Webinar: Scaling innovation in community land trusts for farmland access and affordable housing

Webinar held on April 9th- Summary and Recordings


Featured Presenters

Hannah Wittman is Associate Professor in the Faculty of Land and Food Systems and the Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability at the University of British Columbia.  She conducts research on land trusts and farmland access with the Community Farms Program in British Columbia and the Landless Rural Workers Movement in Brazil.

Michelle Colussi – for over 20 years Michelle’s work with the Canadian Centre for Community Renewal (CCCR) has included community development, research, strategic planning, facilitation and training related to community based development and resilience.  She was a member of the team that created the Community Resilience Manual and led CCCRs committment to the delivery of Transition Town Training in Canada.  She is a co-founder of Transition Victoria and the Resilient Neighbourhoods pilot there. She is learning about Community Land Trusts as she accompanies Mike Lewis in the  community animation and engagement process.

Presentation slides: Click to download

Presentation recording:

Introduction: Click to listen/download

Part 1 Michelle Colussi: Click to listen/download

Part 2 Hannah Wittman: Click to listen/download

Final discussion and Q & A: Click to listen/download

Full webinar transcript: Webinar Transcript April 9th

Presentation Notes

Across the globe, community land access models for food production and housing have been described as  “proven innovations” to overcome challenges to individual and market-led access to these essential resources.

This session will describe how the community land trust (CLT) model can be used as an example of “scaling up innovation” where lessons learned from distinct farmland and housing access models can be shared across sectors and contexts.

Part 1: Michelle Colussi on the CLT Model

Land access for basic human needs, like food and shelter, is increasingly acute in terms of volatility of land prices. The Community Land Trust model (CLT) is emerging as protecting those basic needs.

The CLT is usually modelled as follows:

  • non-profit, usually charitable
  • multi-stakeholder
  • democratic governance,
  • typically open and multi-state membership

Essentially, this model flips our idea of ownership. Housing is moving from a commodity market to one that is meeting essential needs, with the notion of shared benefits and increased equity. Current CLTs in US and UK tend to include renter and ownership options as part of their model.

CLT model

The CLT separates ownership of the land from the buildings on the land. The CLT  leases the land to the occupants.

CLTs control the price of the land through agreements, covenants on the lease, and also prevent an increase in the price through agreements on re-sell value.

CLTs preserve the land value and avoid the rise of the private marketplace, therefore the value of the housing remains more accessible to more people.

For history of the CLTs refer to Pat Conaty webinar & housing articles on http://www.communityrenewal.ca

  • Over the last 30 years there have been 260+ CLTs created in the US.
  • Champlain Housing Trust (serving pop 100,000) was founded in 1984 and today has over 4,000 members.
  • It manages 2,000 units (1500 rental and 600 owner occupied) of affordable housing.
  • It has increased the affordability of it’s housing.

So this is a proven innovation that has clearly demonstrated to preserve affordability of housing, and we want to work to bring it into British Columbia. Currently, this innovation really doesn’t exist in BC; there are a couple of examples but it is not as predominant as it should be.

Land trust loans have outperformed other subprime loans and other private market loans in the US. The delinquency is much lower on community land trust loans.

We know we have a housing affordability issue in BC. Can we introduce and scale the CLT model in BC?

In the capital regional district…

  • CRD requires 154 (new) affordable housing units per year over the next 25 years, just to maintain the current levels: 24% of households spend more than 30% of income on housing.
  • Work force housing is an issue for 5 communities
  • Seniors in need of affordable housing is projected to increase
  • Provincially, the expiration of CMHC subsidies is projected to threaten housing for about 30% of non-profit housing tenants

Introducing CLTs: Scaling Out

Phase 1: We have some initial BALTA research to introduce this model to BC.

  • Conduct the research to describe the innovation (Balta)
  • Popularize the research (articles or reports) (Balta/CCCR)
  • Identify if or how the model is being applied in BC – more research (Balta)
  • Identify community and the interest groups (CCCR)
  • Share the research and findings with community stakeholders (May 2012)

None of the current land trusts in British Columbia are at the scale that we were looking for.

Early Animating and Organizing

Phase 2: Champion, Funding Partners, Stakeholder Engagement, Research, Convening

We found a group of stakeholders to introduce our research to and collaborate with.

