Newswire : John Deere pledges support to the Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund’s Heirs’ Property Programs

John Deere tractor

Atlanta, Georgia, January 6, 2020- For almost a century, the number of Black farmers and Black-owned land steadily declined. One of the primary reasons for that decline was and continues to be heirs’ property. More than 60 percent of Black farmers currently operate on heirs’ property. Heirs’ property—land owned by two or more people, usually with a common ancestor who died without leaving a legal will—is the leading cause of involuntary land loss among Black farmers.
John Deere is assisting the Federation of Southern Cooperatives/ Land Assistance Fund—the oldest and largest Black farmer institution and only cooperatively owned organization of Black farmers, landowners and cooperatives in the country—in its efforts to address heirs property and leverage additional expertise and resources around their Regional Heirs’ Property & Mediation Center. The Federation of Southern Cooperatives has been leading grassroots solutions on heirs’ property, land retention and cooperative wealth building in African American communities in the rural south for over 53 years.
“The partnership with The Federation will advance resources that will effectively secure property ownership for Black farmers and their families,” said Marc Howze, Group President, Lifecycle Solutions and Chief Administrative Officer for John Deere. “We have a tremendous opportunity to make an impactful difference in the community.”
“We are pleased to partner with John Deere to help inform and guide their focus, partnerships and resources around heirs’ property,” said Cornelius Blanding, Executive Director of the Federation of Southern Cooperatives/ Land Assistance Fund. “Over the last 53 years, we have identified resource gaps that prevent Black farmers from resolving their heirs’ property issues. Access to trusted and affordable legal assistance in rural communities of color continues to be a significant challenge for Black farmers,” 
One of the goals of the partnership will be to provide more legal resources to help farmers gain clear title to their land. John Deere will provide key investments in the federation’s Legal Internship Program and National Heirs’ Property Conference over the next five years.
“Our commitment signals the beginning of a broader partnership that will unlock the productivity and economic value harnessed in land ownership,” said John C. May, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer for John Deere. 
Access to trusted legal assistance is often the greatest challenge heirs’ property owners face. There is a shortage of trusted attorneys who specialize in handling heirs’ property cases. The Federation has successfully worked with Southern University Law Center and other historically Black law schools to create a pipeline of attorneys who fill this gap. Over the last 53 years, the Federation has provided fertile soil to grow land retention professionals and attorneys. The Federation’s Legal Internship Program has been a successful model to expose law students to heirs’ property issues and prepare them to go into rural communities and provide the legal assistance needed to save Black-owned land.
 
Monica Armster Rainge, the Federation’s Director of Land Retention and Advocacy and an agricultural lawyer, started as a legal intern at the Federation of Southern Cooperatives in 1996. “Law Schools rarely focus on the unique legal issues heirs’ property owners face, so my internship experience with the Federation was an eye-opener. I did not know that this was a career choice with so much opportunity to make a real difference in my community,” said Rainge.
 
Over the years, the Federation has been a training incubator for many of today’s national experts in Black land retention. “We are preparing the next generation of Black lawyers and professionals to meet the growing legal needs in our communities. I am honored to pay my experience forward,” said Rainge.
 
The Federation’s Legal Internship Program provides law students with a twelve (12) week internship opportunity to assist licensed attorneys with land tenure and heirs’ property issues across the Southeastern United States where heirs’ property is most prevalent. Summer legal interns work under the supervision of a staff attorney in (1) researching and clearing property titles, (2) conducting family meetings and conferences, (3) participating in land retention workshops, (4) researching law and updating legal guides and brochures, (5) drafting legal documents including wills and (6) organizing Community Wills Clinics.
In addition to supporting the Legal Internship Program, Deere’s commitment will include a major sponsorship of the Federation’s National Heirs’ Property Conference over the next five years. The National Heirs’ Property Conference known as “FORWARD” is the federation’s largest heirs’ property event of the year. The conference is intentionally designed to empower heirs’ property owners with the strategies and resources they need to clear their title and make their land a wealth-building asset. FORWARD is the nation’s largest gathering of heirs’ property owners and passionate land retention practitioners from across the US. The 2nd Annual National Heirs’ Property Conference was a virtual held on, Dec. 2-4, ,2020. This year’s conference will be held on December 1-3, 2021.
The Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund, entering its 53nd year, assists limited-resource farmers, landowners, and cooperatives across the South with business planning, debt restructuring, marketing expertise, and a whole range of other services to ensure the retention of land ownership and cooperatives as a tool for social and economic justice. The overall mission is to reverse the trend of black land loss and be a catalyst for the development of self-supporting communities via cooperative economic development, land retention and advocacy. More information is available at: http://www.federation.coop.