Sunday, March 28, 2010

Cornucopia: Durham's Urban Agriculture Land Trust

Cornucopia co-founders visit urban agriculture sites in Durham

Cornucopia is forming as a 501c(3) non-profit community land trust for the purpose of acquiring and maintaining a secure land base for affordable food production in Durham, North Carolina. Cornucopia is being created by and for local food activists, community organizers, and residents of food-insecure neighborhoods. Durham, recently nominated "the Foodiest Small Town in America" (Bon Apetite, October 2008) still has many neighborhoods considered urban food deserts, where convenience stores selling unhealthy processed foods prevail, and grocery stores and farmers markets are not available. Many of these same neighborhoods have a history of earlier generations of residents sharing food from abundant backyard gardens, though these skills are being lost.

Cornucopia will strategically identify vacant lots in food-insecure neighborhoods that can serve as community gardens, urban farms, greenhouses, and composting facilities, then negotiate with owners to take these lots permanently off the speculative market. This is an essential step in a community where low- to moderate-income neighborhoods suffering from years of disinvestment are now being impacted by gentrification and real estate speculation.

Started as a project of Community Wholeness Venture (, a Durham-based leadership development organization, Cornucopia will take on a life of its own as a community-based landholding organization with a Board of Trustees representing the community. The project is funded by a grant from the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation, and has been supported by the work of edible landscaping collective Bountiful Backyards ( and Land In Common (, which focuses on community-based land conservation. Partners such as the educational gardening organization SEEDS (, Durham Urban Green Space and others are working together to launch Cornucopia.

Food security requires land security. Cornucopia is focused on defining what land security and food security mean for Durham as the community reinvents its downtown as a former hub for the tobacco industry. New York City nearly lost 114 of its community gardens when Mayor Giuliani proposed to auction them off in 1999 -- these gardens were purchased at the day before the auction by a team of investors including the Trust for Public Land and Bette Midler. Today they are held in a series of New York City Garden Land trusts including the Manhattan Land Trust, Bronx Land Trust, Brooklyn/Queens Land Trust( The 14-acre South Central Farm in Los Angeles, the largest urban farm in the nation with over 350 plots maintained by mostly Latino gardeners, was set aside for the community by Mayor Tom Bradley after the 1992 riots, but was sold for $5 million by the City in 2006 and bulldozed under police protection by a developer seeking to build a warehouse (yet unbuilt).

Cornucopia will serve as the first urban agriculture land trust in North Carolina and the Southeast, providing a model for other cities to follow. Durham City/County's recently completed Agricultural Development and Farmland Preservation Plan notes that the city is becoming a hub for urban agriculture projects that can become a training destination for the state and the region. The land trust is being modeled after successful examples from New York City, Philadelphia's Neighborhood Gardens Association (, and Providence, Rhode Island's Southside Community Land Trust ( Land In Common is partnering with Earth Learning ( to form the Miami Urban Farm Trust to serve the 4th largest city in the nation, and one of the poorest, in the Greater Everglades bioregion of South Florida. In each of these cases, communities are forming thriving land trusts to ensure that urban farms and community gardens remain as long-term community assets benefiting generations of residents, rather than as developable parcels considered to be mere short-term commodities benefiting investors.