  • Stakeholders give input on any next steps: more research and engagement of additional stakeholders
  • Seek funding partners to advance the next steps (CCCR)
  • Vancity partners
  • More research and stakeholder engagement
  • Final report to stakeholders and a formal agreement to pursue a regional CLT (8 months from initial meeting)
  • First working group meeting this spring (1 year)

Introducing the model, doing the research and animating (progress = 8 months)
It has been almost a year overall so far. It has taken quite some time and energy to get this far.

CLT network

  • Intermediaries are shown in Peach
  • Row above: not-for-profits and groups (in some cases), who are in the process of forming CLTs or Coops and/or that are interested in pursuing CLTs further.
  • We are thinking of these groups as organizations to watch for and learn from as we go forward in this process.

Next Steps…

What has emerged for us is the following 6 functions:

CLT Development System

This is certainly an evolving framework that we can test

What has helped and hindered our progress?


  • Access to Pat (technical assistance) as a feedback point and a framework to build on
  • Local presence to solicit relationships/insider input
  • Both individual interviews/discussions and groups
  • Supportive funder
  • Local projects identified early on: build on concrete effort (knew what lots we were referring to and picture the projects in practical terms, relating back to their own communities)


  • Lack of local resources for early animating: need funding (somebody needs to dedicate efforts to write the proposals, building the stakeholder groups, etc).
  • Collective ownership models are still perceived as too “hippy”
  • Knowledge, funding and policy are most common blocks

Scaling Up
– Part of our work has been in Prince George, and Mike has done some work in Metro Vancouver, and the City of Vancouver, so we are thinking about making links across the province
– What will it take to facilitate provincial coalitions between project sites/organizations/governments?
– To tackle barriers like Property Transfer Tax and development funds?

Discussion: Q & A

Download Q & A material here: April 9th Q & A Round 1

Part 2: Hannah Wittman on Access to Farmland

Following up to Michelle’s presentation, I have been thinking of this idea of ownership and different types of ownership as models. The land trusts I will be talking about also consider

  •  non-ownership as a model.

What is a Land Trust?

  •  A non-profit, charitable organization committed to the long-term protection of natural and/or cultural heritage.
  •  A land trust may own land itself, or it may enter into conservation covenants with property owners to protect or restore natural or heritage features on the owner’s land.
  •  Land trusts frequently work in partnership with governments, other organizations, foundations, and businesses in achieving shared conservation goals.

 From Land Trust Alliance of British Columbia:  www.ltabc.ca 

The land trusts that I work with are farm land, wild-land, reservations. Trying to protect the land from other uses. These are reactive movements rather than pro-active. These CLTs are trying to avoid urban sprawl, protecting wild spaces, and protecting working places. (As opposed to protecting land for housing development).

Land trusts often work with partnerships- broad range of stakeholders. Often they have relationships to that particular piece of land. Consider who is getting involved and what are the motivations?

Non-ownership model- securing land for a particular function that the market is unable to do

Farmland Trusts

Protecting Land for Food production incl. agricultural conservation easements www.farmland.org

  • UK National Trust has been protecting working landscapes throughout the 20th century
  • USA: 2 million hectares of farmland held in trust, a lot of this is private land (a trust purchases rights to a property with a covenant that protects and directs specific use. Ex: there are penalties for not using the land for farming). Rather than keeping the land out of production it keeps the land in production.

—  Community Farm Land Trusts Project

  • 2005-2007 UK action research project, trying to get land back into farming and to provide opportunities for people who couldn’t afford to buy land
  • This NGO worked with 3 community farm start-ups
  • purchased land collectively
  • Assisted formation of 7 land trusts
  • Online “action pack”
  • This is the way in which this particular innovation came to BC in what is now known as the Community Farms Project
  • http://www.stroudcommonwealth.org.uk/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=10&Itemid=13
  • Canada:There are approximately 150 Land Trusts that can receive ecological gifts
    • little data available on how much of this is farmland
    • difficult to find out how much and what that land is used for
    • 2012: 1 million hectares in trust with Nature Conservancy of Canada
    • There is some indication that working farmlands are being taken out of production as they go into land  trusts for conservation.
    • We have food production and ecological preservation purposes

Many grassroots/community level/provincial farmland trusts

– E.g. The Land Conservancy of BC: Farmland Preservation Program, Ontario Farmland Trusts, Farmland Trusts

The land trust model is playing out in varying different ways in different contexts. There is no one solution for how land is being acquired.

Farmland preservation: a legally binding contract to preserve land for farming uses. Even if land is in a land trust, there is not necessarily any mechanism that requires that land to be used for food production. So, an agricultural covenant would be the mechanism to ensure the land is used for food production.

