Right to Farm, Responsibility for Farming
Back in the 1970s, German banker Ernst Barkhoff outlined a new philosophy of agriculture. His starting point was the thought that each person, just by virtue of being born on the earth, had a right to the use of, and responsibility for the care of, a certain amount of land. Now Barkhoff recognized that, given the culture of our times, we were not all going to be farmers or homesteaders each cultivating our little plot of ground.*
Rather, as modern folk who choose to live in the city, we were going to delegate the care of our portion of land to a farmer who would care for it on our behalf. And because land has become a kind of reservoir for capital in our prevailing economic system, it would be necessary to ransom that land back from those who currently “own” it.
Thus the idea of a farm-share. A number of farms in Germany operate on the model Barkhoff outlined. People put up some thousands of dollars each to ransom a share of land for the use of a farmer who will farm it on their behalf. Of course, Barkhoff’s model goes beyond the issues of land ownership to the involvement of the members in the year to year financial responsibility for the farm operation and to the members then owning each a share of the produce and then deciding how it is to be distributed or sold and how it will be priced. The members leave to the farmer and his collaborators, responsibility for decisions having to do with the management of the farm.
Now Glencolton Farms is not implementing this model exactly, but I wanted to present it as a background to the direction in which Glencolton Farms is moving with their new farm share structure.
“Sharing” in the Glencolton experience
In recent years cow-share members have paid $300 for a cow-share, which lasts for six years and then has to be renewed with payment of another $300. This system is being phased out over a two-year period and in it’s place, a farm-share system is being instituted. The concept of the cow-share was fractional ownership of an actual cow, with the underlying general idea that you’d be getting milk from your “own” cow.
Under the new farm-share system, each member or member-family will pay $2,000 as a farm share, which will be refundable in full without interest or dividends, if at some future time the member no longer wishes to receive milk from the farm. Access to milk from the farm could be viewed as a dividend from this share. Here the concept is not so much cow-based, as farm-based. Instead of owning part of a cow, you become part owner of the farm itself and therefore you are more of a farmer than you would be just owning part of a cow.
From the farm’s point of view, those shares of $2,000 each, from 150 members, will provide $300.000 in capitalization for the farm, reducing the need for dependence on the whims or agendas of bankers.
Securing the Land Base
Currently Glencolton Farms is seeking financing to purchase a 200 acre parcel of land which has been under biodynamic cultivation for 27 years. It was originally part of the farm, although it was sold following the 1994 milk war, to pay for legal expenses. Since then it has been rented back for continued use by Glencolton Farms and has been an important part of the farm organism, primarily providing hay for winter feeding of the dairy herd. Although this land has been appraised at a value in excess of $500,000, it is being made available for Glencolton Farms to purchase for only $300,000. Eventually that $300,000 will be covered by the conversion of existing cow-shares to farm shares.
However, in the interim, a corporation is being formed to purchase the land to make it available for Glencolton Farms to use. Private loan money is being sought for this purpose, preferably in amounts of $10,000 to $20,000 or more. Five percent per annum interest will be paid (non-compounding). Thus a $20,000 investment will yield a return of $22,000 at the end of the planned two-year term. Glencolton Farms reserves the option of repaying some or all of this money earlier than in two years, as farm share membership money comes in.
Glencolton Farms Ownership Structure
Glencolton Farms is owned by the Agri-Cultural Renewal Cooperative Inc. This cooperation ownership structure has been in place for about 15 years. Majority shareholders are Marcus Schmidt, Dorothea Ackerman and Elise vander Hout. Some money is owed on a bank mortgage. Although Michael Schmidt founded Glencolton Farms and has been associated with the farm since its inception in 1983, he does not hold an ownership stake in the farm.
Total current asset value is about $850,000. This does not include the 200 acre parcel discussed above. A number of cowshare members also have invested money into the cooperative in the form of dividend-bearing shares. The possibility for investment in such shares is still open. These shares differ from the basic $2,000 farm-share, which bears dividends in the form of access to milk. in that they will bear financial dividends.
The farm is managed by those who work on the farm in a day to day capacity and have been with the farm for a minimum of one year. These are the only “voting members” and they decide how the farm will be run. They also need to purchase $5000 worth of shares each in order to be according voting status as part of the farm management team.
Money which cow share members have invested in the farm in the past is being treated as loan money, yielding 4% interest.
If you would like to explore the possibility of getting financially involved in lending money for two years as described above, to enable the purchase of land for Glencolton Farms to use, please read this nine page prospectus (3.8 Mb pdf file) and contact Jeff Lucas or Kevin Moynagh, using the email or phone numbers below:
jefflucas at rogers dot com 905-508-6553
kmoynagh at rkic dot com 905-770-6144
* This is where Anastasia (of the Ringing Cedars) differs from Barkhoff in her agricultural philosophy. Like Bernhard Hack**, she’d like to empty the cities and fill the countryside. But Anastasia has a very particular “vision”. In her version of the future, people will each live on and cultivate their own one-hectare homesteads. That time may yet come — at least in Russia it’s already happening. For more on Anastasia and her approach to agriculture read this post.
** Bernhard Hack was perhaps the second of the 1980s-wave of European biodynamic farmers moving to Ontario. His family still farms near Kincardine, in the Bruce peninsula.