Okra Paradise Farms is disappointed in farmer Bill Gates 2021-06-08

Okra Paradise Farms doesn’t always get into national news, but when we do it’s about Bill Gates.

April Glaser, NBC News, 8 June 2021, updated 9 June 2021, McDonald’s french fries, carrots, onions: all of the foods that come from Bill Gates farmland: Gates does not appear to count his farming investments as the nation’s largest farmland owner as part of his broader strategy to save the climate.

The story goes into some detail about how a few big corporate farmland owners crowd out small farmers. She didn’t go for my comparison to Wal-Mart, and I suppose my comparison to the Highland Clearances was a bit too obscure, but she got the point and backed it up with documentation.

Then there’s this part:

“Shell of a shell of a shell”

Public records suggest Cascade Investments has bought its farmland through a web of at least 22 limited liability shell companies across the country. These shell companies have made it difficult to find out where and how much farmland the Gateses own even for local farmers, like John S. Quarterman, a farmer and landowner who grows okra, corn, squash and other vegetables in Lowndes County on the southern edge of Georgia.

[John Quarterman on his farm in Lowndes County, Ga. Matt Odom / for NBC News]
John Quarterman on his farm in Lowndes County, Ga. Matt Odom / for NBC News

That’s where the Gateses began buying land in 2013 through two limited liability corporations registered to an address in Kirkland by Derek Yurosek, then head of agriculture operations for Cascade.

When Quarterman first heard about Gates’ firm buying land in the area, he began digging through local property records, linking addresses and business records from registered owners to Kirkland-based companies, until he was able to piece together that the companies buying multiple tracts of land in the Suwannee River Basin were all a “shell of a shell of a shell company investing for Bill Gates.” NBC News’ independently confirmed that there were, in fact, shell companies tracing back to Gates’ firm that purchased 6,021 acres across four counties in Georgia.

That includes a couple of counties in the Altamaha River Basin, where he grows onions, and Lowndes and Echols Counties in the Suwannee River Basin, where he started his buying spree with the Coggins Carrot Farm.

In Georgia and Florida, NBC News independently confirmed through research of property records that the Gateses’ investment firm owns more than 7,000 acres through two limited liability companies, Lakeland Sands and Lakeland Sands Florida, LLC. Both companies were founded in 2012 with the same address as Cascade Investments in Kirkland, which later changed its mailing address to a Louisiana post office box assigned to Oak River Farms, another subsidiary of Cascade.

NBC News also found that another 6,500 acres in north Florida are owned by yet another company, Suwannee River Terra, which was also started with an address in Kirkland and an email address from the Bill and Melinda Gates Investment Firm, which is now registered to the current chief counsel of Oak River Farms with a mailing address in Kansas, according to property records.

In every state where the Gateses own land, a tangled web of locally registered limited liability companies follow. While those companies don’t explicitly name Cascade Investments as the owner in their public records, they do share the address of Cascade in Kirkland, Washington, or the address of a Cascade subsidiary, list the names of Cascade employees who registered the companies and sometimes even email addresses from the Bill and Melinda Gates Investment Group.

Actually, I think there are LLCs involved that do not have addresses of Cascade Investments. I had to trace the chain through Chicago to start with. But the main point is in the story, of shells within shells like Russian nesting dolls.

There’s more in the story. I do not subscribe to its conclusion that it will take Gates-size swathes of land to sequester enough carbon to deal with the climate crisis. Lots of small farmers would be much better. But otherwise it’s a good story.

See also the part with me in my other hat as Suwannee Riverkeeper.