Our Roots & Trajectory

Fifteen years ago, inspired by visits to communities of Brazil’s Landless Worker’s Movement (MST), members of the Justice, Ecology, and Democracy (JED) Collective organized a series of meetings with grassroots activists around the state. What would it look like, they asked, to build a movement for land justice in Maine? How might we simultaneously tackle the challenges of unequal land access, farmland loss, rural community decline, and the lack of inter-generational collaboration to build long-term movements for environmental and social change? A clear idea emerged: create a statewide organization capable of holding land as a “commons” and ensuring its long-term protection while redistributing its use to people and groups who are dedicated to inclusive, community-based changemaking and who would otherwise not have access to secure land tenure (whether due to racism, class inequality, historical dispossession, or other forms of marginalization). It was a powerful idea.

Seeking inspiration and examples of this kind of structure, we found the community land trust (CLT). Born from the visionary work of civil rights organizers Shirley and Charles Sherrod, Bob Swann, Slater King and others, New Communities, Inc. was the first iteration of what would become a powerful and enduring structure for land protection and land justice. Drawing on ideas from political economist Henry George, the Kibbutz cooperative movement, and the Indian Gramdan (“land gift”) movement, the CLT structure is rooted in balanced values of collective liberation and redistribution, community ownership of land, and individual liberty and responsibility–a mix well-suited for Mainers seeking social change.

When the time came, two years later, for the JED Collective to organize the purchase of the land they leased from an elder farmer in Greene, a seed was planted: working with many allies, JED members created the Clark Mountain Community Land Trust (CMCLT), a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that subsequently purchased the land through an innovative community financing structure. The intention was that, while fulfilling an immediate need, CMCLT would also be a “living laboratory” from which an expanded future effort could be launched.

This is exactly what happened. Over the ensuing ten years, like a caterpillar transforming inside the cocoon, CMCLT slowly and deliberately built the foundations of a new organizational stage. It acquired significant new conservation land holdings, pursued a number of pilot projects beyond our land in Greene, finalized a 99-year Ground Lease with Wild Mountain Cooperative (formerly JED Collective) built a depth of experience and skill among members of our small, committed, all-volunteer Board, and developed a strategic vision. In 2017, the organization changed its name to Land in Common to signify our launch into the next phase. In the spring of 2019 we hired our first part-time staff person to help lead the process of program and capacity development as we launch into our next phase of work. We have now entered a new phase of growth.

But how we grow is critical. Over the past decade, powered by an all-volunteer group of dedicated people, we have cultivated patience. “The task at hand is urgent,” says a Buddhist teacher, “we must slow down.” And we must listen. Our current leadership emerged from the particular context of our project in Greene, and is made up of white, settler-descended people. To fulfill our mission in a way that is truly accountable to communities most impacted by land injustice, Land in Common must be shaped and run primarily by those whom it seeks to serve – people who have been most directly impacted by land-based injustice. We take this seriously as a call to do the hard work of decolonizing ourselves and our practices, and building ever-stronger relationships of trust and solidarity with leaders and organizers in Maine’s Native, African American, Latinx, new immigrant, and white working-class and low-income communities. We are committed to doing this transformative work by “showing up” to do what is needed, being vulnerable to hard learning, and building earned relationships of trust over time rather than through box-checking tokenism.

There is no doubt that we have a challenging path ahead of us as we transform our organization and our leadership over time and scale our land-care model to multiple parcels throughout Maine. But it is clearer than ever that this work is needed, and we are inspired and energized to pursue it. We invite you to join us!