BLOOMFIELD FARM COOPERATIVE—CASE STUDY

Since 2006, my wife, Tanya, and I have been growing for farmers markets, restaurant and grocery sales, and for a small CSA, on land owned in common by a group of cohousing residents. Our farm, Bloomfield Farm, is a small, diversified farm, producing organic vegetables, herbs, flowers, and eggs. 

In the early 2000’s, the founding members of Champlain Valley Cohousing Development Company sought a property to create a residential farming village. While no one of the original group intended to make their living from farming, they offered land and included two affordable housing units in the project for potential farmers.

The members intended to attract a farm enterprise, by combining resources to enable farmers to access land with a degree of affordability in an otherwise costly land market. Tanya and I are the sole partners and farmers in our farm, a Limited Liability Company. Common Pastures Cohousing is organized as a Homeowners Association (HOA).

As we own a household in the HOA, we are also members of the HOA, but the farm and the HOA are independent entities. The entire land use agreement process was handled internally among the residents. The outcome of the original work included the lease to Bloomfield Farm, and a general Land Use Agreement document that could apply to any later requests for use of land. 

The Bloomfield Farm lease, (as well as any other land use agreement), is monitored annually by a small member committee tasked with the overall management of commonly-owned farm and forest land. We drafted an agreement, as well as a template used subsequently by others, and presented it to the committee where, upon discussion, modifications were made, agreement was reached, and the proposal was approved by a committee on behalf of the HOA. 

At that point, the agreement was signed by the farmers and the HOA representative, as a formal land lease. Combining assets such as land or capital among multiple owners offers both strengths and challenges that need to be considered carefully.

Where land is owned in common, space and resource base limitations can be an issue. Related Models Defined: Cohousing Cohousing is a type of collaborative housing in which residents actively participate in the design and operation of their own neighborhoods. We farm and live at Champlain Valley Cohousing. Also in Vermont, Cobb Hill Cohousing has a number of independent enterprises, as livelihoods and hobbies, with a high percentage of residents participating in some farming enterprise, in some cases multi-family, and multi-generational. The community founders acquired the property with the clear intention of supporting active farming, combining two former farm properties with existing infrastructure. 

In addition to commonly owned land, a new farmer or landowner may pursue several related opportunities, including commonly-owned capital assets, complementary enterprises among several farms, producer cooperatives, public or private institutional support, public lands and infrastructure, and working with landowners to share the benefit from enrollment in the Vermont Use Value Appraisal (Current Use) program. Fixed costs such as use of land or capital could be granted at no or low cost. 

Owning some built capital, such as barns, wells or fencing gives cooperating land owners the potential to continue operation should enterprises change or fail. Collective or common23 ownership of infrastructure helps defray overhead for the farmer. Labor costs could still be covered by farm, as a variable cost of operation. Integrating enterprises, seasonally or in adjoining locations, may also allow for shared capital among enterprises, without involving the land owner.  A cooperative is a formal business structure recognized in many states. 

A group of farmers may organize themselves as a producer cooperative in order to pool resources such as land, financial or built capital, or equipment, or may cooperatively market or distribute goods. Schools, hospitals, senior living centers, and other institutions may offer land, capital resources, and other support. 

This may serve to meet the goals of the institution while supporting a farming enterprise that could be managed independently or within the structure of the organization. Towns may offer public land or infrastructure, such as storage or slaughter facilities, for farming and forestry, as a public common, or through a low-cost lease to an independent farm. A common farm, using community land, may serve as an important asset to the community, by providing food to those in need, allowing public participation and education, or by simply putting unused or under-valued community land to productive use.

For more info: http://www.cohousing.org, http:// www.champlainvalleycohousing.org, http://www.cobbhill.org.