Interesting contradiction: land that is in an agricultural land reserve, you can’t put additional covenants on that land (land is already protected for farming) to make it be used for production; but you can’t put additional covenants on the land that require the owners to use that land for agricultural production.

Agricultural Land Trusts- II

  • scope for expansion is really large
  • BC – The Land Conservancy of BC
  • Alberta – Southern Alberta Land Trust Society (SALTS)
  • Sask – Genesis Land Conservancy
  • Ontario – Ontario Farmland Trust; ROSE, PALS
  • Quebec – La Fiducie Protec-Terre
  • PEI – LM Montgomery Land Trust, PED ADEPT Council
  • New Brunswick – Community Land Trust (NBCLT)
  • BC’s Agricultural Land Reserve
  • Ontario’s Greenbelt
  • Quebec Act to Protect Agricultural Land (CPTAQ)
  • Newfoundland – Agricultural Development Areas

At the same time that communities are struggling to protect farmland, the government is also struggling to protect agricultural land.

Focus of research:

How to pursue community mobilization to protect farmland and meet up with government zoning to make sure that farmland is available for production and that is affordable? Are young people able to get into the farmland production sector?

Conservation Easements in Canada- only 3% protect agricultural land
A lot of space for expansion and scaling up for the use of these mechanisms to protect farmland but we are still in the early stages.

What is the motivation for food production in BC?

  • lots of young people want to get involved
  • partnerships between urban consumers and rural farms
  • desire to change social relations of production to address environmental, health and food crises
  • the “hippy” factor, the land movement during a certain period, people that want to produce their own food have to remove themselves from society, this is a small and inward looking food production model. Today, you see people wanting to produce good in a very engaged way. You have urban consumer meeting with rural producers.
  • How can we cultivate those relationships?

As the current food model is retiring…

  • Young food producers are interested in a diversified, small-scale model
  • Don’t want to buy several hundred of acres of farms, they just want a couple of acres
  • Need facilitated access to shared land without each individual farmer having to buy large chunks of land

Land Trusts in BC
– Land Trust Alliance of BC
– 29 member trusts (provincial, regional)
– The Land Conservancy of BC (TLC);
– there are some individuals (Linnea Farm on Vancouver Island)
– Land trust
– Just went through an entire Agricultural Land zoning process

TLC’s Farmland Preservation Program: How are they scaling up and out and what are the different ways in which this has happened?

farmland BC

Conservation Covenants
E.g. Linnea Farm

Receiving Donation/Bequest/Community Fundraising
E.g. Madrona Farm, Lohbrunner Farm, Keating Farm (TLC raised funds to purchase this farm)
– Some receive donations, community fundraising (purchased heritage farms by selling shares and forming a cooperatives)
– Madrona Farm had 3000 community members share donations (a total of $2 million)

Facilitating other Farmland Trusts
E.g. Farmlands Trust Society

Community Farms Program

– started in 2006 as a partnership, (no longer associated with TLC)
– a network and scaling mechanism
– 2 year consultative process with existing coop managed farms to understand what would a community farm look like?

What does a community farms look like?

  • Multi-functional farm that is held in community property
  • In each of these cases a community group has cooperative governance and land agreements
  • Moving away from individual farmers (subject to volatility of market, land use values, etc)

Our definition: 

A community farm is a multi-functional farm where the land is held “in trust” for community rather than owned privately. A community group or co-operative governs the land use agreements, and agricultural uses of the land are shared by a community of farmers. The primary focus of a community farm is local food production using sustainable agricultural practices.

Where are Community Farms in BC?

We did a study a couple of years ago where we identified a series of case studies that fit that definition of a community farm (above). We interviewed representatives from each of these, formed working group and network as a basis of this study.

We found there were a number of properties that were protecting farm land but did not fit our model because they were not owned by a community group.

  • 20 farms identified by FF/CF and TLC’s Community Farm Program
  • (TLC) The Land Conservancy – 10 active farming/ranching properties
  • The Nature Trust – 2 active farms, 6 areas for hay, and ~10 productive ranches
  • Ducks Unlimited manages stewardship agreements on 2500-4500 ha/year of active farmland
  • Metro Vancouver’s Colony Farm – a potential community farm…(but as of yet there was not a governance model that gave equal weight to users of the land and the land holders)

We formed a network, now we are in the phase of trying to see how these initiatives are organized and trying to see what the common challenges have been.

