Land Access: Strategies

We know that the conventional equation for land access: “Marry it or inherit it” doesn’t work for all people. Here we have collected, interpreted and listed a number of useful strategies for land access. Each of these strategies represents a unique formula reflecting the needs of its stakeholders, their financial, technical and social contexts. Consider this a dataset of possibilities, a colorful palette of options to broaden your own strategic thinking about land access. Or as an alphabet that can teach you about the various contexts and kinds of arrangements that are possible.  Some of these are quite wild and experimental, some of them are Plain Jane—- we chose them because they seem to be working, on the ground, in practice. If you’ve heard of other wonderful ways farmers you know have gained durable land tenure, please email us and we’ll investigate their strategy.

Proposed Strategy: Life Lease for Land Donors

I think there are older people who would donate their land to a Community Land Trust (CLT) if they could remain living in their house for as long as possible. In essence, they are making the bequest before they die so the land can be put to work as soon as possible. This could help reduce their living expenses and the requirements of ownership and upkeep.

The CLT would accept the gift of their land and give the donor a lifetime lease of the house. The donor or the donor’s heir could benefit from tax deductions resulting from the donation. When the donor dies or moves out, the house could then be donated to the CLT. Or the house could be sold to a new leaseholder and the donor or the donor’s heirs could receive the proceeds from the sale.

In the case where the person cannot afford to donate because they have a mortgage, the CLT could pay off the mortgage as the purchase price of the property, which is most likely to be less than the value of the land. This is where the endowment becomes essential. But perhaps it can be maximized through this approach rather than purchasing land at market value.

This model could work for farmland, but also for land for housing, business or industry. I am pitching this as conservation of developed land to ensure future generations have access to the strategic land assets that power a local economy. Conservation of developed land protects resources essential to the economy similar to the way conservation of undeveloped land protects resources essential to the environment. We need both.

This model applies to me. I am 60, a widow with no heirs and living on a 32-acre farm which I am less and less able to work as time goes on. My mortgage is about 25% of the value of the property. It would be quite a good deal for the CLT to purchase my land at the price of my mortgage. Then the CLT could lease the working portion of the farm to a farmer. Another house could be built on the land, or perhaps the farmer would already have a home. I could live in my house until I need to sell it or I die. If I sold the house to a new leaseholder, the sale price would be based on the restricted resale terms in the  ground lease.

I know there are many people in situations like mine, people without heirs sitting on land. Or people with heirs who do not need or want the land. We just need to do one high profile deal that gets a lot of publicity so word gets out that this is a way for seniors to create sustainable community for future generations. A sort of living bequest. A regenerative approach.

Creativity: Black U.S. Farmers Employ Numerous Strategies to Maintain Land Ownership and Farm Operating Independence

Black farmers have developed countless creative and enduring responses to the challenges of discrimination and disinvestment in US agriculture. Far too many of the initiatives led by Black farmers in the past did not thrive due in part to a hostile social and political climate that devalued and discouraged their efforts. The continued work of organizations such as the Federation of Southern Cooperatives helps ensure that the innovative approaches to land ownership and agricultural production developed by Black farmers will be recognized and documented, as well as carried forward by future generations. We still have much to learn from the history of Black farmers in America.

Compiled by Sam Hyson and Jean Willoughby

RECONSTRUCTION AND EARLY 20th CENTURY

In the wake of the Civil War, ambitious land reform plans were quickly abandoned, and most Black farmers ended up as tenants or sharecroppers (with a negligible difference between the two). Loans for farm supplies secured with crop liens put many farmers, both Black and White, into a persistent state of debt. As early as the 1870s, Black farmers banded together informally to withstand pressures to sell their crops cheaply.

Between 1886 and 1932, several types of initiatives promoted Black independent farming:

  • Education. The Second Morrill Act of 1980 and the work of Booker T. Washington increased Black access to agricultural education.
  • Cooperatives and unions. In the 1880s and 90s, the Farmers Alliance was an important cooperative movement. A branch called the Colored Farmers’ National Alliance and Cooperative Union (CFNACU) was started in 1886, and it helped members pay land mortgages, and in 1891, organized a general cotton harvest strike. The Knights of Labor also recruited sharecroppers. Robert Lloyd Smith organized the Farmers’ Improvement Society of Texas (FIST) in 1890, a movement for Black cooperatives, which by 1900 had 86 branches in Texas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas. Outside the Alliance and Fist, informal cooperatives and church associations predominated, because formal Black cooperatives were not tolerated.
  • Land purchase and resale projects. Booker T. Washington helped raise capital for several land purchasing and settlement projects, including the Southern Improvement Company (SIC), started in 1901, which purchased and subdivided a 4,000-acre tract of land, and the Tuskegee Farm and Improvement Company (Baldwin Farms), a 1,800-acre tract purchased in 1914. These projects did not achieve long-term success partly because they were too dependent on the volatile cotton market.
  • Farm diversification and self-sufficiency. Booker T. Washington influenced the development of the Black extension agent service, led by his former student Thomas M. Campbell. Black extension agents promoted home gardening, crop diversification, and food preservation, which made Black farmers more self-sufficient. This strategy had both an immediate and lasting impact.

