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A model for "free" land access  RSS feed

 
Marcus Hoff
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Location: Málaga, Spain
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I don't know if this is the correct forum to post this under, but I found it to be the most suitable.

My wife and I have been discussing a partner business model. We haven't come up with a fancy name for it yet, which seems to be a "thing" in permaculture, but it mixes parts from SPIN farming, Fiefdoms and Element partners. I would appreciate your feedback, before we actually launch it.

We have land (6 Ha), but between a full time job, kids and renovating the house, it's going to be a while before we get anything done with it. So we are proposing a model, where people can come and setup a permaculture business on our land. It's not a lease, it's the right to usage and access to the land to perform a certain business. There is no rent involved. The payment would be a percentage of the produce, either directly or in monetary form. This is not an communal living suggestion, although you might call it a form of intentional community. Partners would have to find their own place, although it will be possible to set up a mobile home of some kind on the land in the start up phase.

We have:
Land
Local knowledge
Permaculture knowledge
Place to put a temporary home

Partner has:
Entrepreneur spirit
Business idea
Time

We get:
Community/Colleagues
Our land developed
Food from our own land
A sparring partner

Partner gets:
Community/Colleagues
Access to land for "free"
Low risk start up oppertunity
A sparring partner


We think this model would help us get the land developed and at the same time provide an opportunity for people who don't have the means to buy land, to get their business going. Or for people how want to try out a business model, but don't want to be tied up in a lease, if things don't work out.

Please give me your feedback.
Would this model be attractive for you. Why/why not?
What needs to be clarified?
What would you be worried about in this model?
What should we be worried about in this model?

/Marcus
 
Thomas Partridge
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I think it is a great idea, but I foresee a few problems.

The first is the permanent part of permaculture. Normally when a person comes to an organic farm as a WWOOFer (or in a similar situation) from what I can tell it is generally a temporary arrangement where the WWOOFer receives some form of compensation (even if it is just experience). That works well for that, but when a person starts a permaculture business they need a certain level of permanency and ownership. After all, it wouldn't be fair for a person to do all the leg work and set up a food forest for their business and at the end of it they don't even own it.

The second is the amount of legal paperwork that goes into starting and maintaining a business would increase dramatically in this format. Perhaps it is not the case in your area, but in the US for this type of activity both parties would need quite a bit of paperwork to make sure they are adequately covered. True you could always do it with a hand shake and find others that are fine with that as well, but one day either you are them are going to regret it when a dispute arises. In an ideal world both groups would amicably come to a solution, but that doesn't always happen.

Lastly, this system doesn't take into account the growth of their business. As their business and experience grows, so too should their compensation. If you are giving them the same compensation (i.e. free access to your land) but the quality and quantity of the products you receive increase as time goes on, it is going to start feeling very one sided for them. This goes back to the second problem, you would need to have agreements in place to cover how you will handle it. Truth be told, I am not exactly sure how you would handle that. It isn't like you can offer them extra free land. The only fair way of doing it would be for you to compensate them additionally as time goes with either your labor or through paying them.

If you can work around these problems (and probably a few more) then you could have a lot of success.
 
Marcus Hoff
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Hi Charles,
thanks for the feedback.
I agree with you that there is paperwork involved and that can be big or small depending on where we are and what we need to cover, but I think it's doable.

It would be a "permanent" arrangement. In the sense, that we would make an agreement for several (5-10?) years, depending on the kind of business. There is no point in planting fruit trees, but not being able to pick the fruit.

I wrote in the beginning, that this might be the wrong forum and I think it is (although I don't know where else to put this). It's not a WOOFING thing.
It's like a lease except you don't pay for it, you return a small part of your produce to us. Or like SPIN farming where you farm someones garden, sell the produce and the garden owner gets a box veggies every week.

Here is an example:
You want to start a permaculture business, let's say a market garden. We make, let's say a 5 year agreement for that business, where you can use a certain part of the land for that purpose. You develop the market garden and find a customer base to sell to and run a business. We get, let's say 5% of your produce. As your customer base grows you earn more. If it takes a year to establish, where you are not producing, it doesn't cost you anything, since 5% of 0 is 0. No matter if you have a bad year or a good year, you sell/keep 95% of the produce. We might even buy some (additional) part of you produce for other purposes.
If your business hopefully grows, it should be possible for you to have put enough money aside to maybe get your own land or add other businesses onto their existing one.