What are the innovations of land tenure beyond private ownership? These include, collective ownership, public ownership and land leas models. We’re looking at governance innovations and challenges to protect the land use for food production.

Innovations in Farmland Protection

  • Land Trusts
    • TLC, Linnea Farm Society, Madrona Farm
  • Public Land
    • Land Trust holds long-term leases on crown or municipal land (Haliburton Farm (municipally owned land), Nathan Creek Farm)
  • Society/Cooperatives
    • Group ownership, with long-term leases to farmers (Glen Valley Cooperative, Horse Lake Cooperative)
    • Leases land to individuals or groups of farmers
  • Agricultural conservation covenants held by land trusts
    • O.U.R. Ecovillage (privately owned land and looking for conservation covenant), Linnea, Keating Farm,
    • Horse Lake

Madrona Farm


In 2010, over 3000 community members came together to raise almost 2 million dollars to purchase Madrona Farm, a 27 acre heritage farm just 10 minutes from Victoria.  The farm was placed in trust with TLC, where it will be permanently produced for agricultural production, and is managed under a long-term lease by David and Nathalie Chambers.  The farm currently produces over 105 crops, 12 months a year, which is distributed to 3,500 local customers through farmers’ markets, directly on the farm, and in area restaurants.  www.madronafarm.com

Nathan Creek Organic Farm

  • Existing Farm Business, leasing land, kept losing land because of private land development; Lacked Secure Land Tenure
  • Partnered with TLC and KALE CSA Society to lease Provincial Land
  • 30 year lease to farmer, extensive community involvement

Glen Valley Land Cooperative

A group of 60 community members jointly purchased the 50 acre diversified organic farm near Abbotsford in 1997, which was on the market and slated for conversion to a cranberry bog. The group formed a Land Cooperative and the farm was certified as a TLC Conservation Partner, maintaining 8 hectares in mixed forest as well as utilizing a cooperative model to “to steward the entire farm for the mutual benefit of the land, wildlife and people”. The farm currently hosts five independent farm businesses, which share access to farmland, infrastructure, and marketing responsibilities: Pitchfork Organic Farm, Close to Home Organics, Mighty Fraser Farm Goods, Glen Valley Herbs and Apothecary, and Mina’s Honey Pot. www.glenvalleyorganicfarmcoop.org 

Challenges for Farmland Protection

1. Multiple Layers of Governance

  • (Land title, Cooperative/Board of Directors, Farmer(s), Users/shareholders/CSA members/clients)
    • Many of these community farms have multiple functions (do not only just produce food: social services, education, recreational value). There is a lot going on asides from just food production. The governance models of who allows what to happen where is quite complex and tensions can arise over what are appropriate land uses and competing over shared uses.
  • Competing agendas, objectives
    • – conflicts: what are appropriate land uses and competition over shared resources
      – important to recognize how stakeholders are approaching these objectives

Research questions:

How to resolve conflicts over land use?

How to prioritize objectives among stakeholders?

2. Financing 

Almost all of these models have involved philanthropy. A lot of these community members are willing to donate funds and/or land to protect agricultural land. But as a business model and as a larger structural method for meeting regional food security, what are the models that can stay alive beyond philanthropy?

We’ve also identified significant policy contradictions between zoning and by-laws
>> protect food production uses, but many models often don’t allow farmers to live on the land (because additional housing cannot be bought); Sometimes the case is that you have a large plot of land with one farm-house but several farming projects. Only one farmer is allowed to live on the land. This has caused a lot of tension and a dissolution (of some initiatives) because people are often not-interested in commuting to their own farm. Interesting synergy exists…how do you facilitate access to food production when housing can’t be on the land?

3. Community Visions

Divergent community visions on what a piece of land should be used for?
– different sections of the community have different ideals for farming appropriation
ex: small-scale local gardens, versus dairy, berries, etc. What kind of food is acceptable in these alternative food models? Is farming a lifestyle or a livelihood? Getting to the economic model of a farm needs a certain model versus just for community welfare

Discussion Q & A:

Download Q & A Material here: April 9th Q & A Round 2

Final Discussion

Michelle: What are the implications now for BALTA? Maybe we can start by talking about what were the “ah-has!” from either this or Pat/Robin’s sessions?

Noel: Can I just ask, are there any examples of hybrid land trusts where you have farmland-urban housing mix?