THE GREAT DEPRESSION AND THE NEW DEAL

The onset of the Depression in 1933 led to a more interventionist role of government in agriculture. The Federal Farm Board was established in 1929 coordinate agricultural organizations including cooperatives. The Agricultural Adjustment Act (AAA) of 1933 controlled the price of cotton, causing displacement of Black and White tenants and sharecroppers. Black farmers were often excluded from AAA programs to facilitate land ownership. However, some displaced sharecroppers and tenants were helped to become independent farmers by programs of the Resettlement Administration and the Farm Security Administration (FSA). These programs lent money for purchase of farmland and machinery, and also promoted and operated farming cooperatives, including land-lease cooperatives, which leased plantations which were subdivided and subleased to family farmers. The FSA also implemented land purchasing programs similar to Booker T. Washington’s. FSA programs for farm ownership and cooperative development were phased out after 1941, but the majority of the cooperatives organized by such programs endured until the rural exodus of the 1950s.

THE CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT

Interracial tension during the Civil Rights Movement induced many Black farmers to form cooperatives. Some cooperatives were started in response to discrimination and boycotts against farmers who were members of the NAACP. One of the most politically active and widely publicized Black cooperatives formed in the late 1960s was the South West Alabama Farmers Cooperative Association (SWAFCA). The Southern Cooperative Development Program (SCDP) and the Federation of Southern Cooperatives (FSC) were founded in 1967; they assisted farming cooperatives and provided a wide range of services to Southern farmers. The Emergency Land Fund (ELF) was organized in 1971 to assist Black farmers in Mississippi and Alabama with land retention. In 1977, ELF received federal funding to establish land cooperatives that functioned similar to credit unions. In 1985, FSC and ELF merged as FSC / LAF (Land Assistance Fund), which continued to establish cooperatives.

RECENT DEVELOPMENTS

In the early 2000s, FSC / LAF included approximately 75 cooperatives and credit unions. Most of the Southern cooperatives had fewer than 30 members. Many Black farmer cooperatives are moving towards producing high-value crops like pecans and value-added products such as sauces. A major challenge of cooperatives is to increase profitability enough to attract young farmers. Consolidation and regional organization of cooperatives may also be an effective strategy to increase profitability. (The New North Florida Cooperative exemplifies this approach.) Lastly, the USDA’s Rural Business-Cooperative Services (RBS) assists farmers involved in cooperatives and it has established 20 cooperative development assistance centers.

 

An Independent National Model: The National Trust of England

The National Trust of England is the country’s largest owner of farmland. Agricultural land is one aspect of the organization’s conservation goals. Established in the late 1800s, with a vision for preserving the nation’s heritage and open spaces, the charity organization has continued to uphold the value of their founders. Originally established as an Association not-for-profit in 1884, the trust was soon after given more solidity through various acts of British Parliament. The organization remains independent of government and relies on grants, donors and other sources of income, rather than direct government subsidy.  Some of the funds come from admission to and products from the trusts Home Farm as well as other preserved historic estates.

The trust owns 255,000 hectacres of land in England. Sixty percent of this is rented out in the form of whole farms through their Farm Letting arm. The trust partners with different types of tenants, all with the shared objectives of maintaining the land in a sustainable manner. Working farms owned by the trust include Saddlescombe Farm, Outridge Farm and the Wimpole Home Farm.

Wimpole Estate was part of an experiment run by the trust which allowed a 10,000-member public advisory group participate in decisions regarding the operations of the farm. The MyFarm project lasted 18 months.

The organizational structure of the National Trust of England includes a variety of levels of advisors and decision-makers, including a Board of Trustees, a Council, Committees of the Board of Trustees, Regional and Country Advisory Boards and Advisory Panels.

Other British organizations working on sustainable land access solutions are The Community Land Advisory Service and The Countryside Restoration Trust.

 

One Farmer, 8,000 Landlords: Fordhall Farm

Fordhall Farm shows how enterprising young farmers can engage with the community, mutualise the land and put it into trusteeship using the Industrial and Provident Society structure, raise the purchase capital from members and balance community access rights with farming needs. Ben and Charlotte Hollins were given a Schumacher Award in October 2006.

Fordhall is a 128-acre organic farm bordering Market Drayton, Shropshire. The Hollins family has farmed it as tenants for three generations. Charlotte and Ben Hollins launched The Fordhall Project in 2004 to save the farm. Fordhall Community Land Initiative (FCLI) was formed in February 2005 by a large group of supporters to buy the farm, secure it for community access and to keep the Hollins farming.  The landowner agreed to sell the farm for £800,000 to FCLI by July 1st 2006.

