Secure Land for Urban Agriculture

Mill Creek Farm, Philadelphia

In 2013, Equity Trust launched this initiative within our Farms for Farmers Program to explore and address the issue of land tenure for urban agriculture.

We have released two reports:

In addition, as part of Land For Good’s Land Access Project Phase 2, we co-authored a guide: Farmland Access in Urban Settings.

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 how our approaches to preserving affordable working farms can be adapted and applied to the land tenure challenges of urban agriculture. The urban context presents particular challenges for urban farming and gardening programs, including the high price of urban land and the many competing uses.

Our approach

Our initial focus is on the northeast US, where we are based. This focus will facilitate exchange, through interviews and gatherings with some of the many urban farms in our region, as well as with other allies, including funders, policy makers, conservation and community land trusts, and leaders in the food justice movement.

Our goals are to raise awareness of insecure land tenure as the Achilles heel of urban agriculture and to build a broad-based network, a set of tools, and shared strategies to address this challenge by:

  • Initiating dialogue about land tenure with and among established urban agriculture organizations, to understand more fully their land tenure needs and challenges
  • Sharing our farm preservation tools and techniques with these organizations
  • Developing strategies and identifying funding sources for acquiring, protecting, and stewarding land for urban gardens and farms
  • Offering technical assistance to support groups with specific opportunities for securing long-term land access
  • Laying the groundwork for on-going collaborations aimed at promoting secure land tenure for urban agriculture

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, we can support the sustainability of all this work, helping to make access to land for these efforts affordable and secure.