Mount Grace Land Conservation Trust receives national honor for work with farming, Indigenous communities

  • Emma Ellsworth accepts the excellence award from Michael Polemis, chair of The Land Trust Alliance, for the Mount Grace Land Conservation Trust’s work with farmers and local Indigenous people. Contributed photo

  • Emma Ellsworth, executive director of Mount Grace Land Conservation Trust, accepted the excellence award from The Land Trust Alliance for Mount Grace’s work with farmers and local Indigenous people. SCREENSHOT

Staff Writer
Published: 10/10/2022 3:29:57 PM
Modified: 10/10/2022 3:29:47 PM

Mount Grace Land Conservation Trust has received the 2022 National Land Trust Excellence Award for its work with farmers and local Indigenous people.

The Land Trust Alliance, a national land conservation organization, informed the Athol-based conservation trust of the honor over the summer, but Executive Director Emma Ellsworth said her organization was asked to keep the news a secret so the Alliance could announce it in September during Rally 2022: The National Land Conservation Conference, billed as the nation’s largest gathering of land conservation leaders.

“I was totally shocked and honored and very grateful,” Ellsworth said about hearing news of the honor.

The award recognizes Mount Grace for its efforts in ensuring access to affordable farmland, barns, greenhouses and housing through its “whole farm forever” approach, and in collaborating with Nipmuk Cultural Preservation, Inc. to co-manage land and assist the tribe with cultural revitalization. During the past year, Mount Grace partnered with the nonprofit organization and together they signed a cultural-use-and-respect agreement that invites tribal members “to the land and reserves them rights beyond those granted to the general public, such as harvesting food and medicine, camping, and holding ceremonies on the land.”

Mount Grace also recently launched a new Climate and Land Justice Program centered around the urgency of climate change and equitable land access for all demographics that have historically been excluded from equitable land ownership.

“Over the last few years, Mount Grace has undertaken a journey to explore the organization’s work using an equity-oriented lens,” said Andrew Bowman, the Land Trust Alliance’s president and CEO. “They are a model for how land trusts can become more engaged and invested in the communities they serve, incorporate Indigenous input into stewardship plans, and develop partnerships built on mutual trust and respect for the land.”

Ellsworth said the recognition feels like a challenge, as the conservation trust has a great deal of crucial work ahead.

“It’s important to pause and honor the moment and breathe, but it’s also important that we keep going,” she said, adding that her organization’s goal is to “keep our farms farms and forests forests.”

Reach Domenic Poli at: or 413-772-0261, ext. 262.

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