Someone else might want to setup a bee/honey business, orchard, nuts, sheep/wool and so on. So the idea is to have several businesses running on the land similar to Joel Salatins Fiefdoms.
We have several ideas for what can be done on the land and what kind of markets exist, but we don't have the time.
 
Landon Sunrich
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Marcus Hoff wrote:

Please give me your feedback.
Would this model be attractive for you. Why/why not?
What needs to be clarified?
What would you be worried about in this model?
What should we be worried about in this model?

/Marcus


This sounds like it could work really well. I would basically only be worried about Human Bullshit. Living with people can be tough. Boundaries and expectations need to be clearly communicated. Issues should be dealt with as they arise and not left to fester. That sort of stuff. Sounds like a great model other than that, and last I checked humans weren't robots. But I am out of date on these things...
 
Marcus Hoff
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The robots are coming...

You actually hit it right on, Landon.
I heard an interview with David Holmgren and realized why intentional communities are such an important part of permaculture. He and Bill realized that an integrated farm needs a lot of people specializing in different areas, because on person/family can't do all that alone. As opposed to the segregated monoculture farm model we have today. I admire their foresight, having figured that out when they "creating" permaculture.

Problem is, that my wife and I are not those kind of people who would live in intentional communities in the classic sense. We like being social and having people around, but some mornings/days I just want to walk around in my housecoat, drink my coffee and not have to relate to other people

We believe that the model we are proposing would be and "intentional community", since it solves the "problem" Bill and David foresaw. At the same time it does not involve the same kind of social interaction as would living together permanently.

That’s why we would want people to eventually find their own place. Initially people could put an RV, Yurt or whatever on our land to get going, but that wouldn’t be permanent.
 
Rhys Firth
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Eh, Marcus, I think you have just re-invented the medieval Village. Not the modern kind which is just a bunch of residences in close proximity, but the old kind where different specialists lived and worked in harmony (and sometimes not so harmoniously, see the "Brother Cadfield" books etc) each on their own thing. Village Blacksmith, village Baker, village Miller, village potter, etc supporting the work of the general farmer types.

You could still wander around your home in your housecoat and lean on the garden wall watching everyone else bustle industriously if you wish, they don't need to camp in your living room
 
Marcus Hoff
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Well, maybe I have. I'm not sure. I think in that in medieval times everyone who had something, had their own workshop/land and a farm would consist of 10-15 people: The farmer, his wife and children, maybe some grandparents and whole lot of people working there. The farm would be an integrated enterprise, producing a wide range of products. Actually this is where I think most nostalgic modern homesteaders go wrong. They have a vision of this kind of life, where they produce everything themselves, like in the "good old days". They just tend to forget the additional 10 people they need. Our neighbor, who used to live in our house (he's over 80) remembers his father having 90+ women shelling almonds every summer. Since we're not keen on getting about 5 kids more to work the land an hiring an additional 8 people for the same purpose, we've come up with this model. It's still an integrated farm, but everyone would work on their own enterprise, which I think is much more rewarding than working for someone else.

More to the point, I've heard and read of a lot of people complaining, that they don't have access to land for various reasons, mainly financial. So I would really appreciate to hear if this is a model, that would work for them. It's virtually free access to land, no money up front, no monthly payments, no requirements of minimum income and help during the initial phases. IMO this is as low-risk a model for starting an agricultural business as it gets, so I'm a bit surprised that none of the people looking for land haven't commented on this yet.
 
Dawn Hoff
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The difference between this and a volunteer is that the volunteer gets nothing from his work except room and board. Of course yes we still own the land (I am Marcus' wife), but the person setting up his business on our land will have his own network of clients and business connections - and be able to use land for free (or at least without any investment up front).

We are putting work into the land as well, and as a function stacked system, we will benefit off of each other - we have no intention of providing compensation though: We don't want employees, we want partners. We will put in investments in infrastructure, and pay materials for permanent installations (which will have to be agreed upon), so seeing it as other people providing free work for us and us not returning anything puzzles me a bit?

I see a lot of people wanting land, but not having the money - this would be an opportunity to try your legs at permaculture without needing to put down a kapital investment to begin with.
 