FCLI was incorporated as an Industrial and Provident Society (IPS) for the benefit of the community, and the Farm Appeal was launched on September 28th 2005. The purchase money was raised by July 2006, with extensive national and local media coverage.  Over 7500 people bought £50 shares, raising £600,000, with £100,000 interest free loans and a £100,000 loan from Triodos Bank.

FCLI, having secured the farm, is leasing it to the Hollins, as Fordhall Farm Ltd. FCLI will continue to ensure permanently affordable access for farmers both for now and the future. It will develop viable educational, heritage, environmental, nature trail and social activities with the community for social, economic and cultural benefits.

Read the whole Case Study from Stroud Common Wealth Community Farm Land Trust Project.

Women Caring For the Land: Empowering Female Landowners

About 50% of Midwestern landowners in Iowa are women. Most of these are non-operator farm-owners who have out-survived their husbands.

The Women, Food and Agriculture Network (WFAN) has been serving these Midwestern women farmers and farmland owners since their founding as a non-profit project in 1997. The network was created to provide information, networking and leadership development opportunities to women working in sustainable agriculture and food systems development.

Over the years WFAN has learned that women farmland owners express very strong conservation values, but often feel unsure of how to translate those values into action. Most of them are not the primary operators of their farmland; they lease the land to a tenant and rely on him to manage it using accepted best management practices for soil and water conservation. But an increasing number of women landowners are inheriting the land from their husbands and fathers, and as sole owners, these women have a strong interest in learning more about their rights as landowners, about best management practices, about communicating effectively with their tenants, and about state and federal cost-share and loan programs available to help them.

Women in general consistently show a preference for informal, peer-to-peer learning models, sometimes called “learning circles.” Learning circles are flexible, peer-directed, facilitated learning experiences, built upon the idea that every member has something to contribute and that every member has something to learn. Research in adult education shows that adult learners of both genders are most likely to take action when information is offered in this setting, and when they feel comfortable asking questions and sharing information with one another, as opposed to traditional classroom presentation-style methods of information delivery. WFAN has found that using the learning circles model is critical to gaining women’s trust so that they may find their voices and take action concerning their land.

WFAN has developed a program called Women Caring for the LandSM (WCL), designed to serve female non-operator landowners who are interested in learning more about conservation and other land management topics. Fifty to sixty-six percent of participants in follow-up surveys report that they have taken at least one conservation action within the following year. (For more evaluation results, visit www.wfan.org.)

WFAN has also partnered with Practical Farmers of Iowa to help facilitate communication between young farmers and these women farm-owners. Although it was not their intention to design matches, some arrangements have been made through these meetings.

Blue Ox Organics: Shared Risk — Split Mortgages

Investing in small-scale agriculture is not always seen as a secure investment. Sharing the risk by using a split mortgage helped Blue Ox Organics farmers Lauren and Caleb Langworthy buy their land.

The couple had been farming on rented land, but were unable to invest what they needed to into the soil without the security of longer land tenure. By contacting their local Farm Service Agency (FSA) representative, they learned about the possibility of a split mortgage. Their land purchase was financed in part by private investors, and in part by the FSA. Without the existence of substantial collateral, the loan is backed by a first and second lien on the property.

Learn more about Blue Ox Organics in our land access stories.

 

La Montañita Co-op | La Montañita (LaM) Fund

The 14,000-member La Montañita Co-op runs the La Montañita (LaM) Fund, a member-funded micro-lending program for food system producers and cooperative businesses in New Mexico. The fund provides affordable one-, three-, and five-year notes for small- and medium-scale projects that increase sustainable production.

Founded in 2010, the LaM Fund grew out of La Montañita’s pre-payment program for local farmers and food producers to expand their production. Under this program, loans were repaid through product deliveries.

The La Montañita Co-op implements the LaM Fund in partnership with the New Mexico Educators Federal Credit Union. Co-op members buy an “interest” in the fund. The money collected from the sale of the interests is then placed in a money market account at the credit union, and used to collateralize loans. The loans themselves are awarded based on the recommendations of the LaM Fund Loan Advisory Committee, which also oversees the terms of loans to ensure that they best meet the needs of farmers.

The loans have been used to install infrastructure—irrigation, hoop houses, high tunnels, and fences—expand herd size, and increase the amount of acreage under production. Loans have also been used to cover the capital costs of conservation initiatives reimbursable through the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS), a division of the USDA.

Loan applications are accepted on an ongoing basis. Application requirements are available at the LaM Fund website.

Our Table Co-op and Community by Design, LLC

Our Table Co-op is the farm business part of a three organization system, all working together to realize a shared vision. The group started when their non-profit fiscal arm, Community by Design, LLC, purchased the 58-acre farm in Sherwood, OR, in September of 2011.

Community by Design was founded by Machelle and Narendra Varma. The couple founded the non-profit exclusively to realize the vision that has become Our Table. Narendra brought the capital necessary to implement the vision and purchase the farm. The mission of the non-profit is to promote a local food culture and economy. The non-profit essentially serves as a land trust for the farm. Community by Design will keep the land in sustainable agriculture in perpetuity.

