The project investigated how existing community owned farm land trusts operate and pooled this experience. It evaluated the range of benefits for communities involved, identified best practice and compiled the practical experience as an online toolkit.
Pivotal to the success of the CFLT project was the triumph of Fordhall Farm where a community of 8500 secured Fordhall Farm in perpetuity as a CFLT. The Fordhall team made excellent use of all media promotion available to them with several features in national papers, and regional television. In consequence, CFLTs and the issues surrounding them have received an unprecedented level of publicity.
CFLT: What has been our learning?
Here are some key learning points from the project:
- Securing land in itself, without viable enterprises and land based activities using the land is not useful or motivating
- Community building and social learning around land-based projects is an essential part of developing CFLTs. It is not just a technical, legal or financial and business question. Real community ownership or trusteeship develops with engagement.
- Whole systems interventions for community and capacity building can work very powerfully if the processes are well designed and facilitated, as opposed to just technical and business assistance.
- People are highly motivated by opportunities to co-create the future of their community, will take responsibility, will contribute and can learn when they see clearly how their input can lead to a difference.
- Preserving the countryside, the landscape, family farms and access to walks, wildlife and open space is more motivating for people to support CFLTs than the concept of land trusteeship.
- Getting support for farm buyouts has been much easier than CLTs for housing, where there may be perceived benefits for individuals, rather than benefits for the whole community.
- It is early days for CFLTs – there is widespread ignorance of the CLT option, and more information is needed as well as workshop opportunities.
- Some CSAs have beneficial landlords and do not see the need for an expensive and time-consuming community farmland buy out, as at Fordhall. Wye College Farm plans to raise capital for capitalising a community farm tenancy, rather than a buy out at this stage. If tenure/use of land can be secured in the long term, CFLTs are not necessary.
- Land is very expensive, and it takes a well-organised community group, farmer and or CSA to have the capital ready, given the short time scales of land auctions. So far, community farm buyouts and CFLT buyouts have depended on landowners giving sufficient notice to get organised.
- The County Farm Estates are a crucial asset for young entrant farmers, and should be both maintained and integrated with other rural development activities, policies for sustainable development, social enterprise development and local food and environmental policies. There is a need for research into the current position of the County Farm Estates, to inform policy makers and interest farmers and stakeholders in getting more community benefit from the county 6 farm estates.
- The IPS for Community Benefit legal structure offers an asset lock, charity at law status without having to be a registered charity, and has proved to be very useful for communities to both capitalise their farms (as at Tablehurst and Plaw Hatch) and buy the land and put it into trusteeship at Fordhall. Though the CIC offers similar benefits, the IPS still fulfils its intended function in balancing individual and community interest and initiative.
- Farm succession is a critical point for considering options such as CFLT, as some farmers clearly want their farms to continue as working farms, and question if their non farming family successors want this.
- Where there are no close family members, ageing farmers are interested in the CFLT option, particularly, as with the Soil Association Land Trust, and the embryonic Biodynamic Land Trust, they have strong values around organic farming and the countryside.
- The current planning system is a block, especially when intensive CSAs need more people living on the land, as with the Village Farm Proposal, though in Scotland there is growing support for new Woodlands Crofts. The erosion of tied homes into non farm-related dwellings is an issue. However, Professor Nigel Curry (November 2005: CFLT Action Research Conference) considers that, whilst current rural planning is unclear, there are significant opportunities to widen community access and farm benefits through an integrated combination of planning, agricultural, economic, environmental measures that potentially can secure some of the benefits of CFLTs without the huge land purchase costs.
- Timely technical, legal, financial, fundraising, facilitation, social enterprise assistance is needed.
- Farmers in financial difficulties, as in the USA (cf Jo Hunt’s Churchill research), can be the triggers for engagement with the community around developing CSAs such as box schemes for direct selling. One of our client farmers has been helped in this way by seeing that a variety of enterprises on their land, including a CSA box scheme, can help them through their financial difficulties. This could well be a more widespread trigger for CFLT and CSA development thanpioneer/early innovator communities where there is a critical mass of more values driven organic and biodynamic farmers and consumers, or where is a unique farm with a particular history such as Fordhall or Wye Farm, that local people want to continue in a new form.
- As the demand for locally produced food grows, the viability, social, cultural, environmental as well as economic benefits of the various CSA models will become more widely known as options. With more development of successful local food growers and or CSA, will come the pressure to secure farms for permanent local food production security, and for local people to access.
- The essence of community land trusteeship is that land as a ‘natural monopoly’ is understood as a commons to be stewarded for community benefit, rather than as a commodity to be privatised for private benefit and bought and sold on the market.
- There is no single legal form of CFLT, but trusteeship can be ensured via a variety of legal structures depending on the context, the uses of the land, the community, the nature of the land purchase or gift, and intentions of the donors.
- The taxman sees the clear difference between ‘community ownership’ and community trusteeship in terms of gift-aidable status for the latter.