may be just the ticket for some land owners, I personally am not in favor of them in the present legal structure. CE's are a form of negative servitude. Meaning they have to be paid for by the land owner. Not cheap. The easement is for perpetuity, does not usually recognize the effects of environmental change. (Google The Butterfly Effect: Conservation Easements, Climate Change, and Invasive Species). Although there may be some tax benefits it is not a complete compensation for the surrender of property rights. Donating the land to a CE organization,where in you end up with a life estate,could lead to the property eventually being sold in order to aquire land which holds more interest for the CE organization. As a ecoforester said to me once: why should any land owner trying to maintain the land in it's natural state have to pay for it to remain so. We should be the one's being "paid".
 
Brenda Groth
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I have been putting my heart and my soul into the property that we live on for over 40 years since we moved here when we got married. I love my property but yes I'll be 62 this summer and I have a son with no wife or children. We gave a piece of our land to our son so he built his house adjoining our land, so together we have a larger amount of acerage. I know that when we are gone our son would love to have our property, but, what about after he is gone? There is no heir.

I hope that there will be someone in Joel's future that he'll feel confident to leave the land to, it would be such a shame for it to go to the government.

We have been building food forests, ponds, etc on the propery and it will be at a self sustainable level by the time I'm gone..I hope that someone will want to keep it that way. (see blog in signature)
 
Julia Winter
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When I think about successfully aging in place, I end up considering intentional community. I can't see how you could have outside people coming in from off your property to take care of things that you can't take care of without spending a lot of money, and even if you do have the money to spend, those people are not developing a love for your land, they're just doing a task for pay.

We are social animals, and I believe humans are happiest in multigenerational community. It is fraught with pitfalls, and yet, it's better than the alternatives.
 
kirk dillon
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I feel similar to Brenda, my son is 19 and interested in permaculture but he still needs to go find himself. I hope he will have a family and pass along to his heirs anything that we leave to him.
However, I also feel that in the future as permaculture becomes more mainstream there will be realtors that will advertise that there is a permaculture farm for sale and buyers that will be looking for that type of property. I'm sure there are lots of people out there right now, ready to buy that would love to be able to look at several permaculture properties for sale. Maybe the new owners could live in a second house on the property so they could learn all the specifics of the property before the current owners move on. That's not the norm, but it could become one. I don't care who gets my property after I'm gone, as long as the years of effort don't go to waste and it stays as an improving living permaculture farm. I'm optimistic that it will eventually end up in good hands..........
 
ken mart
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Michael, that was a sobering story. I’m glad you posted. We should all have cause for concern. I live in rural Texas. We have been watching first hand this very thing happening here. In the last 20 years our small community has been forced to learn how to deal with a lot of the big city problems. I do wonder where the next 20 will take us.
 
Rufus Laggren
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> next 20...

Depends on how the kids get raised. The big brother program is one of the best efforts imaginable and anything else that lets kids discover the better world has got to help. If you never in your life stood in a real meadow or saw a day on the farm you've have to be pretty principled and creative to have a clew how/why they mattered and why you should care. Basic values hold the key (as trumped by all speakers everywhere) and fortunately they're not necessarily dependent on a rural upbringing.

Rufus
 
Michael Forest
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Rufus Laggren wrote:> next 20...

Depends on how the kids get raised. The big brother program is one of the best efforts imaginable and anything else that lets kids discover the better world has got to help. If you never in your life stood in a real meadow or saw a day on the farm you've have to be pretty principled and creative to have a clew how/why they mattered and why you should care. Basic values hold the key (as trumped by all speakers everywhere) and fortunately they're not necessarily dependent on a rural upbringing.

Rufus


Yes I think part of it may be how the kids are raised and the basic values which are instilled. But those are broad and generic in scope. The"crisis" of legacy has even got the attention of government. Below is one of several workshops here in Washington State conducted over the last 5 years or so. Some say by the time government recognizes a problem, it's a lot worse than people realize.

