Urban growers seeking access to affordable land often turn for help to government officials at the city and county level. City officials and land bank managers can help identify vacant land that could be available for farming. County assessors may have the ability to provide favorable assessments for land used for open space or agriculture. Yet individual growers often don’t know who to approach in these agencies, or how the processes of securing land and seeking favorable tax treatment work. From the perspective of city and county officials, it is easier to work repeatedly with a single organization that represents multiple growers, rather than beginning the process anew with each grower.
For a small organization, it can be difficult to develop and sustain the expertise needed for complex real estate matters. Their staff are often generalists, responsible for multiple subject areas, who cannot take the time necessary to learn the intricacies of real estate law. In this context it makes sense for urban farmers to seek the services of organizations that can afford to specialize, and develop relationships and negotiate effectively with city and county officials.
In short, urban farming is a team effort. Even when growers may appear to be growing crops all by themselves, in most cases they depend on the support of others. Securing affordable land to farm in the first place requires working together with real estate professionals, accountants, lawyers, nonprofit organizations, and government officials. To develop a food system in which urban farmers are able to focus on what they do best, we should not ask them to play every position on the team, or be masters of all domains. Enabling partnerships between urban growers and trusted specialists who have the ability to work repeatedly with government officials should help maximize the benefits urban farms can bring to the urban landscape.