In Part 1 of this series on finding access to farmland, we made the case that land access does not need to be a major hurdle for aspiring farmers. Plenty of land is available to lease — it’s just a matter of figuring out how to do it. In this post, we will begin to delve into the costs, values, and profits of renting land for farming.
How should you, the market gardener, compensate a landowner? You can think about this in a number of ways depending on the piece of land you’re farming and your own context.
For one, how much are the landowners currently paying someone to maintain their idle piece of land — the weeding, the mowing, and the general clean-up? This can be anywhere from $80 to $150, depending on the size of the property. One option is to offer them a vegetable basket worth that amount — or you can just pay them in cash if they can’t eat that much veg in a month.
And if you’re really, really lucky, your landowners would be happy just to not have to pay for anyone to clean up their empty plots. But don’t get your hopes up too much — this is a long shot.
Total Lease Paid Per Year: A Lot, but …
When Curtis Stone leases a yard, he pays taxes amounting to $2,400 yearly for a 5,000-ft2 piece of land. This is a pretty high number considering you can lease 10 whole acres of agricultural land for the same price.
Curtis can afford to look at this in a different way, though. Farming the way he does, he can easily net $30,000–$40,000 on that piece of land per growing season.
Not only that, but since he farms in an urban area filled with local residents, he’s building social equity and becoming a familiar face attached to quality, locally grown food.
Cost vs. Value
If you’re still unconvinced about leasing yards to farm because you think it’s too expensive, consider this: what else is on the property?
If you look closer, there might actually be bundled infrastructure on that piece of land that could increase the property’s value for you.
For example, Curtis leases 2 acres of land for $4,000. At first look, this seems way too expensive for ag land. But there’s added value in that plot of land. It just so happens that 1) there’s space for a shipping container; 2) it has greenhouses that Curtis has access to; 3) the landowner has a Bobcat that Curtis is free to use.
So the next time you think a property is a little too expensive, make sure you consider every possible additional benefit.
Experience Dictates Profitability
Because Curtis has been running with his urban farming model for years, he can afford to look at a piece of land, confidently estimate how much he can profit off of it, and agree to what would initially seem like too high a price for leasing farmland.
That said, he wouldn’t have had the confidence to do that five years ago.
It’s perfectly fine to take things slow in your first couple of years and learn what works best for you and your own context. You might say no to a plot of land now and yes to it a few years down the line.
Your experience as a farmer is what will dictate how comfortably you’ll be able to balance paying off the lease and profiting from your harvest.
Remember: there are an infinite number of ways to go about starting a farm by leasing land. It’s just a matter of finding the right model that fits your context.
And lastly, don’t forget that things take time. Farming’s definitely a learning curve, especially if you’re new to it!
In Part 3 of this series, we’ll discuss how to increase the value of your rented land.
Listen to more episodes with Curtis in The Urban Farm.
And you can find all our market gardening podcasts at Farm Small, Farm Smart—the longest-running podcast on market gardening in the world.