The third arm of the vision is an educational entity, The Manav Foundation.

As the project forges forward, the intention is to begin to include other regional producers in the co-op. These producers would buy in and have a different level of membership.

Read more about Our Table Co-op in our Land Access Stories or at their website.

Planned Giving and Succession Planning

The American Farmland Trust (AFT) is a pioneer in organizing planned donation of land for agricultural preservation. Their Forever Farmland Society (FFS) offers a way for farm-owners to include AFT in their estate planning.

Members of the FFS enjoy networking benefits and connection with the next generation of farmers through AFT events and publications.

Many farm-owners and land trusts across the country implement similar succession plans to secure the future of agricultural land.

Some Resources for Succession Planning:

The Community Land Trust and Indian Line Farm

In a uniquely collaborative arrangement developed by the Schumacher Center for a New Economics, the Community Land Trust in the Southern Berkshires, the Berkshire Highlands Program of The Nature Conservancy, and farmers Elizabeth Keen and Alex Thorp joined together to purchase Indian Line Farm in southwestern Massachusetts. The aims of the partnership are to preserve the first CSA farm project in North America, to maintain it as a working organic farm, to protect the adjacent sensitive wetlands, and to provide small-scale farmers access to affordable farmland. 

Working with the Schumacher Center for a New Economics to draft the innovative legal documents, The Nature Conservancy acquired easements on the property to permanently limit future development, while the Community Land Trust acquired the title to the land and is leasing it to Elizabeth and Alex on a 99-year basis. The farmers themselves have purchased the house, barn, and other buildings, and will gain equity through any improvements made to the farm during their tenure. The Community Land Trust retains an option to purchase the buildings and improvements back, and to resell them at their replacement cost to another farmer. 

Addressing the critical connections between ecology, economy, and community, this model project is protecting habitat, preserving agricultural property, and keeping small-scale, organic farming viable. The participation of the two land trusts provided a way for Berkshire consumers to successfully finance the purchase of the land so that the farmers can continue to farm organically and practice wise stewardship without having to use unsustainable growing methods to pay off land debt quickly.

  • Indian Line Farm Lease Agreement: Based on leases used by the Jewish National Fund and modified over the years within Massachusetts Law. Consult with your local lawyer for application to your local laws. The object is to provide leaseholders with ownership of all buildings and other improvements on the site while maintaining ownership of the land itself within the Trust. The resale restrictions call for the leaseholder to retain the current replacement value of improvements on the site, adjusted for deterioration, without also capturing the speculative land value.    Online  |  PDF
  • Addendum to the Lease  This addendum is for the benefit of a mortgager of the building on leased land. It allows a mortgager to be free from resale restrictions in the event of a foreclosure. There is also ample provision for the CLT to correct any default before foreclosure.    Online  |  PDF
  • Land Use Plan  Details the tillable land, buffer areas, and other uses of the land. It reflects the combined ecological, community, farming, and private homestead interests of the partnership.    PDF
  • Land Management Plan  Developed in cooperation with the farmers, the management plan sets the requirements for crop and livestock production to ensure that the land stays in use and is farmed in accordance with organic standards.    Online  |  PDF
  • Conservation Easement  The easement protects the ecological characteristics of the farm.    Online  |  PDF
  • Notice of Lease  The Notice of Lease, description of the property leased, and the Land Use Plan are recorded at the registry of deeds after signing.   Online  |  PDF
  • Bill of Sale    Online  |  PDF
  • Property Boundaries    Online  |  PDF

Book & Plow Farm and Amherst College

Book & Plow Farm is the result of a student-driven initiative to get local food into Valentine Dining Hall at Amherst College, a small liberal arts school in western Massachusetts. The farm functions as a private, for-profit business farming on college-owned farmland. The farm has a contract with the college to supply vegetables for campus dining commons as well as to be an educational resource for the school. Book & Plow was selected through a proposal process. The college offers the farmland as well as some financial support for infrastructure. Read the full story in our land access stories.

 

Tablehurst and Plaw Hatch Community Farm, UK

The Tablehurst and Plaw Hatch Community Farm initiative was born in 1994 when it appeared that biodynamic Tablehurst Farm might be lost after more than 25 years of careful husbandry by Emerson College. The college could no longer support the farm and, following a major community fund-raising drive, agreed to sell the farm assets to the community while retaining ownership of the land.

Thus was the Co-op founded early in 1995. At this stage, there was a clearly expressed intention that Plaw Hatch Farm – also biodynamic and only three miles away – should also be brought into the Co-op in due course. It was owned at the time by a local charitable trust to whom it had been donated some twenty years previously. For a variety of reasons, this transfer did not take place until 2001, again following major community fund-raising.

One final transaction took place in 2005, transferring the land ownership of Tablehurst Farm from Emerson College to St Anthony’s Trust. Today, individuals in the community – known as “farm partners” own the Co-op, the Co-op owns the two farm businesses, and St Anthony’s Trust owns the farm land and buildings.