Ties to the Land
Monroe
Your forest will outlive you. Who will care for it when you're gone? Will it be a family legacy or a family squabble? Will it be kept intact and protected, or will it be divided up and sold off in pieces? Succession planning is the critical step of ensuring the long-term future that you want for your property. WSU Extension, Cascade Harvest Coalition, and the Snohomish Conservation District are hosting a succession planning workshop featuring the award-winning Ties to the Land curriculum. Guest speakers will include an attorney, a financial planner, and a family who has gone through the process, and there will be plenty of opportunity for Q&A.


When I thought about starting this thread I was thinking about the sorts of things which tie one to the land. I was born in a small town,raised in big city (my father felt the small community was a "fish bowl" environment). Nature was something you occasionally visited. Nor did I have an relatives who were focused nature lovers,let alone homesteaders. We have friends who raised wonderful children on a homestead yet the kids may choose city life over the country,just as the statistics are showing.
If one has a agricultural farm,considers themselves tree farmers,ranchers,even a permaculture practitioner, first and foremost what is the primary message we are presenting to our children or potential partners? The land is something to be used, the land becomes a commodity. Not that there's anything wrong with this the "value"of the land can be seen as monetary,as a source for income. That is our cultural focus. It's not that hard to see why one might choose the city life to seek one's fortune. We are taught the importance of"making a living". If we really were concerned about ties with the land it might be better to seek the understanding held by Indian traditions. If we discover respect and reverence for the land we become more than just a hard working farmer,we become a thankful one. If one's children or (potential) partners sense this as something transcending money the homesteading lifestyle may live on.
.
 
Michael Forest
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Permaculture is not about nature for nature's sake but about modification and manipulation within the confines of certain natural (nature) principles which work,or seem to,to our benefit and defined needs.
Paul mentions with good intent of wanting to expose thousands to this permaculture methodology. I wish him well in this fine endeavor. But here's how I see this playing out:

Permaculture will have it's biggest impact in urban areas on small-scale efforts. If it becomes a trend it will go the way of all American trends eventually. It will have at best, a waxing and waning effect on the homesteading lifestyle which will continue to diminish. As I mentioned in the last post we as Americans at least, define ourselves and each other by our work ethics. By this I mean the quality of our "doing" energy. We do not place as much value on prolonged observation,contemplation of the meaning of place. In my recent readings of Wendell Berry's work I've notice he uses the word "landscape" a lot in reference to place, community,people and land. We tend to plunge right in with our habits of transforming the landscape. We want,with good intent in mind, to create our own interweaving connections. What is missing,for one, is a sense and understanding of heritage. There is little emotional apprenticeship for developing a lasting attachment to the land. No methodology creates a legacy without some deeper bond with the landscape.

What inspired this posting was a recent article by David Suzuki entitled Healthy Kids Need Time in Nature. There have been many articles and such on nature deficit disorder,a popular expression for the lack of desire to connect with Nature as Nature is. The sad part is Suzuki is willing to settle for just getting the kids outdoors more often. A commenter ( from Common Dreams) had this to say:

But I sure hope that in order to accommodate these new health mandates that city planners of communites around the country don't further wipe out what few wild places remain in order to build "simulated wild places" so our children can play "outside"

Quoting the article:

Last year, the David Suzuki Foundation conducted a survey with young Canadians and found that 70 percent spend an hour or less a day outdoors. The 2012 Active Healthy Kids Canada Report Card says they spend almost eight hours a day in front of screens.

So the broad question of what do we want from each other,those with land and those desiring land remains a clumsy vision to formulate. Maybe we should be having a dialog about what Nature means to us in order to begin to determine the feasibility of connection.
 
Nj James
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Another great read on this subject is "The Last Child in the Woods" by Richard Louv. He "diagnoses" the problem as "Nature Deficit Disorder." Great stuff.

IMO, there are several problems facing the legacy issue, and here in rural Texas; they include the Inheritance Tax where large tracts are forced to be subdivided and sold off to pay the taxes on the values of the inherited property. Money will always be the root of problems; multiple heirs typically will not want to share the land with each other and will feel "shorted" if one heir gets value out of the property and they don't. So they force the issue to have the property to be sold to get their share of the property. This is the situation I am involved in; 10 acres and a house left to my wife and her sister, luckily we are in a position to buy the sister's half, as she has demanded her "right to her money" in a property that she has never invested .10 cents in.

