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Food Sovereignty Through Council Farms


Council farms were established in the late 1800’s to ease access to land for young and first-time farmers. Councils lease publicly owned land, usually below market rates, to farmers with the expectation that tenants will acquire the skills and capital to move onto private farms in the future. Council farms are intended as a vital first step into farming and today they could help to address deeply unequal patterns of land access among traditionally excluded groups: the working class, women, and racialized communities.             

Yet in recent years local authorities have taken to selling their council farms to plug spending deficits and support struggling social services. As land values across the country have continued to rise, council budgets have declined, making a quick sale extremely tempting to cash-strapped authorities. As a result, between 1977 and 2017, the acreage of county farms in England declined by more than 50%. Largescale sell offs in more recent years have contributed to the consolidation of agricultural land in the hands of a small group of landowners. This makes farming a less accessible profession and shuts down opportunities to introduce much-needed sustainable and ecologically restorative food systems.

In our work on food sovereignty and council farms, Abundance proposes that rather than selling off public lands, council-farms should be run as Public-Common Partnerships. This has four primary benefits. First, it could ease access to land for excluded communities and new entrants. Second, it could provide a reliable revenue stream for struggling local authorities. Third, it could support experimentation with more labour intensive, low off farm-input farming systems such as agroecology. This could bring more production on shore and provide secure employment. Finally, Council Farm Public-Common Partnerships could share knowledges and revenues to support the expansion of further commonly managed lands with a view to building a new agricultural commons for the 21st century.