Shared Commons

Sirius Community and Ecovillage, Shutesbury, MA

Sirius was founded in 1978 by former members of the Findhorn Community, an international intentional community in Scotland. Among their programs is an organic gardening Internship. Members, residents and interns work on the land and in various other community capacities. Learn more at their website.

Hofkollektiv Wieserhoisl, Germany

Hofkollektiv Wieserhoisl is a shared commons land access project. The group aims to financially secure and inhabit 12 acres, including subsistence agriculture. They are currently nine adults and three children, and are seeking more members to enhance their community. Read more at their German language website or this English translation.

Terre de Liens, France

Terre de Liens is a civil society organization created in 2003 to address the difficulties faced by organic and peasant farmers in securing agricultural land. Land prices are high and the land market is so competitive that access to land has become a major bottleneck for farmers seeking new farms or additional land to maintain their current activities.

Terre de Liens first supported collective ownership schemes, wherein farmers received contributions from their kin, consumers or local community to set up an investment business to buy their land. Since 2007, Terre de Liens has also directly acquired farmland, which it holds in perpetuity for the sake of current and future generations. Terre de Liens’ land is leased to farmers who promise to farm organically or biodynamically or who are peasant farmers committed to respecting the environment.

To acquire farmland, Terre de Liens has created two financial tools: la Foncière, a solidarity investment company; and le Fonds, an Endowment Trust which collects investment or donations in cash or kind. Through the Foncière and the Fund, Terre de Liens had acquired 71 farm estates, amounting to 1900 hectares, where 220 adults live and/or work by 2010.

This was made possible by the support of 1200 members, about 5000 (mostly individual) shareholders bringing over €15 million, as well as local inhabitants and local authorities. Since inception, Terre de Liens has made significant progress towards freeing land from the commodity market so that it can be preserved in sustainable agricultural production.

Read the Terre de Liens case-study.

Visit Terre de Liens French-language site.

Biodynamic Farmland Conservation Trust (BFCT) and Brookfield Farm

Board Members: Peter Littell, Donald Allison, Clay Ballantine, Leta Herman, Jeff Lefebvre, Roberta Lojko, Philip Petitt, Gordon Thorne, Jen Veshia, Donna Baron, Cynthia Barstow, Roger Fega, Helen Fortier, Arthur Zajonc, Dan Kaplan

The BFCT is a non-profit established in 1986 by Claire and Dave Fortier . It now serves as a holding company for the 47 acres that is now Brookfield Farm, Amherst, MA. It has no income other than the farm.

The BFCT support the practice and promotion of techniques which protect, heal and transform the land and the environment and produce healthy, nutritious food for human beings and animals for generations to come through the responsible management of this one parcel of farmland.

The farm is managed separately from the trust, currently by Dan Kaplan who has been there since 1994. The trust has no other financial interest, so can concentrate on ensuring that the farm endures. Read more in our land access stories.

On Pasture

Organizer: Meg Grzeskiewicz

Meg runs the website, On Pasture,  that offers practical and experienced advice for farmers looking to find land to lease for grazing animals, as well as help once they are on the land. She graduated from West Virginia University in 2012 with a degree in livestock management, and a minor in agribusiness. While at WVU, she won a statewide entrepreneurship competition with a patentable device designed for video-assisted cattle artificial insemination. She spent six months interning for grazing expert Greg Judy in Missouri.

She also runs Rhinestone Cattle Consulting, helping new and experienced farmers build profitable mob grazing beef operations. She travels all across the continental 48 states for on-farm consulting and speaking at conferences.

Vermont Farm Fund

Advisory Board Members: Pete Johnson, Robin McDermott, Vern Grubinger, Bruce Urie, Elena Gustavson, Sarah Waring

Partners: Pete’s Greens, The Center for an Agricultural Economy

This is a cyclical farm loan fund, started from donations given to Pete Johnson of Pete’s Greens in Craftsbury, VT.  Johnson received the donations as a response to a barn fire at his farm. With the help of the Center for An Agricultural Economy, Johnson has developed a system which allows him to repay the money donated into The Vermont Farm Fund. Thefund offers loans to other farmers. Those farmers, in turn, make their loan payments back into the fund, where it is again loaned to other farmers. The fund offers innovation or emergency loans. It is not directly land access, but the model could be adapted to fund land programs for new agrarians.

