LiKEN has completed a study that evaluates the efficacy of a major law that seeks to protect families that own heirs’ property. Heirs’ property is created when land passes without a will to two or more descendants who become “tenants in common”. This kind of “tangled title” can make families vulnerable to predatory land grabs. Across the Cotton Belt of the U.S. South, heirs’ property correlates with low wealth and land loss in African American communities and is common in other regions with entrenched poverty (Central Appalachia, the colonias in southern Texas, and Native American communities)..
As an effort to help preserve family wealth and reduce the likelihood of forced sales and inequitable land grabs, the Uniform Partition of Heirs’ Property Act (UPHPA) was drafted in 2010. It has since been passed in 18 states and introduced in seven others. In 2012 and 2014, Georgia and Alabama, respectively, passed the UPHPA. The act was introduced in Kentucky in early 2021.
LiKEN just completed a 10 month study to see how well this law has worked in Georgia and Alabama, and what its benefits might be in Kentucky. The full report can be downloaded here.
We welcome your suggestions and hope that if you are interested in learning more about this project, please contact Carson Benn email@example.com. If you are an heirs’ property owner, you may assist this research by agreeing to an interview with one of our researchers, or by making and sharing your own photographs and video recordings.
This research was supported by funds from the Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers Policy Research Center.
LiKEN & Martin County Concerned Citizens seek Community Engagement Coordinator
Posted: June 4, 2021 Application deadline: June 25, 2021 or until position is filled
We seek a full-time community organizer to work on community development projects in eastern Kentucky. The position will be based primarily in Martin and surrounding counties. The initial contract will be for one year, with the potential to become a permanent position.
Job Description: We are looking for an energetic individual with a passion to contribute to the wellbeing of communities in eastern Kentucky. We seek someone who enjoys working with people. A key responsibility will be to organize outreach and recruit participants in various community development projects. Your role will be to motivate and support people as they come together to identify needs and to solve problems in their locales. You will play an essential role in building effective communication and collaboration among diverse partners in this work — including community members and nonprofits, local and state officials, and researchers. Your first responsibility is to listen deeply to the diverse perspectives within the communities you serve. Other responsibilities will be to conduct educational and planning workshops, write reports, and to build leadership and skills among project participants. In 2021-22, this job will focus on projects to improve the safety and affordability of drinking water and to document problems of heirs’ property (e.g., land that has been passed on without a will to multiple descendents) across many counties in eastern KY.
Background: This position is co-managed by Martin County Concerned Citizens (MCCC) and the Livelihoods Knowledge Exchange Network (LiKEN). MCCC is a grassroots organization based in Inez, KY. Its mission is to help the citizens of Martin County in their pursuit of safe, reliable, and affordable drinking water and to give them a voice in their own community. LiKEN is a linktank, based in Lexington, KY www.likenknowledge.org. LiKEN’s mission is to help communities to grow good livelihoods based on local assets, to build community health and wealth, and to take evidence-based action for future well-being based on deep understanding of the past. We work on projects to protect and care for resources that people depend on for basic life needs — such as safe and affordable water, healthy forests and food, vibrant culture, equitable and dependable access to land and public revenues, etc.
Recruit new project participants
Plan and implement action plans
Train members in organizing and leadership skills
Communicate clearly, both orally and in writing
Plan and generate turnout for events
Help members in their contacts with public officials and researchers and help to translate between, and overcome miscommunication among, community members, officials, and researchers
A self-starter with the ability to work independently, think strategically, and be organized in a fast paced work environment
Demonstrated experience in bringing people together and guiding them towards collective action
Ability to complete complex assignments in a timely manner, to conduct research with accuracy and attention to details, and to document activities adequately for other team members
Strong speaking and writing skills
Skills in conflict resolution
Familiarity with computers and Microsoft Office
Commitment to MCCC and LiKEN’s goals and values
Ability to get along well with people from diverse backgrounds
Kind, empathic, and community-oriented
Desire to seek out and learn from feedback
Respectful of human differences and non judgemental
Ability to work some evenings and weekends, and to occasionally travel out of town for 3-4 days at a time
Residence in one of the counties served by our projects
Personal and / or family roots in, and first-hand experience of Appalachian KY, and a good understanding of the region’s history and issues
Experience with online organizing and outreach tools
College-level courses in Appalachian Studies as well as courses in water or other environmental or natural sciences
Salary and Benefits:
Starting salary $31k-$38k, depending on experience. Benefits include health insurance coverage, two weeks’ paid vacation, retirement program.
Application must include: cover letter (tell us why you are interested in the job), resume, contact information for 3 professional references
Send application materials to: Betsy Taylor, firstname.lastname@example.org.
All documents should be in either Microsoft Word (.doc or .docx) or Adobe Acrobat (.pdf).
