De Landgenoten (“land comrades”) is a citizens’ cooperative company in Flanders, Belgium that brings together citizens’ savings to buy land for organic farmers.
De Landgenoten has experience of buying land for four vegetable CSA-farms and one non-CSA family farm in short chain supply plus a couple of CSAs and other farm projects in progress. Much of the land for these CSAs is being bought for starter projects with new entrants. The total amount of land acquired currently amounts to 10 hectares. Land is being bought for example when the owner decides to sell the land leased by the CSA or when the farmer is the owner and wants to sell his own land. This is done for a number of different reasons, to free his capital for other investments; to increase the chance of farm continuity after he quits farming; to make the property relations between the three farmers of a cooperative CSA farm more equal or for ideological reasons (land as the Commons).
Members’ capital is insufficient to finance all the land for a (vegetable) CSA-farm in Flanders as the average price of one ha of land is about €50,000, and can reach as much as €80,.000 to €100,.000 for arable land. That means capital from the wider community is needed. CSA farmers mobilise friends, family, neighbours and even the general public to become De Landgenoten shareholders. CSA-farmers are often sociable and good marketeers. This is a big strength in convincing others to become De Landgenoten shareholders. Members of a CSA-farm are already a kind of “local group” or “community” before De Landgenoten steps in. This makes it easier to get the De Langenoten crowdfunding campaign organised.
CSA members are used to and/or have learned to have a responsible attitude towards their farm(er)s. Involvement in the farm has become their “natural” way of life. Their contribution to De Landgenoten is thus often not limited to financial support. They also contribute with expertise (e.g. a member may be notary, another member may have expertise in land valuation), communication skills (e.g. a member with good press contacts), mobilising fellow members, finding or providing land for sale (e.g. a member landowner who provided land for another farm) etc.
In a CSA farm, added value is generated on the farm itself rather than through external processing and marketing. CSA farms score high in farm income per surface area. In other words they need little land per full time equivalent farm income. This makes it cheaper (and therefore more feasible) for De Landgenoten to raise the capital needed to buy the farmland.
For members of an existing CSA-farm, buying De Landgenoten shares feels like a continuation or extension of their existing solidarity with the farmer. De Landgenoten promote themselves as an “upgrade” of CSA, asking customers to extend their support to the farmer to the level of the land on which he/she produces food for them.
From the perspective of some of the CSA-members there can be however a contradiction in being 1) a co-”owner” of the land as a member of De Landgenoten cooperative and 2) having to co-fund the farm’s yearly land rental cost to De Landgenoten as a member of the CSA-farm. It is sometimes confusing and financially demanding for members of new CSA-farms if the farmer asks them to contribute an obligatory harvest share of €250-450 peradult as well as an optional 1-20 shares of € 250 in De Landgenoten cooperative before they have had any benefits from the farm (or even before a single lettuce has been planted).
CSA farmers are farmers that are willing to involve customers in their farm. For some of them cooperation with De Landgenoten is a logical choice. Some farmers, though, even go further in involving their customersand choose to organise their farm as a cooperative in which their members participate in the farm capital (machines, trees, …). In this way, the farm cooperative might become more suitable as a land owner than De Landgenoten cooperative. De Landgenoten becomes “redundant”.
The Flemish CSA Network was one of the initiators of De Landgenoten, together with Landwijzer (education centre for organic and biodynamic farmers) and a local access to land initiative (preparatory phase 2011-2014). In 2014, the CSA Network was one of the seventeen founders of De Landgenoten cooperative. CSA farmer Tom Troonbeeckx is the president of both Flemish CSA Network and De Landgenoten.
This case study is included in the study Access to Land and CSA: stories from Europe, 2017
Various plots amounting to 10 hectares.
CSA farmers across Flanders