A potential solution to the challenge of high land costs is the establishment of a nonprofit Affordable Farming Program functioning under the affordable housing land trust model. This is very similar to the Department of Hawaiian Homelands structure, where the umbrella organization owns the land in fee (or holds permanent leases/easements on the land) and provides affordable, long-term, inheritable ground leases to the farmer lessees. In this model, the farmers can build their equity in the farm itself, exclusive of land costs. Equity could include the construction of farm dwellings, agricultural facilities such as barns, processing facilities, irrigation infrastructure, increasing soils quality, organic certification, roadside stands and other value added items. Successful projects of this type have been established on the mainland, and are cited in the reference links section of this proposal.
This organizational model would promote the establishment of sustainable family farms which can be passed on to subsequent generations. Alternatively, should the farmer decide to leave farming, the equity value they have built into the farm can be sold to other aspiring farmers or back to the Land Trust.
Depending on the legal structure of the organization and sources of initial funding, future sales of the developed farm might be limited to an “affordable” level for a new purchaser (defined primarily by HUD requirements). Significant funding is available through federal, state and local affordable housing and open space programs. Under certain situations the farmer might eventually be able to purchase the underlying land outright and realize the entire value of the farm, inclusive of the land.
Aside from maintaining affordability in perpetuity, the land trust has the permanent responsibility of monitoring and oversight to assure the lands and any dwellings are only used for agricultural purposes and cannot be converted to non-farming uses. This is an oversight function that most jurisdictions are incapable of meeting.