A project of the Livelihoods Knowledge Exchange Network (LiKEN)
In May 2020, LiKEN initiated a project to develop educational materials about agroforestry in Central Appalachia. With funding from the National Agroforestry Center of the US Forest Service, this project will not only identify and encourage successful practitioners in our region, but help develop connections between communities, landholders and service providers to help guide new agroforesters, whether that be through linking practitioners with apprentices, identifying land access opportunities, or through the development of compelling narratives of success. Our new LiKENeer, Chris Burney, directs this project, which is part of our emerging Appalachian Mother Forest project.
What exactly is agroforestry?
Agroforestry is generally described as ecologically sustainable land-use practices that incorporate tree crops with agricultural crops and/or livestock. The USDA defines agroforestry in terms of its five practices and the four I’s. The five main practices of agroforestry are:
Forest farming – growing food, herbal, botanical, or decorative crops under a forest canopy;
Alley cropping – crops between rows of trees to provide income while the trees mature;
Silvopasture – combining trees and livestock on one piece of land;
Riparian buffers – natural or re-established areas along rivers and streams made up of trees, shrubs, and grasses;
Windbreaks that shelter crops, animals, buildings, wildlife, and soil from wind, snow, dust, and odors.
These practices can be found in many ancient, traditional, and Indigenous systems which have provided human sustenance for millenia while stewarding land, trees, and biodiversity. So, in some ways, scientific agroforestry is just catching up with past wisdom. Contemporary research shows that the above practices can increase long-term production, while benefiting local ecologies. When looking for agroforestry practices, though they may not be termed as such in everyday language, we look for what are called the ‘four I’s’ of agroforestry; practices that are intentional, intensive, integrated and interactive.
Case studies and videos for farmers
To reach diverse audiences, we will produce materials in diverse formats:
To inspire farmers who are considering transitioning to agroforestry, this project will produce six case studies of highly successful agroforestry ventures from across Appalachian Virginia, West Virginia, and Ohio. Each case study will describe challenges, costs, and rewards experienced by individuals over the years involved in their transition into forest farming and economic growth.
We will also develop videos that can be shared over diverse platforms to attract new farmers, especially youth. Short educational videos will focus on topics that producers identify as most useful for beginners in agroforestry, from land access to planting and sales.
Testimonial videos will document traditional Appalachian practices that reflect rich knowledge about the remarkable biodiversity of this ancient temperate rainforest. How are growers and producers engaging and fostering non-timber forest products, including understory botanicals, mushrooms, fruit, nut, and syrup producing trees? What forms of traditional knowledge, tools, and management may be used to encourage pollinators, and harness aspects of distinctively Central Appalachian forest habitats, including streams, soils, and characteristic features such as coves, hollows, and bottomland for the production of crops and game animals?
This project will also reach out to service providers (extension agents, non-profits, etc.) as they help landowners make decisions about the sustainable management of their forests, opportunities for income generation and sustainable livelihoods. We will develop briefing papers about scenarios for multistory forest farming adapted to two economic, ecological, and physiographic subregions that reflect current farming communities across Central Appalachia.
Some scenarios will focus on mid-size farms in highly rural, primarily agricultural communities with stressed, overused soil and watersheds.
Other scenarios will focus on Appalachian cove forests and small landholders in historically coal-dependent areas with pockets of less disturbed land with high biodiversity arising from microclimate, rich cove soil, and abundant waters.
The project is directed by LiKENeer Chris Burney (who is also completing a PhD in Plant and Soil Sciences at West Virginia University) in collaboration with Dr. Tom Hammett (Sustainable Biomaterials, Virginia Tech), Dr. Mary Hufford (LiKEN Associate Director and visiting professor in Folklore, Ohio State University), Dr. Betsy Taylor (LiKEN Executive Director), and Dr. James Thompson (Plant and Soil Sciences, West Virginia University). Ruby Daniels (LiKEN Community Engagement Coordinator), retired school teacher Wilma Steele, retired coal miner Terry Steele, Sprouting Farms, Yew Mountain Center, and Future Generations University are playing key roles in outreach and gathering of feedback from diverse stakeholders and networks.
Contact for more information…
We welcome your suggestions and hope that if you are interested in learning more about this project you may contact Chris Burney, email@example.com or visit the LiKEN website www.likenknowledge.org If you are a farmer, you may assist this research by agreeing to an interview and a walking tour of your agroforestry plots with one of our researchers, or by making and sharing your own photographs and video recordings.
