How do we farm without land?

UntitledOne of the most difficult hurdles in farming is access to land. If you live in a rural area, a spread-out city like Houston, or a blighted city with many vacant lots it is apparent that there is no lack of land. The problem is that the land belongs to someone else. It is possible that the new program for farming does not include owning the land.
Governments, corporations, and wealthy land owners sit on land that is unused, save the occasional criss-cross of a lawnmower, costing the owner money and increasing greenhouse gasses. A much better use of that land would be to give some of the many people who would like to farm the opportunity to use it. The government, corporation or land owner would benefit from the bragging rights of presenting an organic garden and the farmer would make some money with the produce. The problem arrises when we bring up the word profit. Governments and large corporations, in particular, do not like for-profit entities on their property unless they are getting a cut. And we all know that the profit in farming does not leave a lot to share.
A solution to this would be to form a non profit organization that helps promote organic food, gardens, children in gardening, etc. This organization could pay the workers in the garden a modest wage, pay themselves a modest salary, and donate the rest to gardening education which they would do on a Saturday or a field trip, etc. Of course, like most business owners, they are taking on the risk, not knowing if they can make enough to make it worth their while. All proceeds would end up in the hands of the people who did the work, and that would not be a lot. Being a non profit, if you got to the point that you were making too much money, that would be used to expand–work more land and hire more people.
The land owner could be assured that the sign at the garden, introducing a nonprofit organization, would reflect an atmosphere of altruism. People farming would make money, unused land would be made productive and the people/governments/companies would feel pride in their reallocation of resources. The land owners would be responsible for paying water and taxes, but they were already doing that.
If one company turned a small lot into a beautiful garden the competing and neighboring companies would follow. Of course the farmers would have to keep their gardens looking better than my gardens in order to please the owner who is used to an accepted view of landscaping. This might require fund raisers to make beautiful fencing and mulched paths.
A model of land leasing is already in use with livestock that graze power company easements and farms. These typically lease for $1.00 per year and give a land owner the opportunity to apply for agricultural valuation on their real estate taxes after five years. Maybe the tax authority in counties and cities could work on such an incentive for urban land. Multi-year leases would be necessary because of the work involved in improving the soil.
Such an enterprise would require a business plan and all the bookkeeping forms that go along with getting a non-profit off the ground and approved by the IRS, but it could be a game changer. Just look at what Growing Power has done in Milwaukee. It has companies asking them to take unused land. They do a fundraiser to provide a greenhouse (it is cold in Milwaukee unlike Texas) and use paid untrained labor under the direction of knowledgeable employees to build and maintain the facilities. They get lower unemployment, better land use, and provide farmers markets in underserved areas.
These land owners have spent a lot of money on landscaping that is not providing food for people, chickens or sheep. Turning these into farms could help the land owner, increase local employment, improve the environment, and give opportunities to farmers. It would also help the dietary health of a community at little to no cost.
We need new solutions when land ownership is beyond the financial reach of farming. If your business plan does not allow for enough profit to buy property you should not be excluded from farming. We need more farmers, particularly younger enthusiastic ones. And it does not take a lot to be younger than the average farmer in the United States. I have heard figures ranging from 55 to 65, and rest assured I am one and I welcome the company of younger colleagues.

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