Right-Sized Land Tenure

Land Tenure Must Allow Grower to Recoup Their Investments. Although “pop-up” business models are increasingly popular in the restaurant and retail sectors, it is a difficult model for urban growing. Access to land for a single season requires a grower to only make investments that they can pick up and move easily. In order for growers to invest more deeply in a piece of land – by preparing the ground for growing, install infrastructure such as hoop houses and irrigation, or even seek organic certification – they will require contractual assurance that they will have access over several growing seasons. One might expect that greater the level of initial investment, the longer a grower’s time-horizon will be.

Tenure Must Balance Landowner and Grower Goals. Appropriate land tenure also entails matching organizational goals to specific parcels of land, and matching farmer goals to the land they lease or own. Most nonprofit agricultural organizations will seek very long-term tenure, either in the form of very long-term ground leases, or outright ownership. Apprentice farmers who have not yet established their ability to successfully farm over time will be better candidates for shorter-term leases. These could include performance-based opportunities for renewal, which would effectively allow growers to establish their own land security. Experienced urban farmers are more likely to seek land tenure that allows them to build a long-term business, and potentially pass down the land to successors, whether those are family members or business partners.

Apprentice GrowerBecause they are new to farming, it is uncertain whether they will be successful over the long term.Short-term ground lease with renewal clause based on performance enables farmer to “earn” tenure, while protecting landowner in the event farmer is unsuccessful.
Experienced GrowerBecause they have a track record of success, risk of farm failure is significantly lower than for apprentice growers.Successful track record provides greater degree of confidence to landowner to provide longer-term lease. Depending on market conditions and financial resources, a grower may opt for outright purchase.
Nonprofit Agricultural OrganizationsAs an entity that plans on being around for a very long time, nonprofits will desire the longest possible security of tenure for land on which they operate programs.Outright ownership or 99-year ground leases may be best fit, unless shorter-term tenure better aligns with goals for specific parcel of land.