A lot has happened in the last 6 months in regards to our tenure on this fantastic piece of urban farm land.
As many of you know, this property is privately owned. We signed a 1.5 year lease in April 2010 with the property owner at the time. He suggested that we might be able to continue renting after that time on a month-to-month basis until when he was ready and had the proper permitting to develop. However, in January of this year he was pressured by the financial burden of increased property taxes to put the lot up for sale. We immediately began to think about strategies for saving this land from being sold to a new developer, and we began investigating connections with people and organizations who might have power or interest in preserving some farmland in the city.
In February we called together a meeting of a few creative friends and colleagues to brainstorm action plans for our predicament. Even though it happened on an unexpectedly rainy day and we all had to squeeze into the greenhouse and sit on buckets around the seeding tables, that meeting was one of the most productive and exciting moments of Little City Gardens. Great ideas were generated about how to approach our specific situation and about how to push forward a political agenda of getting more urban and peri-urban land specifically devoted to small scale agriculture business. We felt support and connection from this group and emerged from the meeting with a few ‘business advisors’. A good lesson learned: never underestimate the power of explaining your predicaments out loud!
One of the business advisors that stepped forward in that meeting was Karen Heisler of Mission Pie. Her support has turned out to be instrumental in the process that ensued and the journey that we are currently on. Without her skilled guidance, intelligence with making connections, and emotional investment in seeing farmers succeed, we very well may have given up. Karen is a consistent and invaluable support to us!
The land was sold to a developer within the month (February), and shortly after we began to work with the Yggdrasil Land Foundation, an organization whose mission is to catalyze the viability of biodynamic, organic, and sustainable farming for food security and the health of communities through land access, preservation, and renewal.
Together we worked to develop ideas for how this particular piece of land could be best used to further the aim of a strong urban agriculture movement, and we have articulated a concept for an Urban Farmer Incubator Program (we will explain this idea more later). Yggdrasil has recently submitted a pre-proposal to the State through the Urban Greening Grant Program requesting the financing to purchase the property and begin the Urban Farmer Incubator Program. If this funding does come through, Yggdrasil would be able to purchase the property and lease to Little City Gardens. Yygdrasil would ensure that a conservation or agricultural easement is attached to the property title so that it will be maintained in perpetuity as an urban agricultural site, and so that the property taxes and lease fees will be more appropriate to the type of land use. We have realized through our efforts to design a sound business plan that commercial urban agriculture may only be feasible if property tax can be reduced on farmed parcels so that farmers can afford the according rent.
Although we have some exciting ideas in the works and some strong collaborative momentum, our situation is still complicated, precarious and time sensitive. Our lease is scheduled to end in October, and until we have funds and are able to make a strong purchase offer, the current property owner is actively working on development plans. If we don’t receive state funds to purchase, we will be back to square one.
We certainly took a gamble starting a our farm on a short lease, but at the time it was our only opportunity and we are certainly happy that we took it. But at this point we have put over a year’s worth of hard work into creating a neighborhood farm that is really beginning to be fruitful, and it will be very sad for us if we have to pack up and leave just as our vision has materialized.