IOLTA Grantee Preserves North Carolina Land and Farms
According to a recent article by Stateline, rural African American farm families held between 16 million and 19 million acres of farmland in 1910.1 Today, active farm land held by African American farmers amounts to just over 2.5 million acres, a staggering decrease of more than 80%.2 In 2017, just 1.3% of farm producers in the United States were African American.3 Historically, the challenges associated with heirs property as well as a history of discrimination against African Americans, including by the US Department of Agriculture in their handling of requests for farm loans and assistance, contributed significantly to the losses of black-owned land.4
Concerned by the loss of black-owned land in North Carolina, a taskforce convened in 1982 to address the issue. Shortly thereafter, the Land Loss Prevention Project (LLPP) was founded by the North Carolina Association of Black Lawyers to stem the epidemic losses of black land by providing legal support and assistance to black farmers. Over the years, the mission expanded and today LLPP provides such support for all limited resource and financially distressed farmers, homeowners, and landowners across the state. NC IOLTA has provided support for LLPP since the first grants were awarded by the IOLTA program in 1984.
LLPP’s case work is diverse, including agricultural law, real property, consumer protection, wills and estate planning, civil rights, zoning and municipal law, business issues, and bankruptcy when appropriate. Last year, LLPP served nearly 400 clients in 71 out of North Carolina’s 100 counties.
The potential impact of the services provided by LLPP range from the personal and local, like preserving a farm or home for an individual client of limited means who can continue to live and subsist on their own property, to benefits impacting the broader public when families and farm businesses are able to grow and thrive, for example, by providing food and jobs to their communities. In 2018-2019, LLPP preserved land, homes, and farms with a total tax value of $2,915,276. Through the services they received free of charge from LLPP, farmers, homeowners, and landowners obtained more than $2.6 million in debt relief, loan modifications, and awards during the past three state fiscal years.
A recent client story illustrates the impact of services provided by Land Loss Prevention Project. Last year, LLPP worked with the family spokesperson for a group of heirs of family land comprised of 70 acres. The heirs to the property, 73 in number, sought to build a legacy to the deceased family patriarch by making the inherited farmland income-producing for generations to come. LLPP attorneys assisted in refining the terms of the limited liability company’s operating agreement to allow for continuity of family member ownership through the operation of the LLC. Attorneys also drafted deeds to enable each family member to grant their intestate interest in the property to the LLC of which they were all members. With this laborious process complete, the family business now has a platform for eligibility for agricultural programs to grow their business, which they could not have accessed previously. Further, members of the LLC who have limited resources will be able to leverage this family asset to improve their own economic stability and build a community-based business.
In response to the need, LLPP has grown the resources available through their SmartGrowth Business Center, a program that provides business planning services to strengthen farms and farm businesses, and to also prevent problems that routinely lead to farm loss. Services include business entity formation, contractual review, counseling regarding the availability of federal programs and requirements, and risk management education. In addition, through their outreach efforts, LLPP visits communities across the state to share legal information with more than a thousand farmers, landowners, homeowners, and individuals each year at workshops and seminars on various topics of interest.
Over the last few years, LLPP has assisted in the establishment and growth of a farmer’s market in an area designated as a “food desert”—an area with little access to affordable and nutritious food. Now, each Saturday during the season, five or six vendors (mostly small- to medium-sized farms) sell produce and goods at the market to approximately 2,500 visitors per year. Services provided by LLPP included preparation of foundational documents, research and consultation around securing a location for the market, analysis and assistance regarding Internal Revenue Code classification and exemption, and technical assistance supporting an application for free access to the equipment necessary to accept Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits at the market.
For more information about the work of Land Loss Prevention Project, visit their website at landloss.org.
1. April Simpson, Black Farm Families Are Losing Their Land. New State Laws Seek to Help, Governing. Stateline, June 21, 2019, bit.ly/32U1Fwp.
3. United States Department of Agriculture, National Agricultural Statistics Services, 2017 Census of Agriculture, April 2019, ACH17-2, nass.usda.gov/AgCensus.