Make an agreement with a private landowner

One of the fastest and easiest ways to get access to land can be through an agreement with a private owner, ff you know or are able to find the owner of the vacant lot.  As in any land use agreement, defining the terms of use is very important. These terms are meant to define the rights and responsibilities of both parties: the landowner and the gardener or farmer.

Important Elements of a Private Land Use Agreement:

  • Land: Specifications of size and location
  • Use of Land: Specification of uses and by whom
  • Term: Duration of use, protocols for renewal, and farm’s rights if land is sold mid-season
  • Right of Entry: For example, restrictions to farm employees, contract workers, volunteers
  • Work Schedule: Days and times of most farming activities with exceptions by landowner permissions
  • Growing Practices: Farmers’ use of tools/machinery and landowner’s responsibility to restrict activities like use of chemicals in order to maintain the farm’s organic standards.
  • Water Usage: Clarification of source, use, and payment
  • Garden Maintenance: Specifies responsibilities of landowner and farmer in maintenance of plot
  • Garden Produce: Clarification of ownership of produce from the land
  • Compost: Agreement on use and location of compost pile and perhaps use of landowner’s acceptable yard and kitchen wastes
  • Payment: Type and amount of payment; can be monetary or in-kind through share of crops
  • Liability: Two-way release of liability; each party gives indemnity to the other over specific scenarios and legal responsibilities for their respective uses of the land.  Some landowners will require garden groups to acquire liability insurance.  The American Community Garden Association provides one option, offering affordable liability insurance policies for its members.

The majority of these terms were gathered from Alymer Backyard Farms’s Land Use Agreement and adapted for use on, maintained by the Sustainable Economies Law Center (SELC).

SELC has developed a sample agreement, which is available here.