Restoring the Southeast and Sustaining Farmland Towards the Future - American Farmland Trust

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Restoring the Southeast and Sustaining Farmland Towards the Future

Courtney Owens, AFT’s new Southeast regional director pictured here during his time on a Peace Corps assignment in Burkina Faso, West Africa.

My earliest interactions with agriculture started back in North Carolina where farming was always visible, but the connection and influence on the land didn’t yet have bearing on my life. It was not until years later when I joined the Peace Corps that I gained appreciation and respect for the land.

During my Peace Corps assignment in Burkina Faso, West Africa, I embraced the power of agriculture and the role it plays in enhancing lives, strengthening communities, and providing a viable resource within a region. I had the opportunity to work with cotton farmers, helping them with sustainable agricultural practices, and provide technical assistance to minority women farmers to help them with deforestation issues around wood-burning stoves. Since then, I have gained a passion for educating farmers, helping them achieve their goals through the adoption of pertinent agricultural practices and technologies that enable them to be successful and protect farmland.

Throughout my career, I have worked with marginalized audiences, evaluating their needs and barriers to the adoption of crucial agriculture technology while developing and tailoring quality programming to fit their needs. Before working at AFT, I spent 15 years working with minority-serving institutions that specialize in such training through nonformal education to farmers, families, and underrepresented audiences. These past 15 years have prepared me for my new role as Southeast regional director with American Farmland Trust.

As AFT’s Southeast regional director, I am leading our work in five southeastern states: North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Kentucky, and Tennessee. I would like to provide farmers, landowners, and others with the opportunity to learn about and join AFT in our organization’s efforts and help maximize our impact. I also want to build new relationships with stakeholders from across the farming, food, environment and community interests to help preserve and protect Southeast farmland in the region.

My vision for the Southeast region consists of many different facets. AFT is nationally recognized for its contributions across the United States to, “save the land that sustains us by protecting farmland, promoting sound farming practices, and keeping farmers on the land.” In my role as Southeast regional director, I plan to continue this work and:

  • Expand initiatives that are making an impact like Women for the Land that helps women adopt soil health and improve conservation practices and strengthen the future for farming.
  • Raise awareness of regenerative agriculture through programs like the Kentucky Commercial Rye Cover Crop Initiative that demonstrate the importance of maintaining and building the overall health of the soil by using cover crops.
  • Initiate Smart Solar ℠ by partnering to promote best practices for implementing future solar farms while intentionally protecting agricultural lands and prioritizing farmer interests to promote a more equitable, ethical, and inclusive process for solar development.

Ensure that farmers can transfer their land to the next generation as average farmer ages increase. The Southeast has already developed a Georgia transfer guide to help older farmers achieve this goal and protect the land for the next generation.

Future programs in the Southeast look to leverage non-profits and land-grant university partners working with Black, Indigenous, and People of Color; women; immigrants; small-scale and limited-resource farmers; people with disabilities; and LGBTQI+ communities to sustain and protect farmers. In addition to supporting farm families, I want to increase education through programming on Heirs property issues to further strengthen a new beginner pipeline of farmers.

Moving forward, AFT’s Southeast region will ramp up new regional programs that focus on climate- smart agriculture, work with minority producers to increase access to USDA programs and services, and give AFT the platform to enhance farmland protection and stewardship through programming specifically designed for the Southeast region. I also look forward to having more in-depth round table discussions about access to land and identifying potential barriers to farmers staying on the land.

AFT has a long-standing history of developing policies that support conservation practices, and these programs still exist throughout the United States today. These efforts are critical as shown by AFT’s Farms Under Threat 2040 report that projected the Southeast would lose another 3.9 million acres of farmland by 2040. It is essential that individuals within and outside agriculture understand the importance of protecting and sustaining Southeast farmland, especially so they can make informed decisions about future development.

I look forward to enlarging AFT’s reach and engaging farmers in the Southeast. I have confidence that our efforts can benefit agricultural producers in the Southeast and help expand the impact of our partners in the region.

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About the Author
Courtney Owens Ph.D.

Southeast Regional Director


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