– Some of the eco-villages I consider to be that model (Yarrow Ecovillage in Chilliwack started as housing, but now have moved quite significantly into farming activities. Now, they are leasing parts of their space to share that model)
-There are several models
– Some of these are community-garden type models

Mike Lewis: I thought it was very interesting when Michelle was talking about creating a multi-stakeholder group as part of facilitating that research. Hannah, you also talked about a 2 year process where you convened people, facilitated conversations and there was a case study that emerged out of that process to get at the essence of these problems and the essence of the innovations.. You were combining an innovation with a research process that did the same thing in terms of animating, communicating, educating, as Michelle was describing.

Did you have criteria in mind when you identified the groups you were going to convene and engage? Trying to get at the process side.

Hannah: This was definitely a PAR program. Within a year of its initiation, I was asked to become a part of the advisory committee. The criteria and selection (alternative land ownership models, we were quite open about what was considered to be alternative, did case studies of farms that were privately owned but were performing some type of community function) the 20 farms were all quite diverse, this was purposeful in trying to understand what are the variety of ways that people and organizations are pursuing common lands for local food production (unifying objective).  Grassroots movement of urban consumers who want sustainably produced local food, and young framers who were struggling to access farm-land; they came together with a common objective.

What is really interesting is a study on farm-land demand, there is a lot of land available for farming per individual, but those individual models don’t work for sustainability food production models because they don’t have secure tenures. They are available year to year but you cannot invest in community network because you are not guaranteed to have that land next year.

So we need ways to facilitate secure, on-going community land-access.

Michelle: your initial criteria was first based on whether or not they were using the innovation? That was the primary thing you were looking for?

Hannah: We were looking for community farming, so farming that was not just solely a farm business for profit. All of these have a farm business for profit as a part of them, but all are performing functions beyond the just for profit function. It was a social economy model as well.  That definition took years to come up with, because we had to identify what unified this network? It was multi-functional nature, shared land access and community involvement.

Q: In terms of community farms, did you look at how the different enterprises fit together? If it is a land trust is it connected to community agriculture and coop models and do those networks have a different outcomes than what it is a for-profit business? I’m interested in the connection between CLTs and other cooperative enterprises on these farms? I am wondering if you noticed different outcomes? Resilience, maintenance, etc. as opposed to for-profit business models? Is there some analytical statement to be made between farmers who are doing a business model and a kind of for profit oriented agro-business center?

Hannah: We look at the global food system and then these small scale models as the antidote to that. Unfortunately, the reach of these small scale models is so small.

We are doing a current project in Brazil with land-reform communities that have received land-reform distributions. We are returning to see how they are doing in terms of food sovereignty. We are finding they are really struggling because of the broader conjuncture.

These processes are similar in Canada (less so in BC than in Prairies and Ontario). There is significant pressure for profit driven, highly-technified, export oriented model. Communities are asking for local models and that is why philanthropic models because the state is not stepping-up.

To what extent these models are actually more resilient? We don’t have enough time to say…In terms of the analytical distinction between farmers and the “greedy agro-business”, it’s a continuum;when you ask people about what their desired income it is highly varied among young people.

We have young agrarians for example. When you actually interview them what they are interested they are actually interested in community relationships and sustainability issues (sustainability “idea” of farming).  I believe that a sustainable, resilient land use economic model depends on getting land out of the market.

Michelle: Listening to you Hannah I am struck by an understanding of how the financing and the policy blocks really are the most significant blocks. In both examples, we really have some capacity on the ground and in your case you have connected them together already through the community farm movement, so there is that coalition of groups. You would think you have started to shift some of the public policy and create support. As you mentioned earlier, you need to broaden the constituency base. I see the same on the CLT side.

Without supported financing and recognition to pull land out of the market for housing at the policy level, we are really not being able to address them beyond the micro-level. That is really where we need to pay a lot of attention.

Ana Maria: Just to follow up that, if you both can have some reflections. You have read the mandate for the CBR, can you tell us a lesson that we can learn from your experience?

Hannah: I think the lessons include, we’ve learned the most when we haven’t started from zero. When we have taken existing collaborations and existing partnerships and scaled those up and out. I think my recommendation would be to look at with our groups and see what are the really interesting questions that are part of PAR outcomes, (of which our network has many). Where can we see that interesting connection and commonality among existing relationships…
We can’t say this is our methodology before we know what our partnerships are interested in researching?

Michelle: for me, looking for innovations that are happening; that would be an interesting mapping project. from those, to identify if there are gaps in something that is not happening that BALTA can tap into, to plug a gap; first, i would like to look at what is already going on. I see an opportunity fr research process to animate and organize at that larger coalition level where it seems so badly needed.


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