The Agrarian Commons is a new model of land stewardship and access that allows for community ownership of farmland. In partnership with the nonprofit Agrarian Trust, which established 10 Agrarian Commons across the US in 2020, CAFS created the following legal guide for anyone interested in establishing one. The guide outlines bylaws, land stewardship standards, equitable lease-building, and more. It also includes summaries of discussions with lawyers, farmers, and other practitioners who participated in creating the legal documents. While focused on Agrarian Commons, we hope that the guide will be used to assist those looking to establish similar legal structures, such as community-based ownership/stewardship of land, or equitable leases based on long-term tenure and regenerative practices.
The process of creating the legal documents that are the legal structure of the Agrarian Commons was a collaborative one, captured in comments by the lawyers, farmers, and other practitioners who participated. Following are the relevant documents, along with some of the conversation/comments that accompanied their drafting.
When Agrarian Trust first began looking at legal models for the Agrarian Commons, the organization believed that most of the Commons would be formed as nonprofit 501(c)(2) or (c)(25) community land trusts. That changed, and the Commons are able to form a variety of legal structures. We will be adding information to this Guide to reflect but, but for now, the documents in the Guide reflect early discussions and so, focus on the formation of 501(c)(2) organizations.
A key value of all Agrarian Commons is ecologically regenerative stewardship of the land by the farmers leasing the land.
Another key value of all Agrarian Commons is that the farmers stewarding the land have long term tenure at a reasonable cost and with equitable lease terms.
A unique component of each Agrarian Commons is that Agrarian Trust, a nonprofit 501(c)(3) corporation, is the “parent” corporation of all the Agrarian Commons.
Finally, state law governs how long a farm lease term can be. Some states have no set limits while others only allow a lease to be a maximum of 10 years long.
State law also governs whether there are specific requirements regarding members of nonprofit corporations, including community land trusts.
The Center for Agriculture and Food Systems is an initiative of Vermont Law School, and this toolkit provides general legal information for educational purposes only. It is not meant to substitute, and should not be relied upon, for legal advice. Each farmer’s circumstances are unique, state laws vary, and the information contained herein is specific to the time of publication. Accordingly, for legal advice, please consult an attorney licensed in your state.