North Amherst Community Farm (NACF) and Simple Gifts Farm

Board Members: Don Gallagher, John Gerber, Bob Greeney, Patricia Holland, Rob Kusner, Marcy Sala, Ted White

Partners: Simple Gifts Farm, The University of Massachusetts Amherst

NACF started as a community initiative to save one farm in Amherst, Massachusetts from development. They raised funds to secure a mortgage in the name of an NACF trust, and the farm is now operational and a cornerstone of the North Amherst community. Read the full story in our land access stories.

http://www.nacfonline.org/

The Vermont Land Trust and Bread and Butter Farm

Bread and Butter Farm was started in 2009 by Corie Pierce and Adam Wilson. The 143-acre farm was owned by the Leduc Family for over 100 years before they placed a conservation easement on the land, and sold it to The Vermont Land Trust. The VLT then announced a request for proposal from diversified farmers wanting to purchase and farm the land. The proposal Pierce and Wilson submitted was chosen, and they now run a two-family community oriented farm. In addition to the whole grain breads baked in the farm’s wood-fired oven, raw milk, grass-fed beef, year round greens, and pasture-raised pork, they also support a healthy rural economy through events like their weekly community “Burger Night”.

The VLT Farmland Access Program has preserved more than 750 farms.

Some VLT Partners: American Farmland Trust Association of Vermont Conservation CommissionsCharlotte Land TrustDuxbury Land TrustEquinox Preservation Trust, Greensboro Land TrustHinesburg Land TrustJericho Underhill Land TrustKeeping Track, Inc.Lake Champlain Land TrustLewis Creek Association, Middlebury Area Land TrustPassumpsic Valley Land TrustPreservation Trust of Vermont, Richmond Land Trust,Rutland Area Farm and Food Link, South Burlington Land TrustSouth Hero Land TrustStowe Land TrustThe Conservation FundThe Nature Conservancy of VermontTrust for Public LandUpper Valley Land Trust

The Carrot Project

Program Administration: Benneth Phelps, Kristen Saulnier, Dorothy Suput

Advisory Board:  Neil Chrisman, Joel Millonzi, Stephen Kim,, Eric Becker, Nancy Ross, Patty Duffy, Fred Ames.  Seated, left to right: Stephen Burrington, Jon Jaffe, Dorothy Suput, and John Moukad. Not pictured: Jennifer Hashley, Christina Nargolwala.

Collaborators: Coastal Enterprises, Inc., MassDevelopment, People’s United Bank, Salisbury Bank, Vermont Community Loan Fund

The Carrot Project partners with farmers, lenders, investors, donors and farm service providers to foster a sustainable, diverse food system. It supports small to midsized farms and farm-related businesses through expanding accessible financing and increasing farm operations’ ability to use it to build successful, ecologically and financially sustainable, businesses.

They have also authored educational material for farmers and farm financiers. They can be found on The Carrot Project Reports Page.

http://thecarrotproject.org/home

Pro-active Conservation Easements

New York

Network Coordinator: Jake Beineike

Partner Organizations: Open Space Institute Land-to-Lease Program

A land trust driven experiment in farmland acquisition and transfer to farmer-owners. Centered in the Adirondack region, this project focuses on small-scale, relatively affordable farm properties, leverages OSI endowment money to secure the farms, and then leases them to the new farmers, eventually transferring title to the new farmers, freeing the endowment money to be used in the next transaction.

North Carolina

Organization: Buncombe County Land Conservation Advisory Board

Created by the County Commissioners in 2004 to promote the use of voluntary land conservation easements to preserve the beauty and ecology of Buncombe County. Conservation easements are voluntary deed restrictions placed on an owner’s property that prohibit or limit future development on the property. One of the focus areas is historic and working farmlands.

Virginia

Organization: Piedmont Environmental Council

The 1997 Virginia General Assembly created a fund (Va. Code Sections 10.1801-2), The Open-Space Lands Preservation Trust Fund, to assist landowners with the costs of conveying conservation easements and to purchase all or part of the value of the easements. The easements receiving Preservation Trust Fund allocations are conveyed to The Virginia Outdoors Foundation and a local co-holder. Valid co-holders include local government entities, Soil and Water Conservation Districts and local conservation organizations (such as the Piedmont Environmental Council.) The Piedmont Environmental Council has also compiled a free packet for landowners considering a conservation easement.

Wisconsin

Organization: National Heritage Land Trust

Example: Prairie Fountain Farms

Assists land-owners in being proactive about agricultural land preservation. Federal, state, and local government grant programs fund the purchase of conservation easements for land that has certain features (such as high-quality soil) or is located in some areas (such as adjacent to parks or wildlife areas).  Otherwise, a landowner who wishes to place a conservation easement on his or her property may have to donate the conservation easement (and in that case, the landowner may be eligible for tax benefits).

Ag Loans from Kiva Zip

Network Coordinator: Jonny Price

Partner Organizations: Kiva Zip

Kiva Zip has been piloting 0% micro-loans in the United States for the past year, based on its eight year history facilitating micro-loans internationally via an online portal. These pilots have gone well, and Kiva is now looking to scale up on the number of loans made. The Agrarian Network will help Kiva identify “trustee” organizations who can vet loan candidates (farmers) within their own regional networks to benefit from these microloans with the purpose of engaging those local organizations to begin understanding and engaging in credit issues on a transactional basis, as well as helping young and beginning farmers work towards more conventional kinds of credit (ie FSA, FarmCredit) as their businesses mature.

