Share Land!

After we first came to rural New Brunswick in the mid 1990’s, we began to notice a distinct group of people. This group had been part of an exodus from the urban centres in the 70’s and 80’s. They had left behind their upbringings, and were without agricultural or construction skills. They began homesteading and farming, often to the amusement of the local population. I heard stories about men and women plying the roads on bicycles, with long hair and pointy leather shoes. It was an odd and fascinating time, but it represented a potent change to the culture of New Brunswick.

Many of these newcomers brought with them a powerful idealistic outlook. They were part of the pioneers of the organic agriculture movement. They started health food stores, not-for-profits, alternative energy businesses, and tree nurseries. They re-vitalized traditions of timber-framing and wooden boat making, as well as pottery, weaving, musical instrument making, and blacksmithing. They soaked up instruction received from local farmers, and blended it with their own ideas of how to go about things. Their arrival here in rural New Brunswick was a historic event that had a lasting impact on our culture.

In New Brunswick, across Canada, and in other countries, these pioneers are now elders.They are often alone on their farms, their children rarely wishing to remain on the homestead. Yet not all are alone. This same generation of elders was involved with experiments in intentional community building. Though many of the first intentional communities faded in New Brunswick, a number did survive elsewhere. Now fully-rooted, they are home to many people. ‘The Farm’ in Tennessee is one, as well as Findhorn in Scotland, and East Wind in Missouri. The eco-village movement also gave rise to numerous successful efforts here in Canada. These pioneering elders set the foundation for movements of fair access to land and housing and ecological stewardship. Thanks to them for this gift.

We are now witnessing a resurgence in interest in intentional community creation. These new communities are frequently founded by the Millennial generation. As well, people in marginalized groups are leading the charge to make land-access affordable and equitable. We are also becoming more aware of the particulars of the Land Back movement. This helps us better understand our collective future living on Indigenous Territories. The Land Back movement has been clear; they are not advocating for private land to be re-matriated, despite contrary fear-based statements by some politicians. With this renewed interest in progressive models of land engagement, we can consider ‘land sharing’ on private land as one path that could be taken. If we have the privilege of owning land, we can form scenarios where land sharing can happen.

Sharing land can include any number of scenarios. We may invite people to farm or garden on our land freely. We may invite people to freely park their trailer or tiny home. We may invite those new people who live by us to share the burden of paying land taxes. The specifics of sharing are for you to develop. The intent is at the heart of the matter.

The statement, “Grow organic!”, has long given energy to a movement for safe and nutritious food. “Share land!” is a call to provide access to the very earth upon which we depend, without having to open our wallets to do so. “Share Land!” calls into question the purported necessity of commodifying land in order for access. Some are demanding attention to affordable housing… it is in the same spirit we can call for affordable access to land. Free access to land, without discrimination. A house can protect us from the elements, and more, but land can provide for our sustenance, a place to put a house, and so much more.

South Knowlesville Community Land Trust

The idea of sharing land slowly dawned on us, as we gazed out onto an empty, dead-end dirt road, our first children newly born. Who could we visit with here? Who would ride their bikes up and down the road with our children? Who would play music with us on Saturday night? Who would meditate with us on Sunday morning? Who would we have a potluck with? Share plants with? Who would challenge us to mature? Who would teach us our weaknesses and strengths? It was clear our lives would be enriched with neighbours.

How would we share land? At the time, we lived on 2 acres of ‘given’ land – given to us by our neighbour and friend: one acre in exchange for building a porch, another acre simply given.  We built our home, started gardens, and birthed our first babies, without holding title to the land.  We had land access without opening our wallets.  Could this be a model for sharing land with others as well?.  Across the road from us was 49 acres of mixed forest, field and wetland, owned by an older neighbour in Knowlesville.  We called him up and asked if he would consider selling.  He said yes and even allowed us to pay over 3 years to make it attainable.  Now we had land to share with others!

We started talking about sharing land and researching ecovillages.  On a family trip we took the opportunity to visit ecovillages along the way.  We learned some ecovillages become inaccessible as they became established and successful.  Market forces…. speculation… people wanting equity out of their real estate.  The commodification of land has roots in the colonial narrative that Canada and the US perpetuates. We also listened to indigenous elders here on Wolastoqey territory.  We wondered, “What right do we have to profit from selling Mother Earth?”   

We also wondered how we would share land. We decided not to charge for access, but simply welcome newcomers. Who would we allow access to land? Intuition said to have no discrimination for access. How much land would we share? 2.5 acres per household. All capital improvements are owned by the participants, and can be sold upon exit, but the land cannot. This is a work-in-progress. It is not perfect. But, it is growing like wild-fire. The original seven neighbours on our road has increased to 70 in the last sixteen years. They have come here to South Knowlesville  from all over Canada and all over the world. Many take part in the ‘Land Share’, but even more are purchasing land around the Land Share. In part they are attracted to the culture and community, but many also for the small, community-run school in operation here.

We meet monthly, voluntarily, to discuss community business. We share the cost of land taxes, we work to develop communication strategies, and collective management of the common land. The journey has been joyous at times, and very hard at times too. Our lives are full of human love, drama, and gardens. We have been inspired to share this story here, that others might consider sharing their own land in rural New Brunswick. Share land!

Sharing land is not only a call to share with humans – inherent in this call to action is the care and connection that we have to the land itself, and all beings.  We are sharing land with the birds, animals, bugs, fungi, plants, bacteria and all life.  As stewards of land, we have a responsibility and incredible opportunity to live in connection with the land. This is an amazingly rich and nurturing adventure to be on.