This is an outline of a project that has been slowly crystalising for a number of years. The ideas have developed through numerous conversations and a number of people are now interested in being involved in its development and investing some money in land purchase through the project. This is an attempt to effectively outline the project. We are ready to start approaching people and organisations inviting support and engagement and would be happy for any ideas or advice about the project, the way its presented, and ways to take it forward…
New Common Land Initative (working title - ideas for project name appreciated)
The project aims develop agroecological land based livelihoods by providing access to land and skill sharing.
The project seeks to explore novel collaborative approaches to try to overcome common barriers to developing land based productive livelihoods.
Lack of skills
Lack of time
Lack of resources
Establishing and maintaining a land based livelihood independently is extremely demanding of both time and attention. Gaining an understanding of the land and the local market while honing the skills necessary to develop a livelihood leaves little time for other activities. Being able to reside on the land is highly advantageous as it provides constant direct access to the land. No time and money spent traveling, and the ability to easily keep an eye on things. Unfortunately land with accommodation is expensive.
Having a mortgage to pay while developing a new livelihood is not an ideal situation to be in. Especially when the home and livelihood are interdependent. Agricultural land can be purchased and residential planning permission sought, often successfully, but the time, money and skills necessary to achieve permission are significant and take attentions away from developing land based production.
Purchasing agricultural land without residential permission greatly reduces the cost of the land. By focusing on crops that do not require constant attention, like orchards or field crops, project participants can stay on the land in temporary accommodation as seasonal workers at key times of the year.
Land could also be leased with terms suitable to allow project development. Agricultural land rental is surprisingly cheap - less than £100/acre/year
Sympathetic land owners may sell or lease land at advantageous rates,
Building a commons
The project aims to build a commons around developing agroecological land based livelihoods. Methods of land acquisition, land management and livelihood development will be explored through collaborative processes. This knowledge will be freely shared to foster both continued development of the project and the ability of others to become involved in similar activities.
The project will also have assets of land, tools and produce that will be held in common and managed through collaborative processes.
The project will be open for people to become involved with governance, administration or land work.
The project could expand, purchasing further land and developing production so that attention at different sites is required at different times of year. Workers accommodation could be moved from site to site as appropriate.
Planning permission for more permanent facilities could be sought, and possibly more easily justified, to allow activities on a site to be developed more intensively.
Individuals may choose to develop their livelihoods within the project or use the skills and contacts gained to develop an independent livelihood.
The project will be financed through open contributions. The exact mechanisms for this needs developing and will be somewhat dependent on the corporate form of the project (also in need of development). Ideally people can put money in and take it out as necessary.
Some kind of timed withdrawal, either repayment at fixed time, as loanstock, or a certain amount of notice, would alternative funding to be secured or land to be sold to meet requirement of investors.
Possible models - cooperative issuing loanstock, community share offer, crowd funding
Example possible new commoners
Lives and works in the city and has a well paid job but always wanted to live in the country closer to nature. She grows some salad in the window of her flat. She is saving money so that she can escape the rat race. She uses the project as somewhere she feels happy to invest her savings - she knows what the money is being used for and is happy to be supporting the project. She takes time off work so she can get involved with work on the land and meet like minded people. She values the social interaction and feels great when she takes home produce from the land. She is actively involved with the project governance, attending meetings when she can and participating in decision making.
Tony has retired from a job-for-life in the accounts department of the district council. He is concerned about environmental issues. He is active in the local Transition Town network. He thinks it would be better if there were lots more small, local food producers. He supports the project by helping with the accounts and even though he isn’t as strong as he was when he was younger he still likes to spend an afternoon doing some work on the land from time-to-time. He has invested some of his savings in the project/ He attends meetings and is involved in decision making.
Philip has not been able to get a job since he left school three years ago. He likes the countryside and cooking and he regularly goes out collecting wild food. He was very interested to read about the project in the local paper and went to the land for an open day. He stayed on the land for a few weeks during the winter and learnt how to prune the apple and pear trees in the orchard. He has been to a few of the projects governance meetings.
Karen has done an apprenticeship in organic vegetable production but has been unable to find the money to set up as a grower. She joined the project and is very happy that she has so much support - she does not have to worry about selling the stuff she grows or how she is going to find the money to buy seeds in the spring. She does not like meetings but is involved in the governance through talking to other people in the project and letting them know what she thinks about what she considers are important issues.
Sophie is a busy working mother. She does not have much time to get involved with the project but puts money in to pay for expenses and receives a share of the produce that the project grows. She likes to visit the land with her children sometimes when she can grab a spare day so that they can see and be a bit involved in the production of their food. She does not have much time to be involved in the governance of the project but does read the project email list and comment if she thinks something is important. She is set to receive some money from a dead relatives estate and is considering investing some of it in the project.
Mark has been an itinerant farm worker for a number of years. He traveled up and down the country doing seasonal farm work - hop twiddling, apple picking and pruning, daffodil picking. He often worked for low wages and was not sure when he would get work or for how long it would last. He was happy to find the project and get involved. He is glad that he has a say in the running of the project and that he is able to use his farming skills.