Karen Walk
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I have thought quite a bit about this model because I also have more land than I can manage on my own. Here are a few things in your plan that would cause me to hesitate if I were looking for land to farm:

1. Most permaculture systems take a significant period of time to establish before they are productive, and at least before they are fully productive. If I were to come to your land, I would need to put in significant effort to do soil improvement, and planting and I might have to wait years before having significant produce to sell.

2. Personalities - if, as the non-land-owning person, I have a disagreement with you that cannot be resolved amicably, I either need to leave the place that I have put significant effort into, or I need to stay in a hostile situation. If I leave, I have just provided you with months or years labor without realizing a significant profit (see #1).

3. Living area - you do not have a place for me to live, so I either need to bring a mobile home, or live off-site. Living off-site has it's own challenges, but if I live on-site, will I be able to use your shower or toilet? How do I get power and water?

4. Portability of assets - there are some permaculture assets that are portable, and some that are not. Animals are very portable. Vegetables can be planted in a new location next year. Soil fertility is not portable. Bushes are somewhat portable, but from my reading if your initial description, you would want to keep established fruiting plants.

5. Gaining knowledge - someone else in this thread mentioned the volunteer/woofing model - with this model, the non-owner worker is provided with the bare necessities (a place to sleep, food), and with experience in a new situation, gaining knowledge. My guess is that your target is somewhere just beyond this group.

My advice to you is to be more specific and pro-active. In this medieval village, you are the "landed gentry" - you might not want to be, but at the moment, you are. Take the time to develop your permaculture plan. In this plan, think more deeply about how you want to have others interact with you and the land - are you willing to let a proven partner obtain a percentage ownership of a portion of the land? You talk of wanting a percentage of produce as payment. What percentage do you need? How soon do you need it? Do you need it during the start-up phase?

What niches do you see other people filling? If you do not want to compensate them for their labor (and I sympathize with the desire to have a "sparring partner" rather than an employee) - they will need to have access to a way to make a profit in one season or two, likely with animals or a vegetable garden.
 
Dawn Hoff
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Karen Walk wrote:I have thought quite a bit about this model because I also have more land than I can manage on my own. Here are a few things in your plan that would cause me to hesitate if I were looking for land to farm:

1. Most permaculture systems take a significant period of time to establish before they are productive, and at least before they are fully productive. If I were to come to your land, I would need to put in significant effort to do soil improvement, and planting and I might have to wait years before having significant produce to sell.

2. Personalities - if, as the non-land-owning person, I have a disagreement with you that cannot be resolved amicably, I either need to leave the place that I have put significant effort into, or I need to stay in a hostile situation. If I leave, I have just provided you with months or years labor without realizing a significant profit (see #1).

3. Living area - you do not have a place for me to live, so I either need to bring a mobile home, or live off-site. Living off-site has it's own challenges, but if I live on-site, will I be able to use your shower or toilet? How do I get power and water?

4. Portability of assets - there are some permaculture assets that are portable, and some that are not. Animals are very portable. Vegetables can be planted in a new location next year. Soil fertility is not portable. Bushes are somewhat portable, but from my reading if your initial description, you would want to keep established fruiting plants.

5. Gaining knowledge - someone else in this thread mentioned the volunteer/woofing model - with this model, the non-owner worker is provided with the bare necessities (a place to sleep, food), and with experience in a new situation, gaining knowledge. My guess is that your target is somewhere just beyond this group.

My advice to you is to be more specific and pro-active. In this medieval village, you are the "landed gentry" - you might not want to be, but at the moment, you are. Take the time to develop your permaculture plan. In this plan, think more deeply about how you want to have others interact with you and the land - are you willing to let a proven partner obtain a percentage ownership of a portion of the land? You talk of wanting a percentage of produce as payment. What percentage do you need? How soon do you need it? Do you need it during the start-up phase?

What niches do you see other people filling? If you do not want to compensate them for their labor (and I sympathize with the desire to have a "sparring partner" rather than an employee) - they will need to have access to a way to make a profit in one season or two, likely with animals or a vegetable garden.

Thank you for your response.

