A Vermont land trust illustrates how it's done

One of the articles in Living With The Land (IC#8)
Originally published in Winter 1984 on page 9
Copyright (c)1985, 1997 by Context Institute

THE EARTHBRIDGE Community Land Trust (EBCLT) located in the countryside of southeastern Vermont, celebrated its eleventh anniversary this year. With six parcels of land, totally over 350 acres and providing homes for 50 leaseholders (adults and children), Earthbridge is one of the oldest and largest CLT’s in the country.

It got its start when Christel Holzer allowed a young couple to tent on her land because they could not afford the rent on their apartment in Brattleboro. She had heard about land trusts through her work with the American Friends Service Committee, and began to consider putting her own land (the 8 acres where she lived and an adjacent 36 acre piece) in a CLT. She and the others who organized Earthbridge did so for two main reasons. They believed in the justice of the community land trust approach to land tenure, and they recognized that the land in their area was not readily accessible to people interested in getting on the land and making productive use of it.

In 1973, after incorporation, the trust purchased Christel’s 36 acre piece for the price she had paid several years earlier. Charging no interest, she deferred payment until the land trust found lessees for the parcel’s three leaseholds. She is now gradually being paid as EBCLT collects lease fees from these individuals. Christel then gave the eight acres where she lives to the trust in exchange for a life-time paid-up leasehold.

During the succeeding years, Earthbridge acquired more land in parcels ranging from 39 to 106 acres. All are within about 30 miles of each other. Five of them have three to five leaseholds apiece on them while the sixth is leased to one family that is farming the land. Most leaseholds are held by individuals or nuclear families, and many of the homes have been built by the lessees.

These parcels have been acquired both through donation and purchase. One of the donated parcels was willed to the trust, while another parcel was an owner-financed sale involving a paid-up lifetime lease similar to Christel’s. Two other pieces were purchased on the open market with money put up by the prospective lessees.

In the course of its history, EBCLT has had a number of sublet leaseholds and several transfers of leaseholds. Sublets must be cleared through the lease committee. When leases are transferred, the other lessees on that parcel must approve of the new lessees and the land trust must approve of the transaction. EBCLT disapproves of speculating on improvements, but they recognize the homeowners’ need for additional funds to cover relocating costs in an inflating market, especially since they will have no equity in the land when they leave. This land trust has not agreed on a limited- equity formula, nor will they purchase the improvements, but they expect their members to respect the group’s principle when setting their asking prices.

At a recent meeting, Earthbridge members, most of whom are also lessees, took the time to respond to the question, "Are your land trust ideals being met?" Several members appreciated the opportunities for cooperation among lessees, particularly within parcels. Some noted less group cohesion on parcels where one of the leaseholds was sublet, because these more transient residents lacked long-term commitments to the land or the group. One of the farmers challenged the group to make better use of its agricultural land and to consider limiting the size of the trust. Some members felt that Earthbridge should always be open to putting more land into trust, but others were concerned about the effects of becoming more spread out geographically. Members felt that, at this point, no land could be purchased by EBCLT unless a group of lessees with a workable financing plan were lined up.

Earthbridge members seemed relatively satisfied with the trust’s ability to meet the needs of its current lessees. For the future, they would like to clarify the trust’s goals and tighten the group’s sense of purpose while they look for ways to build interest in and commitment to further trust development.

This article is adapted from Community Economics, Fall 83, published by the Institute for Community Economics, 57 School St. Springfield, MA 01105.

How To Own Land

by Susan Farley

Find a spot and sit there
until the grass begins
to push between your thighs.

Climb a tree and learn
the gestures of the wind.

Follow the stream to is source
and trade speech
for that cold sweet babble.

Gather sticks and spin them into fire;
watch the smoke spiral into darkness;
fall asleep;
dream that the animals find you.

They weave your hair into warm cloth;
string your teeth on necklaces;
wrap your skin soft around their feet.

Wake to the configuration
of your own scattered bones
watch them whiten in the sun.

When they have fallen to powder
and blown away,
the land will be yours.

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