What are the Barriers and Where is the Support?
In our previous blog ‘ORFC22 Reflections & Challenges New Entrants Face in Building a Farming Career’ we rounded up our thoughts after hearing from a range of organisations touching on the research and work, they’re involved with, in tackling issues around access to land, training and finance.
Some ORFC sessions were interactive and enabled audience participants to draw on their experiences and challenges in beginning a career in farming. A rich discussion took place and we compiled key insights into a sticky note diagram (in previous blog). From this we’ve chosen a few comments specifically relating to the BD Land Trust’s work and what our support services can offer to new entrant farmers. We are always happy to explore your ideas and plans with you.
Q) How do I go about finding the right community/people who have a similar vision to me? Should I be doing this before trying to find available land? What financial support is available?
Technically speaking there are different avenues to go down when securing or finding land to rent. At the BD Land Trust our mission is to secure land in trust and help communities gain access to land to start an organic/biodynamic holding. There are no one-off all-encompassing answers or one perfect way of going about finding land to rent or securing land, but from previous success stories we do recommend that before trying to find land, you first have suitable skills and a business plan in place and preferably a potential business partner or community support group.
If you are starting off alone with no business plan in place, then it might be worthwhile seeing what groups already exist in your local community. There are plenty of climate action, save nature, or transition towns groups across the UK where you will find like-minded people. If you find a small number of individuals who have a similar vision to yours then start the process of building a loose business plan while keeping an open mind for it to mould and change in various ways as your project progresses.
We’ve found in the past it is important to build community buy-in so that once you have a partner or small focused group in place, the next step is to organise a series of local public meetings either in person at a local pub, village hall or community centre or online to access an even wider audience. To garner people’s attention and support it helps to have a clear vision to showcase; engaging visuals, a simple narrative and aim and a spokesperson are helpful in this scenario. At this stage, when you have 5 committed people or more, the Biodynamic Land Trust can begin to offer more help.
From here, further development will generally include setting up a more formal support group or Community Supported Agriculture Scheme (CSA), Community Interest Company (CIC) or Community Benefit Society (CBS) – a form of cooperative. These are more formal grassroot business models usually with a board of directors that hold governance and an agreed decision-making process and set out a vision and structure for the organisation with the community involved. Usually, fundraising and searching for land are the next steps in-line.
The BD Land Trust can offer support with all these processes if there is commitment and a working relationship in place. With the BD Land Trust’s involvement, the general outcome will be for the Trust to become the custodian/owner of the land on behalf of the community, and the group become tenants, employing a farmer or grower (if not already there, with a long and renewable tenancy. The Trust recognises the investment from the community in helping to raise funds through hard work, donations, buying shares and in some cases offering interest-free loans for a minimum of three years.
The reason for the Trust owning the land is that the process of securing land is our area of expertise and means that the Trust can hold the land and oversee governance and support for the project in a variety of ways for the long term. In our experience local groups can lose enthusiasm, expertise, and impetus over relatively short periods of time, putting the longevity and benefit of the project and the hard work to get it going at risk within a generation or less. Finding land to buy is no easy task, especially when acreage, land type and cost are all important considerations. We recommend having substantial promises of funds in advance to be assured of what one can afford and be able to move fast enough to deal with auctions and other challenging time frames. One important note to make is that specific loans with official interest rates such as a mortgage or business loan are advised against for land, especially in the first years as it can threaten the success of the project by having to find the funds for repayment as well as the interest before the project becomes strongly established.