Better Harvest Federal Credit Union

Network Coordinator: Scott Budde

Partner Organizations: NOFA Mass, MOFGA, NOFA NY

Credit Unions are tax-exempt financial services cooperatives.  Community Development Credit Unions go a step further and focus on under-served segments of the population.  Better Harvest Federal Credit Union (in organization) is a Community Development Credit Union being proposed by Scott Budde as the outgrowth of the Sustainable Agriculture Credit Union Research Project.  The SACU Research Project was conducted in 2012 to assess the viability of a regional Community Development Credit Union model focused on the Northeast.  As credit unions need to be organized around a specific “field of membership,” the project focused on membership organizations engage in sustainable agriculture such as the 7 NOFA Chapters and MOFGA. Credit Unions have great structures for mission alignment with their customers and typically provided higher deposit rates and lower loan rates than banks.  They can also be a bit more flexible than commercial banks but are still regulated by a federal agency (the National Credit Union Administration) because their deposits (like banks) are insured by an arm of the US government.  Since the recession, however, starting a new Community Development Credit Union has become more expensive and time-consuming. The Better Harvest FCU Pilot will build on the results of the Sustainable Agriculture Credit Union Research Project and investigate the proposed CDCU model relative to the other Pilot options of the project for improving land access.

Sustainable Land Access Revolving Loan Fund

Network Coordinator: Scott Budde, Anthony Chang

Partner Organizations: California Farmlink

The SLALF Pilot will investigate the idea of creating a non-profit loan fund focused on providing long-term financing such as mortgages to sustainable farms.  As such an institution does not currently exist, the Pilot will weigh the pros and cons of a hypothetical non-profit loan fund structure – the SLALF – relative to the identified land access lending needs of small sustainably-managed farms.  Issues to be addressed will included: regulatory environment, underwriting flexibility, availability of loan, equity and grant capital, time to launch, overall business model, possible staffing and prospective lending capacity.

 A New Legal Framework for Land Gifting

Network Coordinators: Susan Witt, Kendra Johnson

Partner Organizations: Land Conservancy, American Farmland Trust

Many farmland owners wish to preserve the legacy of  their farms in active, sustainable agriculture. This is sometimes achieved through conservation easements, affordability clauses or lease restrictions– but as often as not those uses are challenged in court by heirs/future owners. The point of creating a legal framework for land gifting is to build the legal basis on which gifts of land may become protected by use-restrictions, governed/administered by local land trusts, and supported by a legal defense fund-which allows landowners to protect their land for sustainable agriculture in perpetuity.

 New Agricultural Conservation Easements

Network Coordinators: Kendra Johnson, Susan Witt, David Katz

Partner Organizations: Good HUMUS Project, Crowe Ridge Ranch

This type of project is typically funded in one or more of the following ways:

  • Purchase or provide matching grants for purchase of ‘working farm easement’. Short-term bridge funds go to qualifying nonprofits who are waiting on other, slower means of purchasing easements. Or, similar bridge funds go directly to the farmer working with an identified land trust partner, including a plan for easement placement within “x” years.
  • Create stewardship endowments to encourage smaller land trusts to accept increased monitoring and other stewardship responsibilities associated with alternative easements
  • Organize a pooled legal defense fund which will empower land trusts to be on this cutting edge of legal models in their states.
  • Initiation of a revolving “OPAV” fund to ensure that grantees shall have capacity to exercise an Option with the goal of protecting affordability and productivity goals of working farm easements.
  • Empower purchase by Community Land Trust or qualified nonprofit as described above, with long-term “equity lease” or “purchase of farming rights” by farmer.

This type of project could be funded in one or more of the following ways:

  •  Provide matching funds (community should always be invested) for fee title purchase of farm by qualifying nonprofit to serve as long-term lessor.
  • Provide short-term  bridge funds to qualifying nonprofit to secure high-priority farms meeting preservation criteria.
  • Provide project development costs (project coordination, hiring of consultants to help with easement negotiations, legal and appraisal fees)
  • Support the endowment for management of long-term leases (annual monitoring, periodic negotiations, review of proposed improvements, enforcement, etc.).

The fund could also help provide no/low-interest financing directly to qualifying farmers (another list of criteria needed here), individually or otherwise, to purchase land: Financing for purchase by young farmer with “x” years of experience, and sustainable stewardship standards. Financing could be provided also for purchase by cooperative or homeowner’s association with bylaws ensuring long-term preservation of working agriculture. Priority would be given to projects balancing farmer experience, both in good stewardship practices and years in productive agriculture with likely length of future tenure.

A New Economics: The BerkShares Currency and Loan Program

Network Coordinator: Alice Maggio

Partner Organizations: Berkshares, Schumacher Center for a New Economics, DOEN Foundation.

