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Secure Lands for Urban Agriculture

Karen Washington speaking at the symposiumOn Friday, December 12, 2014 Equity Trust hosted a first-of-its-kind event: a one-day regional symposium on developing models of secure tenure for urban community farms. The gathering brought together over 35 urban agriculture practitioners and representatives of land trusts and other support organizations, from across the Northeast region of the US, to share experiences and challenges around land tenure and to develop strategies for strengthening land security and opportunities for collaborative action.

By focusing on the issue of land tenure, the symposium helped to lay the groundwork for on-going collaborations aimed at promoting secure land tenure for urban agriculture. Participants shared feedback on the experience: “This is exactly what I was hoping for – a great opportunity to network and share and learn from some very knowledgeable people.” There was widespread interest in continuing the conversation, especially in regards to how funders and land trusts can support urban agriculture.

Equity Trust launched this new initiative about one year ago within their Farms for Farmers Program to explore the issue of land tenure for urban agriculture. Urban farms and gardens are recognized for their many benefits, including not only their contributions to meeting local food needs and access to healthy food, but also their role in increasing communities’ self-determination through opportunities for youth training and education, social integration, economic development, environmental improvement, and more. However, many urban agriculture programs lack secure tenure or access to sufficient land for their constituents’ needs. This insecurity often limits their ability to make physical improvements, and puts organizations at risk of losing not just access to the land itself, but also investments made in building relationships, improving soils, and installing infrastructure. The issue of long-term tenure may be the crux of the future success of urban agriculture.

Equity Trust is interested in promoting innovative approaches to the land tenure challenges of urban agriculture by adapting and applying successful methods that have been used to preserve affordable working farms as well as affordable housing. The urban context presents particular challenges for farming and gardening programs, including the high price of urban land and the many competing uses.

A New England Food Vision recognizes the importance of intensive vegetable growing, including in urban and suburban areas, to the overall production goals for the region. There is a lot of exciting work using urban agriculture as a vehicle to nourish local food systems, healthy food access, youth-led advocacy, hands-on nutrition education, farm to school collaborations, and more. By focusing on the problem of land tenure, Equity Trust hopes to support the sustainability of all this work, helping to make access to land for these efforts affordable and secure.

 

Johanna Rosen is a Program Associate at Equity Trust and the Community Organizer and Communications Coordinator for Food Solutions New England.