To keep agricultural land prices affordable for farmers, the Ecological Land Cooperative leases plots to people with the skills—but not enough cash—to start earth-friendly farms.
From barn weddings to cabin porn, the notion of a simplified rural life has captured the cultural imagination of late. But making these whimsical visions reality is anything but simple. For would-be farmers pursuing a patch of land to cultivate, high real estate prices often put an end to ambitions early on—but that doesn’t have to be the end of the story. In the U.K., where agricultural land prices have tripled in the last decade, a new collective is trying out a possible solution.
As Jessie Marcham reports for The Spark (Dec./Feb. 2014), the idea goes back to 2005, when members of various groups involved in ecological land management and cooperative development got to talking. Inspired by a vision for what would become the Ecological Land Cooperative (ELC), they sketched out a plan to buy degraded agricultural land and lease it to people with the desire and skill—but not enough cash—to start small-scale farms with regenerative practices (think permaculture and agro-forestry).
Fast-forward through six years of research and fundraising to the purchase of 22 acres on the Devon-Somerset border, followed by a snag when the group’s development plan was rejected by the local council. Nerve-wracked but determined, the ELC made an appeal, and finally, in April of 2013 the council granted permission.
The first tenants moved onto their plots last fall, writes Marcham. Each of the three will pay roughly £70,000 (about $115,000) for a 150-year lease—compare that to buying five acres in the surrounding area, which can easily cost £250,000 (nearly $411,000). Tenants also have shared access to a barn, rainwater harvesting system, and solar panels through the ELC.
The leasehold agreements include an annual audit to ensure that the land management stays earth-friendly. The lease also prohibits its holders from selling the property out of affordable, small-scale, and ecological agricultural use.
The ELC hopes to replicate this model, and is already looking into two more plots. Though its prices are relatively low, the group hopes that more experience will lead to lower prices on future sites, making the path to simple living a lot less complicated.