Want to Farm? Land Ownership Not Required – Part 1 of 4

Almost everyone thinks owning land is a prerequisite to farming. But it turns out that leasing farmland is not only a viable alternative — it may even be preferable to owning. 

In this four-part series, we’ll discuss the benefits and how-to’s of leasing land for market gardeners.

A Hurdle that Doesn’t Have to Be a Hurdle

Let’s face it: land in the U.S. and Canada is too expensive for the average person to purchase. Because of that, people who want to get into farming are discouraged even before they actually start farming. 

Urban farmer Curtis Stone is living proof that you don’t need to own land to start farming. All you need is access to it. 

Curtis rents the land he farms on and compensates his landowners with either a basket of produce or a monthly lease. And the total land he’s farming? Fifteen thousand square feet. 

That just goes to show that you don’t even need a lot of land to be a successful farmer. In fact, you can be even more productive farming on less land because you can get creative with how you micromanage your farming space to make every single square inch worth it. 

An example of getting creative with limited farming space is growing microgreens. Going down that route would definitely up the dollar value per square foot you’re farming on. Less space, more produce. It won’t happen overnight, but it’s doable. 

Beneficial Arrangements for the farmer 

Of course, if you have your own lawn, you can always start with that. 

But say you’ve maxed out that space and you live in an urban area where there are houses, lawns, and if you’re lucky, an empty plot of land. That’s plenty of land to think about already! 

People often ask – “Why would someone allow me to use their land?”

For some urban residents, the land and lawn around their homes are more of a pain than a benefit.  From mowing, weeding, and general upkeep it’s a big chore if or an expense costing around  $80-$100 a week).  As urban farmers, we can turn this pain point into a benefit by eliminating that cost and either giving them fresh, quality produce or paying them a lease. 

The Right Plot of Land: How Curtis stone Chooses Where to Farm

Now that that’s got you thinking, maybe some doors have opened up. Maybe you even have some potential plots of land you want to try asking to farm. But how do you go about choosing a plot of land versus a good plot of land? 

Here’s how Curtis chooses the land he farms on:

  • Land specifications 
    • 1km or less from his main network
    • At least 1,500 ft2 (preferably 2,000 ft2
    • No shade or major obstructions in the soil 
    • Not contaminated 
    • No history of industrial use 
    • No invasive weeds (bindweed, Canadian thistle) 
  • Landowner fit — has to be the right kind of person. Can you see yourself being around this person many days in the week in the growing season? 
  • Memorandum of Understanding — states how the setup will work, states the responsibilities of both the farmer and the landowner; be as transparent as possible to avoid miscommunication and misalignment of expectations

These are just some points to think about when choosing your own urban plot of land to farm on. Feel free to add more specifications and considerations depending on your context.

In Part 2 of this series, we’ll discuss how much you should expect to pay to rent land for a market garden and how to think about the costs and benefits of leasing farmland.

Here’s to hoping you’re convinced that you do not need to own land to start farming! 

Listen to more episodes with Curtis in The Urban Farm.

The Urban Farmer Podcast with Curtis Stone

And you can find all our market gardening podcasts at Farm Small, Farm Smart—the longest-running podcast on market gardening in the world.

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