You are right - we aren't quite clear on what we want yet

1. I imagine that if people don't have kids + a full time job they will be able to get something up and running pretty fast. Depending on what they want to do off course - but if you want to run chickens here, we have 6 ha (16 acres) of land to do it on, and it will only take a few months to go from zero to production. This is also the reason we say that people can park a tinyhouse/RV on-site for free: That way they have no expenses for quite a while. We cannot get planning permission for another house - we already have problems because we renovated the ruin that was here when we bought the land.

2. I personally see the model as mostly one where the other person brings in something that is easy to move off the land should they want to move - that is what I would want should I embark on such an adventure myself. I think that we will plant trees etc. as they are permanent instalments - just like terraces. So what I imagine is for someone to come with bees or goats or birds, or who want to create a market garden. No - the soil cannot be removed obviously, but neither can it if you do spin-farming.

3. I imagine that if people have a tiny house they will have some sort of toilet in it - or we will have to build a compost toilet, we do have plans of building one on what we think will become our "camp site". Water will come from our well (and/or collected on their house). Electricity... right now we only have a generator - and we have talked about them being able to borrow it... I don't know what will happen once we get solar panels - as they are sized for our use off course, it will not be a problem in the summer months, we can always hook up an extra battery then, but not as easy in the winter. That part we have not thought through. But usually people will have to pay to park their tiny house somewhere - here it is free... I imagine that they will be able power with a small solar panel, or a small generator at very little cost.

4. Portability of assets... Like I said, I imagine that we pay for fruit trees - yes maybe the tenant farmer will put them in or help put them in - but as they will stay, they are ours. I know that we will get soil fertility in exchange, as I see it that is part of the "rent".

5. Yes - I don't expect an experienced farmer to see this as a attractive offer, I see a young person who is just beyond the WWOFing skill level (what ever that is) and who wants to start up their own business, but who does not have the money to buy land. We have had a few WWOOFers here that I could imagine this being attractive to.

I think your point about being pro-active is good. We already have 10-100 ideas for this land, some of which could be profitable quite fast. Re obtaining land... honestly I don't know. I don't want to make it a promise in a contract that's for sure, and we can only sell off half the land or none as the law of the land is today... So off the top of my head - no. But we have a few neighbours that have land for sale - so that could be an option.

What percentage would they have to pay? I don't know, at least not right now. Our neighbour has ten bee hives on his land - he gets a box with 12 big glasses of honey every year - enough for his own use and to give a few away. Something like that. Someone grows my garden, I get a box of veggies every week, the rest he can sell, and I am happy. If I need more, for a party or a PDC something I buy from him. If I want to produce tomato-ketchup to sell, I buy from him. Something like that. Someone harvests all my olives, I get the ca. amount that I use in a year (provided there is any - we had nothing last year), the rest he can sell (that wouldn't even require and initial investment from a tenant farmer, as the trees are already here). I think most of it will have to be negotiated on a case by case basis - because if people put in work to make fencing eg. then I have already been paid in a way.

Thank you for really good questions.
 
Karen Walk
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You're welcome! It sounds like you've thought a lot of this through already - are there any WWOOFers you've hosted who you would back in a greater capacity? If you don't know anyone who would fit, when you are ready to advertise, be specific about where you see this person fitting into your farm, your life and the landscape. Also, require something of your partners in order to become your partners. Ask to review their farm plan and their business plan. It doesn't need to be fancy, but it should show that they have thought through the steps and have reasonable goals that align with your ideals.
 
Dawn Hoff
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We've have had a few that we would have loved to work with them on a long term basis - but they already had a thousand plans of their own (that is often the case with the best people ).

So I think we are in the process of looking for people. I think a one page business plan will be a good idea - and also interviews to see if the chemistry works
 
Bauluo Ye
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Dear Marcus and Dawn,

That's an interesting proposition! I didn't see this one coming when I visited you last fall. But hooray for pragmatism! It must be hard to not have the time you want to develop the gorgeous piece of land you have. There's some overlap in our thoughts about business models. My ideal would be some sort of coop. Each his/her own business, but with a high level of cooperation. I do highly value owning my own land tho. This wouldn't necessarily prevent me from some sort of cooperation with you. Perhaps we can work something out. My partner in crime and I will be touring Spain with a mobile home prospecting land this summer. Still looking.

