©1990 Richard Cartwright Austin
The Covenant Community Trust serves not only as the instrument to redistribute lands and free them from debt, it also retains a legal interest on behalf of the land itself and the the biotic community upon it. When the trust deeds lands to individuals or families, it retains 50 percent ownership of the land...although not of buildings or other improvements...as trustee for the nonhuman community upon the tract. Each participating landholder prepares an annual conservation and production plan for review by the trust, and trust representatives periodically inspect landholdings. In cooperation with the colleges, the trust provides training for prospective landholders as well as continuing education and field support in ecology, conservation, forestry, animal health, and other disciplines. Where reclamation and restoration of a healthy ecosystem are particularly difficult, the trust may provide financial assistance to the landholder. Under agreement with each participating landholder, the trust receives 10 percent of all agricultural sales destined for shipment outside the county. After five years' residence, landholders may sell their homes, lands, and other facilities, or portions of them, and may purchase additional lands, but the trust's legal interest in the natural vitality of these lands continues.
That first parcel of lands offered to the trust by the insurance company included farmland of varying quality scattered throughout the county, plus several town and village properties. The trust decided to purchase those lands and other properties, regardless of their quality, that could form the basis for rural neighborhoods, plus properties in Central City near one college or the other. Four potential rural neighborhoods. Land was evaluated for its reclamation requirements and productive potential, and then it was subdivided into small farms that families might tend with simple machinery. Many of these included an existing house either on the land or in a nearby village, some of which would require substantial repair. Other homes and buildings acquired by the trust were designated for mechanics, tradespeople, and professionals who might contribute to the neighborhood culture and economy. When established county residents who were threatened with foreclosure asked for assistance, the trust attempted to purchase their farms for a fair price regardless of the location, assuring the owners that after retraining they might return to their former homestead. In the case of a few large farms, however, the trust insisted before purchase that it be allowed to subdivide portions for other homesteaders. When local people who had previously lost their farms asked to join the Covenant Community, they were given preference, and a few were even reestablished on the land they had once tilled.
The trust advertised, both locally and in national journals, that rural homesteads were available to those who were ready to commit themselves to an experimental community. All participants were required to spend a year in residence at Central College for orientation and training, and then work a five-year apprenticeship on the land before they received title to their property. Those having means paid for their training, land, and home as they were able, while others received training and homestead without cost. When the popular media picked up the news, applications flooded in. This enabled the Covenant Community, from the beginning, to select diverse and promising participants.
Even local residents who wished to participate were required to let their farms grow fallow for a year and to move with their families into the college housing. This requirement was resented at first, but it quickly proved a saving grace for the program. Men and women, many of them middle-aged, halted patterns of work that had become inflexible and began to think more seriously about their lives and their environment, while the opportunity for locals and newcomers to get acquainted on campus was indispensable preparation for the cooperation they would need to exhibit in the neighorhood communities to be developed. Participants shared a core curriculum on homesteading techniques, environmental science, community relations, practical economics, and biblical covenant ethics. They also chose among specialized courses in such practical fields as carpentry, ironwork, engine repair, forestry, plant genetics, animal husbandry, and intensive gardening, as well as liberal studies in religion, literature, the arts, and political science. Some participants arrived with specialized training and experience, while a few were able to study longer than a year before taking up their homestead. All learned that regular, continuing education would be important to their covenant commitment. By the end of each year a few had dropped out and a few more had to be screened out, but usually three-quarters or more were ready to affirm the covenant and take up their homesteads.