Farm Folk City Folk’s Community Farms Program (CFP) is pleased to be hosting the 6th Community Farms Roundtable this February 20 and 21 at O.U.R. Ecovillage in Shawnigan Lake. The goals of the CFP are to support the establishment of alternative forms of land ownership, to ensure our agricultural lands remain in production in perpetuity, and to advance sustainable models of farmland access, governance and production. The purpose of the Roundtables is to bring community farmers together to explore common ground and mutual challenges, build links with new and existing community farms, and to share inspiration, information, and ideas for advancing sustainable models of community farming.
At this point you may be wondering just what is a community farm? and this is a very good question with no easy answer. One definition developed by the CFP is “a community farm is a multi-functional farm where the land is held “in trust” for community rather than owned privately. A community group or co-operative governs the land use agreements, and agricultural uses of the land are shared by a community of farmers.” Though over the past few years the forms of alternative land tenure and access people are using have really expanded and many of these involve some element of farming with community. A more recent working definition proposed by the CFP is “shared farming on shared land.” This really opens up the term to be reflective of the diversity of models that exist on the ground while maintaining an emphasis on the shared or cooperative piece (land or work) of community farming.
Land access, access to capital, access to infrastructure, mentorship, inter-generational knowledge transfer, and social isolation have all been identified as challenges that beginning and young farmers face today. Community farming is one model of farming that has the potential to address some of these challenges. Shared land and resources helps overcome land access and capital barriers, shared farming allows for the training and sharing of knowledge between the more experienced community members and new farmers, and farming together creates a social support network. However this isn’t to say that community farming doesn’t come with its own set of challenges.
Alongside hosting the Roundtable the CFP supports community farms through the provision of informational and support services in various forms. One unique service offered is direct one-on-one support by the CFP manager, Heather Pritchard, to a community group or group of farmers to facilitate the formation or development process of a community farm. This facilitation process may involve support with the organizational structure (ex. cooperative or society), governance model, financing, and/or whole farm planning. The CFP also coordinates research and partners with other organizations to provides informational resources available online such as the Farmland Access Agreements Report, Review of Farmland Trusts, or the Cultivating Co-ops Guide.
The topics discussed at the Roundtables to date have been largely determined by who attends and the needs of the participants. A few examples of past discussion topics include effective governance models, zoning and housing policy, and farmland securement for local food production. This year will continue with the tradition of open space sessions, and will also include a farmland trust visioning session to explore the potential for forming a provincial farmland trust in BC.
Over the course of my research on community farms and alternative land access in BC it has become clear that despite the rise in diverse alternative land access mechanisms there still remains a need for more mechanisms to secure farmland and provide tenure security to farmers over the long term. Farmland trusts or community land trusts where the land is owned by a non-profit, managed by community, and essentially removed from the real estate market is one way of doing so.
Several small regional agricultural land trusts in BC have emerged. For instance, the Farmlands Trust Society on Vancouver Island, the Salt Spring Island Farmland Trust, Mayne Island Trust, and the Greenways Trust in Campbell River. There have also been groups of people contacting the CFP seeking support to establish community trust farms to protect and/or access land. While small regional, or individual farm trusts, can be effective, a provincially coordinated strategy will have greater reach and capacity. I think there is great opportunity in having a provincial trust specializing in agriculture which can then coordinate with existing regional trusts to acquire and manage farmland.
The Roundtable discussions will be one of a series of community discussions the CFP will facilitate to gather input into how to move forward with the development of a new provincial farmland trust in BC under the leadership of the CFP.
The farmland trust discussion is just one part of the program, there will also be plenty of time for a variety of other discussion topics, activities and opportunities to connect with other attendees.
Read more about farmland trusts: Ontario Farmland Trust, American Farmland Trust, Agrarian Trust (US), Community Land Trusts (US), Farmlands Trust Society (Victoria), Salt Spring Island Farmland Trust Society
Listen to a webinar: ‘Scaling innovation in community land trusts for farmland access and affordable housing’ with a presentation on farmland trusts by Dr. Hannah Wittman, a UBC researcher and collaborator of the Community Farms Program.
Contact the author of this post and the Roundtable organizer: dennis.jess.dennis(at)gmail.com