The potential of an independent, place-based currency in that the community will be empowered to make decisions about what projects and enterprises deserve funding.  BerkShares, the local currency for the Berkshire Region, is already part way to this goal. Banks, businesses, citizens, and even visitors to the area understand the currency and are able to deal with two currencies. Citizens and businesses recognize the value of keeping money flowing within the local economy.  However, if BerkShares are to be a truly effective tool, they must tangibly support and instigate new local businesses that will further diversify the local economy. The development of a loan program, along with education and publicity around local currency, will allow BerkShares to achieve this goal.  When issuing a loan in BerkShares, the currency can be created at the point of making the loan, with no “cost of money” associated with borrowing the money from the Federal Reserve.  This means extremely low-interest loans, but only for productive purposes. The classic productive loan is a “technological” one–a loan that allows a business person to produce more of what people want to buy in a market.  For example, a farmer can take out a loan of 500 BerkShares for seed in the spring. That loan money will allow the farmer to produce 5000 BerkShares-worth of vegetables.  Therefore the community has more good vegetables, the farmer can repay the loan, and the currency holds its value.  Lending in this way relies on local knowledge of people, markets, climate and consumer’s preferences.  With a local money supply, a local monetary policy, the decision-making power, the accountability, the risk, and the benefits are all shared by the community.

Public Land as Commons: American Farmland Trust State Legislation

Network Coordinators:  David Haight, Diane Held

Partner Organizations: American Farmland Trust

State, City, Municipal, Park, School and Transportation district lands constitute a significant acreage in New York state, as well as in other states. Inspired by Urban-design projects inventorying vacant lots, to make them available for community garden use, or other valuable temporary use. In the west, Municipalities make contracts with graziers to American Farmland trust is drafting legislation to assess how much State-owned or controlled lands could be made available on a lease basis to farmers and ranchers

 Working Investments: Farmshare Program 

Network Coordinator: Marianne Gimon

Partner Organizations: Echoing Green, Flora Foundation

Investors are keen to support sustainable farmers with land-investments that are connected to environmental and social outcomes. This is particularly true of urban-dwelling families who’d like access to real-farm experiences and extended agri-tourism opportunities. This pilot would create a matchmaking service between a CSA-type community of investors, and farmers looking to buy farms nearby– where the CSA investors get the right to a timeshare “ holiday” on the farm in exchange for their investment, but the farmer owns title, and builds equity, and the farm is placed under permanent conservation easement.

Farmhand: Landless Farmers Listening Project

Network Coordinator: Sonia Acevedo

Partner Organizations: Resources for Organizing Social Change, Maine

Inspired by her own struggles to access affordable land as a new farmer, Sonia Acevedo decided to to start listening and stop talking. She is collecting interviews and written submissions from farmers (including conventional or organic, young or old, experienced or apprentice- “anyone for whom your relationship to land constitutes the center of your life or livelihood) to be compiled into a pilot publication.

 

 Women Caring for the Land

Women, Food and Agriculture Network (WFAN) has developed a program called Women Caring for the Land℠ (WCL), designed to serve female non-operator landowners who are interested in learning more about conservation.

The program is successful, popular, and in increasing demand among both women landowners and agency partners such as NRCS and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

 

California Assembly Bill 551: The Urban Agriculture Incentive Zones Act

Network Coordinators:  Brooke Budner, Karen Heisler, Eli Zigas, Antonio Roman-Alcalá

Partner Organizations: Little City Gardens, San Francisco Urban Agriculture Alliance

AB551 was passed in May of 2013. The bill incentivizes the use of private land for urban agriculture. In exchange for signing a contract with a county to place privately held land into urban agricultural use for 10 years, private landowners will have their property assessed at a lower property tax rate based on its agricultural use rather than its market value. The project succeeded through various avenues, including compiling letters of support from urban farmers, prospective urban farmers, land-owners, non-profits, and food policy persons stating the importance of this legislation.

See the current California law produced by AB551.

Working Villages International

WVI is a non profit dedicated to alleviating poverty through agricultural development. They focus on the development of ten acre ox powered farms as alternatives to the two main types of agriculture in rural Africa:  very small, entirely hand worked one acre family plots that require exhaustive labor and produce very little surplus income or huge ex-patriot mega-farms that are heavily dependent on expensive petroleum and exploitative of workers. This model of farm – the 10-acre, ox-powered farm – is the most efficient, sustainable and effective model of agricultural development. Once the 10-acre farm is the basis of an economy, it provides a foundation for development in all aspects of rural life. If 25% of the people in a village are farmers producing $10-20,000 per year, it raises the standard of living in the whole region. It also gives rise to an entire network of support industries for making tools, transporting crops, building infrastructure, processing food and more. This becomes the basis for a complete village economy, including healthcare, education, and cultural life, because it has at its core a solid means of production.

 

Emergency Farm Bridge Loans

Network Coordinators: Sallie Calhoun, Anthony Chang, Peter Holter, Cody Hopkins

Partner Organizations: Holistic Management International, California Farmlink, Falling Sky Farm

 

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