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Chapter two Land Tenure for Urban Farming Toward a Scalable Model Nate Ela and Greg Rosenberg In this chapter attorneys Nate Ela and Greg Rosenberg describe the challenges of secure access to land for urban growers, discuss community land trusts as a possible tool for maintaining land for food production in cities—the “land access and suitability” component of the food system supply chain—and introduce several practical models for securing land for urban farming. I n cities around the United States people are looking to urban farms for a wide range of benefits, from providing fresh food and supporting healthy eating habits to teaching job skills and offering access to nature. Urban farms are increasingly seen as a possible engine for economic development, whether as a source of income for full-time farmers, of raw materials for value-added products, or of additional income for growers who also hold evening jobs or off-season gigs. Yet none of this can happen without land on which to grow crops. In a twist on the popular slogan “No farms, no food,” urban growers and their advocates have come to realize “No land, no farms.” A wide range of people—from individual growers to the mentors, foundation officials, university researchers, urban planners, and policy makers who would like to see them succeed—have been grappling with questions related to land tenure for urban farming. What models for land ownership and access can best support planning for and investing in urban farms? What models allocate scarce resources not only efficiently but also in ways that promote equity and engagement with the communities that will be the urban farmers’ neighbors and customers? Land Tenure for Urban Farming 25 This chapter explores these questions, focusing primarily on land tenure models that can offer urban growers free or low-cost land and that hold the most promise for the sustainable growth of urban farming. The success of such models will depend on cooperative efforts with public and private landowning entities that can make land available at no or minimal cost, and with public and private funders that can cover some of the costs of land acquisition, soil remediation, and basic infrastructure. Success will also turn on the ability to build community engagement into the rules by which urban land is made available to growers. Historical patterns of investment and disinvestment have created areas in US cities where vacant land is abundant and relatively cheap. But it would be a mistake to simply assume that land can be leveraged as a resource for farming without ensuring that it makes sense to the people who live in these neighborhoods—often communities that have a long experience of structural racism. Although urban agriculture takes a wide range of forms, we focus here on land tenure models that can best support ground-based, outdoor growing of commercial crops. Such growing practices, compared to growing on rooftops or indoors, are more likely to yield the full range of community benefits mentioned above. Also, because community nonprofit organizations or individual growers may have less access to capital than rooftop or indoor growers, the cost and availability of land is an even more pressing constraint. The Challenge of Securing Affordable Land for Urban Farming The high cost of urban land compared to rural land poses a major problem for would-be urban farmers. Unlike rural farmers, they are competing for land with many other potential uses, which creates inflationary pressures on land prices. In Wisconsin, for example, cropland rents for rural land averaged $228 per acre in 2015 (USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service 2015). This is a small fraction of the price an urban farmer would pay for an acre of tillable land at market rates in Milwaukee or other cities. Yet food grown in cities must remain price-competitive with food grown in rural areas. Few if any crops can be sold at prices that would cover the higher land costs, and urban growers cannot simply add a premium to reflect the value of the contributions they make to their neighborhoods. This is the well-known issue of positive externalities: beneficial side effects of economic activity that might be underproduced when a good or service is valued at market rates. 26 nate ela and greg rosenberg This squeeze between the price of produce and the cost of land drives many urban farmers to look for free or low-cost land, which often leads them to the parts of cities where the market...


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