In the mid-1970s there was great interest among many women in the lesbian feminist movement in having access to rural land in order to be able to live outside of mainstream patriarchal culture, which was ridden with violence against women, gay people, and the environment. The feminist spirituality movement was also emerging and grounded in reverence for the natural world. Some groups of women traveling or temporarily settled in Oregon, California, and New Mexico were wanting a land-based community where their political and spiritual ideals as lesbians, feminists, and environmentally minded folk could be put into practice. There were a few lands in southern Oregon already owned by feminist lesbians, and some where women lived together collectively but did not own the land. Many women visitors were drawn to the region and wanted to join this exciting and growing community of countrywomen.
It became clear there was a need for land that was accessible to women and children regardless of their financial status. Thus the idea of the Oregon Women’s Land Trust was formed, creating the first women's land trust on the planet! It would be a non-profit organization. The land would be kept forever, and controlled by the women’s community at large. Open Land Trust meetings were held in 1975 and 1976. The idea caught on—money and support were raised by women with varying levels of economic means. Women proposed the idea of each woman contributing ten percent of her money so that there could be a collective commitment to recognize class privilege and to make land available for all women, not just those who could afford it.
In the spring of 1976, a 147-acre piece of land was found in southern Oregon. It had an older log house and two barns. The land was shaped like a bowl with forested hillsides that sloped into a large beautiful meadow. A small year-round creek and spring-fed cistern provided water. At a Land Trust meeting attended by over 100 women, women decided collectively to purchase the land that is now known as OWL Farm. Soon after this meeting, sixteen women met to form the caretaker collective and moved on to the land in July 1976.
At these initial meetings the mission of the Trust and the newly purchased land was established: to provide access to land for women, especially those women who would otherwise be denied access, to hold land with the belief that land exists by its own right, that the women on the land should claim no ownership but rather live collectively and in harmony with the land and each other.
OWL Farm was founded as the first open womyn's land: any woman could come there to live. That policy was in place for 22 years, and was amended in the 1998 to provide for more sustainable care of the land. The Farm has been a home to many women and children over the years —at one point in time over 20 women and children called OWL Farm home. It has also always served as a place of rest, refuge, recreation, and retreat for women visitors and travelers passing through the area. It is a place where women have come together to share skills and labor; where women have come to heal and grow; where women have come to live closer to the earth and its inhabitants.
Living in residential community has often been challenging, and collective living is no longer the only defining model for stewardship of the land. OWLT women holding the land over time have come to understand, as clear cuts destroy adjacent forests: this land endures, and its preservation as sanctuary for women, wildlife, and biodiverse forests is a sacred calling. OWL Farm and the Oregon Women’s Land Trust are incredibly important living pieces of lesbian, feminist, and landdyke herstory, with a mission and promise that stretch into the far future.