With the changing of the season, families join each other around the table for the holidays. From one generation to another, the hand of time and the values held most dear are transferred through stories and days spent on the land. From the moist smell of the soil to the vibrant fall colors to the drifting and settling of leafs on the forest floor, the cycle of life is on vivid display, not just in nature but also within families across our countryside.
For those who live in the country, we look to the land as what binds us. It is where roots and values are laid down. From the land, our character springs forth. Whether we ride horses, farm or enjoy the recreational aspects, we do what we do because we simply love our land.
Our ownership and sense of stewardship are closely held notions. However, the millennial generation, while talented, poses real challenges for both the land and the question — who will be the next generation of stewards that carry on the work of the previous ones.
For hundreds of years, land ownership has been a revolutionary idea. In fact, our sense of natural rights, as opposed to civil ones, springs from land as owned property. And in the 1660s, William Petty put in motion a radical idea that land should be treated as a form of capital and that the only way to unlock its value was through labor.
But over time, from one generation to another both capitalism and natural rights are increasingly seen as divorced from the land. Maybe these sentiments are merely a reflection of the current migration to the cities. We are witnessing what many call the Urbanocene. For the first time in history, more than 50% of the world’s population now lives in cities. To live in the city means most of the inhabitants live in structures where their feet do not touch the ground easily. This suspended detachment is furthered by grocery stores where one can sustain life without harvest.
The millennial generation is one that flocks to the city, wants free access to WiFi and prefers Uber to owning a car. In fact, the car may be a precursor to what lies ahead for land ownership. Land to this generation means precious dollars, time and a lack of mobility to roam the city and partake in bustling energy and flow of information pulsating throughout the city. While these are generalizations and do not fit all members of this generation, naturally, they are important realities to consider when we ask who is going to be the next generation of stewards. If not them, who? And with what resources?
In my recent travels around the country, this is the topic tugging at the minds and hearts of the current patriarchs. And with this comes the worry and fear that when land transfers, the new owners will break up and sell off the land. As land is broken up, so are the biodiversity corridors that have been stitched together through the toil, sweat, and blood of the previous generation. A loss of biodiversity corridors is relevant as many believe we have entered into the Sixth Extinction phase and are at the precipitous of global danger. Whether this is correct or not I will leave for others and another time to debate.
But like the cycling of life, hope springs forth. There are new tools and strategies that go beyond traditional conservation easements and measures. Our company, ACRE Investment Management, in The Plains, VA is developing, deploying and implementing these tools and strategies on private lands throughout Virginia and around the country.
The focus of this column is to share the stories and explain the expanding toolbox available to landowners and how this relates to a variety of local measures. I call this column The Fence Post for a reason. A fence post is where neighbor joins neighbor in conversations and where information transfers happen.
It is my sincere hope that a new notion will take hold where the expansion of this toolbox is merely an exercise in the widening of one’s perspective. One that recognizes and unlocks the flows of natural capital on your land, where the lifting and enhancing of those values can endow your land and set the table for the enjoyment and sense of wonder and liberty that springs forth through land ownership.
So lean in, do I have a story to tell you!
Chandler Van Voorhis is the Co-founder and Managing Partner of ACRE Investment Management (www.acre-investment.com), recipient of the 2002 ChevronTexaco Conservation Award and a member of the Outdoor Writers Association of America.