Unfortunately, land IS a commidity these days (to the world, bar permies). When land here in the Hill Country, which used to be deemed useless, was sold for cents on the dollar, is now selling for $10-50 thousand dollars/acre so that mcmansions and "gentleman's ranches" with gated roads can pave off the hilltops and set up camp, complete with a community pool. A person that wants to be close to nature and close to any kind of civilization, needs to carry a sack of money that hangs pretty close to the ground. The legacy heir, would have a hard time hanging on to a property when its value has skyrocketed and the "country side" they grew up with is now utterly unrecognizable.

My neighbor here on 15 acres has tried to have people come and farm share, he offers a room and utilities in his farm house as well a piece of the farms profit in exchange for farm labor, they do eggs meat poultry and rabbits, and vegetables. And as attractive as that sounds he has hard time keeping hands. The type of people attracted to the these types of positions are the wandering type looking for new locales and experience for their future farms. Nothing permanent. Someone who doesn't own the land, even if they are profiting from it, will never treat it or respect it like an owner would.

Also, there is a different mindset today, people are involved in CSA vegetable boxes and buying grassfed beef from the grocery store and feel like thats good enough, that they are doing their part. You are right, homesteading is not attractive, even to those 20% that live in rural areas. Its hard work, and its even harder work to produce enough to sell for a profit. Some do it, many others fail trying to produce enough to support the lifestyle, unfortunately.

But I do hope that its more than just a trend that will eventually faid away; city emigrants are moving rural to get closer to the land and control their own destiny in the shadow of big ag, pharma's, etc. City dwellers "path" to homesteading or rural America will be in the form of food safety, health (mental and physical), and societal (increase in city crime, consumer lifestyle, etc). I think these "paths" will lead them to either hemestead themselves or at least support a local homesteader. I believe that the homesteading lifestyle is not dimenishing. Just look at the increase in number of farmer markets popping up, and the number of city folk that are supporting these types of farmers/communities/individuals...I think (hope) the future is bright.

I am sorry for your current situation and the mental stress that it creates, so good luck my friend, and I truly hope that you find the outcome that will satisfy your concerns.

PS I'm sure there are a few permies here that would gladly be the legacy for your forest farm and would continue in line with your goals for many decades to come
 
Tyler Ludens
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Nj James wrote:
IMO, there are several problems facing the legacy issue, and here in rural Texas; they include the Inheritance Tax where large tracts are forced to be subdivided and sold off to pay the taxes on the values of the inherited property.


Estate tax affects a minimum of properties.

http://willsandprobate.com/FAQ/inheritance-estate.htm

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324235104578243461964155832.html

 
Nj James
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"Every estate gets an estate tax deduction for all property received by the deceased's spouse, as well as a $5 million standard exemption for all other property. Thus, many middle class Americans will owe no federal estate tax."

With respect, many properties here in my region that are considered legacy properties (and that is why I designated "large tracts" in my original post) that are valued on the newly inflated land prices easily surpass the $5 million exemption. The heirs are middle class americans that are land rich within their family but not necessariliy wealthy and cannot foot the bill when the patriarch/matriarch pass away. Then they have to section off pieces to sell to pay the tax man. There are avenues to avoid these outcomes, but they take careful planning and legal fees, both things that some multigenerational rural american families don't necessarily consider important until its too late. But I am not a real estate lawyer or CPA and not well versed in the exact language of the tax code, I am only speaking to the personal experiences my neighbors have shared with me.

And as one of Michael's posts referenced, Family forest farm acreage in western regions are set to have a dramatic increase in development, which will eventually, if not already, hyperinflate land values.

I would hope that someone who is well versed in the inheritance tax code and policies will create a thread about it and educate the rest of us on how to protect the legacy property. But none the less, it is an issue facing some legacy properties.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Just pointing out that the vast majority of land owners will never need to worry about it.
 
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