A project of the Livelihoods Knowledge Exchange Network (LiKEN)
Heirs’ property is created when land passes without a will to two or more descendants who become “tenants in common” of the property. This kind of “tangled title” can make families vulnerable. Land speculators can acquire a small share of the property and force a partition sale, often far below fair market value. Extensive research across the Cotton Belt of the U.S. South has found that heirs’ property correlates with low wealth in African American communities. The U.S. Department of Agriculture considers heirs’ property to be the leading cause of African American involuntary land loss. Heirs’ property also seems to be common in other regions with entrenched poverty (Central Appalachia, the colonias in southern Texas, and Native American communities) but only a few scholars have studied the issue in these communities. Heirs’ property has been called “the worst problem you never heard of”.
In October 2020, LiKEN began a project investigating heirs’ property occurrence and the experiences of heirs’ property owners in selected counties of Alabama, Georgia, and eastern Kentucky. This project is supported by funds from the Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers Policy Center at Alcorn State University in Mississippi. In Alabama and Georgia, this project will assess outcomes of the Uniform Partition of heirs’ Property Act (UPHPA) by looking at changes in partition sales since the passing of the act and by talking to local officials, lawyers, and heirs’ property-owning families. In the selected eastern Kentucky counties, the project will estimate the frequency of heirs’ property and speak with heirs’ property owners to gain an understanding of their experiences and perceptions related to heirs’ property.
How heirs’ property creates household vulnerability
The “clouded title” associated with heirs’ property can result in a variety of issues for landowners. Lack of clear title makes it difficult for an heirs’ property owner to make improvements to their property because they must obtain permission from all the other heirs. Depending on how many heirs there are, a number which can increase rapidly with successive generations, getting a consensus from all owners can be a nearly insurmountable obstacle. Clouded title also eliminates the option of using land and buildings as collateral on loans. In the event of a disaster, clouded title can make it impossible to access relief and resources.
Another major risk heirs’ property owners face is the possibility of a forced partition sale. If one heir wants to sell the property, a judge may order a partition sale, even if all the owners are not in agreement. Over the past several decades, speculators and developers have taken advantage of this legal practice by buying one owner’s share of an heirs’ property, forcing the sale of the entire property, and buying it, often at a low cost. In the 19th and 20th centuries, coal speculators in Appalachia took advantage of the vulnerability of households with clouded titles. More recently, African American communities in coastal Georgia and South Carolina have lost family lands to developers seeking to profit from the tourism economy of the region. In already socially and economically disadvantaged communities, these challenges further dampen prospects for sustainable well-being and security.
Policy solutions: a beginning
As an effort to help preserve family wealth and reduce the likelihood of partition sales, the Uniform Partition of Heirs’ Property Act (UPHPA) was drafted in 2010. It has since been passed in 17 states and introduced in six others. In 2012 and 2014, Georgia and Alabama, respectively, passed the UPHPA. The act has not yet been introduced in Kentucky. Virginia enacted the UPHPA in 2020 (the only Central Appalachian state to do so). It was introduced in the West Virginia legislature in 2020.
This project seeks first to evaluate the impact of the UPHPA on both the number and rate of partition sales and on the actors involved in these sales in Georgia and Alabama. The project will assess court-level impressions of how the act has worked to influence partition by sale versus partition in kind (or other means) in Georgia and Alabama. We will also assess the frequency and impact of heirs’ property in Kentucky – a state that has not adopted the UPHPA. In Kentucky, we hope to communicate our findings on the nature and impact of heirs’ property to catalyze public conversation about the UPHPA.
The project is directed by LiKENeer Megan White in collaboration with co-Principal Investigators, Dr. Cassandra Johnson Gaither (Social Scientist, U.S. Forest Service) and Dr. Betsy Taylor (LiKEN Executive Director). This project spans across several communities and requires expertise in multiple areas. The core advisory group, made up of Mary Cromer (Appalachian Citizens’ Law Center), Joe Childers (Childers & Baxter, PLLC), Brady Deaton (Univ of Guelph), Dr. Aaron Guest (Arizona State Univ), and Putnam LaBarre (Oscar P. LaBarre LLC), provide legal and methodological expertise. Advisors on other targeted areas of the project include Marty Newell (Center for Rural Strategies), Dr. Simona Perry (c.a.s.e. Consulting Services), Dr. Karen Rignall (UnivKY), Sarah Stein (Federal Reserve of Atlanta), and Dr. Robert Zabawa (Tuskegee University). We will be working collaboratively with the Appalachian Land Study collective.
Contact for more information…
We welcome your suggestions and hope that if you are interested in learning more about this project you will contact Megan White, firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit the LiKEN website www.likenknowledge.org. If you are an heirs’ property owner in any of the counties listed above, you may assist this research by agreeing to an interview with one of our researchers, or by making and sharing your own photographs and video recordings.
Watch for more publications from us!
We will regularly produce educational materials about heirs’ property in general, and our findings in particular — on LiKEN’s new “Popular Education page”. Please stay tuned for upcoming webinars, issue briefings, research reports, infographics, etc.