Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Keep your land.

I’ve written before about my great-great-grandfather Griffin Henry Belk. He had been enslaved and after his freedom was acknowledged, he spent several years searching in vain for his parents. Eventually, he settled on 160 acres of land in Ozan, Arkansas that he purchased for $11 (that’s right, eleven dollars). His descendents still own the land we call the Belk Estate. My mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother were born there. Now that I’m back in Arkansas, I look forward to visiting this spring. I haven’t been there since I was a child, though I clearly remember the pond and forests that cover much of the land. My grandmother always talked lovingly of the five acres she grew up on.

You don’t have to read much of this blog to recognize that I generally think it’s better that resources are spread among many people rather than being concentrated among just a few. For that reason, I am a big promoter of people keeping their family land. It can be a challenge as families grow in size and members move away and lose contact and interest in the land and the taxes associated with it. But given the history behind the land and its value, it can make even more sense to keep it and make it useful. Here are some resources to help you do just that:

* Get in touch with land preservation organizations like the Federation of Southern Cooperatives
Land Assistance Fund or the Arkansas Land & Farm Development Corporation that can help you keep your land. They may be able to help you use land trusts, and other legal tools to help maintain your interest in the land.

* Visit the Forestry Service (or similar office) in your state. Many of them have programs designed to help people develop uses for their land (cutting timber, starting an organic farm, opening a campground, etc.) that can provide income to pay the taxes.

* Talk to your neighbors. If you all are in similar straights you may be able to work together to keep your land. For example, the members of the Sapelo Island Cultural and Revitalization Society were able to get zoning regulations instituted that favored them keeping their land as homesteads rather than allowing massive development on their high value (and gorgeous) land.

* Talk to your relatives. Some of them may not even know about the land. Others may have interesting ideas about how to use it. I know of a family in Arkansas that built several cabins on their land. They use them for family vacations and rent them out to others who want to visit or have a gathering. You may be surprised at the options. Be sure to talk about them all before you sell, because it’s hard to get it back once it’s gone.

Land is a limited resource, so it would probably be better if no one owned it. But since that's the model we're using, it's better that many of us have a share and that we use it wisely and sustainably.

"Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony." - Mahatma Gandhi


Karama said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Karama said...

Please help Heirs of Arkansas pass the Heir Property Act in Arkansas in 2015.