Ye
 
Joseph Lofthouse
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At least in my community, there is so much vacant land laying around that is essentially a burden to it's owners, that "free" land is easily obtained... No need for sparring partners, or sharing profits, or rent payments, etc... Take care of someone's place so that they don't have to, and offer them a box of honey, or apples, and become steward of the land. That's about all it takes... Heck. The land owner might even try to sweeten the deal by offering irrigation pipe and the use of a tractor.
 
Tim Nam
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For me seeking access to land is largely about living on it and having autonomy to develop systems. if we were friends and I already lived close by I might think about it more but I can't say the idea strikes me as ideal. Just one perspective
 
Marcus Hoff
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Dear Ye,
It's frustrating not having the time we want. I'm seriously considering hiring a personal assistant - not to help me with any work related things, but just to deal with bureaucratic and government related stuff. I think 5h a week would be sufficient. Essentially what you describe is more or less the same thing as we propose. You can't do anything like this without working together in some way. I do understand the desire to have one's own piece of land, I think there is something primeval built into us about that.
Gathering from what I can read in this thread and from my own experience, getting land is the easy part, developing it is hard.
I find it interesting, that Paul Wheaton can have people stay, build on and develop his land, by his rules and have people pay for it. While we offer land without financial payment and even suggest, that we pay for permanent installations and get an unenthusiastic response. I guess that that, is called social capital, Paul has a lot and we don't.

If you come by our area, you're welcome to park your mobile home at our place.

@Joseph: Could you explain how that differs from what we describe here?

 
Dawn Hoff
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Ye - you are welcome to come by when you travel next, maybe we can figure something out. If nothing else maybe we can help you look for land close buy and we could support each other in other ways.

It is not that we don't get anything done, more that we don't get as much done as we would like - and we think having partners would help that, and we could help them. It often seem to me like everybody is saying "if only I could get some land" - well here is land. I know it is not the same as owning it, but it is a a lot cheaper than renting.
 
Bauluo Ye
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Thank you Marcus and Dawn. I'd love to visit you again in the summer and have a chat about this topic.
Being the highly individualized Westerners that we are, realizing we won't get anywhere without others can be a big challenge.
What we seem to be doing is trying to find a new balance between privacy and interdependence. I'm sure we'll be out of our comfort zone more than once during the process. That's fine. I'm also sure it can be done. It makes sense to me to stay far away from romanticism of various kinds an approach it as a business. Facing all the tough questions head on won't hurt.

When it comes to your model for "free" land I'm probably as hesitant as your next permie. We're quite an opinionated and pigheaded bunch and I'm sure most of us don't mind to put in years of hard work to hopefully see it pay off in the long run. It's a massive investment and an insurance, just like owning land is in some way. I think the lack of this long-term solidity is what causes reluctance. What does one have after 5 or 10 years when moving on? How does one relocate an agrarian business? Being tide to the land makes it more or less a necessity to go for permanence, which heavily influences decision making.

It can work if one views it predominantly as an education. This is where Wheaton's and Salatin's social capital come in.
Perhaps this leaves a different niche for you. I imagine some WWOOFers getting quite eager to put some of their ideas into practice while volunteering at your place. At home there's just concrete and buying a plot of land is financially or in terms of commitment not an option. You could assess the viability of the volunteers' idea an propose a time frame for it. I'm not thinking years but a season or so. Perhaps you can even pass on projects to the next volunteer. It's like being a volunteer but more on your own terms. You as "hosts" hopefully get to reap the benefits of soil improvement and the like.

I also encourage you to take a look at the holistic management books if you haven't already. It has to be clear to everyone involved who are the decision makers, and how a decision will be made. If you don't tackle this first, it's a recipe for disaster.

Don't be discouraged by the reception of you plans here. We're a tough crowd. What do you have to loose by launching it beyond this forum when you settle on version 2.0 ?
 
Dawn Hoff
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Thank you for your feedback! That really does get my ideas going.
 
Joseph Lofthouse
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Marcus Hoff wrote:@Joseph: Could you explain how that differs from what we describe here?


Your proposal seems to involve a lot of "community" and social interactions with the landlord.

My experience is that people burdened with excess land just want someone to be taking care of it, they don't want another family member. A once or twice yearly visit with the farmer is sufficient.
 
Dawn Hoff
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Since we are living on the land, and we will be working on the land too - then yes there will be community, but not an extra family member kind of community.
 
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