The land co-operative model is one in which the co-operative purchases pockets of land, retains the freehold, and provides plots for smallholders by renting (including rent-to-buy) or by selling a long-term lease. Sustainability and affordability is ensured in perpetuity by the co-op.
The best (and as far as we know, the only) example of a successful land co-op in the UK is the Ecological Land Cooperative (although a similar organisation is forming in Scotland – the Scottish Farm Land Trust). The co-op purchases land in the open countryside (that has often been degraded by factory farming), splits it into smaller plots for three or more smallholdings per site, and obtains planning permission for smallholders to build homes, as long as the buildings meet strict sustainability criteria and the smallholders produce a business plan to show how they will make a living from their smallholding. The co-op also provides a shared barn, access tracks, an off-grid solar electricity system and a rainwater harvesting system.
They provide access to land for people who may find it too difficult on their own (if they have to navigate the planning system, for example), and reduce costs by purchasing more than one plot (thus reducing the price per acre) and sharing infrastructure. They are helping to increase biodiversity, retain rural skills, strengthen local economies, prevent land speculation, provide healthy food, protect soil and repopulate the countryside with people who work the land for a living.
What to do
1. Donate / sell / rent land to the ELC
Do you have land? Would you like to donate, sell or rent part of it to the ELC? You’ll be helping to keep it in the hands of smallholders in perpetuity, producing food for local markets and doing so sustainably and organically, due to the oversight of the co-op (in contrast, you’ll never know what your descendants will do with it!). Ideally, your parcel of land will be 20 acres or more, under 200m altitude, with good vehicle access and not north-facing.
Click here if you’re interested.
There are various ways that you could volunteer with the ELC. If you have practical, land-based experience, you could help with training of smallholders and/or organising work weekends. Accountancy or IT skills (especially websites) would be handy too, and there’s plenty to do in terms of admin / communications. Paid work occasionally becomes available too.
Click here if you’re interested.
3. Become a member of the ELC
There are three ways to become a member of the ELC:
- as an investor member – see below
- as a worker member – this option is for ELC staff or for volunteers who work at least 15 days per year
- as a steward member – this is someone who stewards land ecologically, which could mean that they have a smallholding on one of the ELC’s sites, or it could mean that they manage their own land sustainably
The ELC is a multi-stakeholder co-op – steward members control 50% of voting rights, and investor and worker members control 25% each. The board is elected at the AGM.
Click here for more information on membership.
4. Invest in the ELC
The ELC launch regular share offers to purchase land, but you can invest between £150-5000 at any time.
Click here to invest and for terms and conditions.
5. Apply for a smallholding
Finally, the ELC would like to hear from people who would like to apply to be smallholders on ELC land. You’ll be added to a database of potential smallholders, and you’ll be contacted when a new site has received planning permission. You’ll be sent more details on the application process and asked for a business plan.
Click here to register your interest.