Re: Farm-based rural community
From: Dick Margulis (
Date: Wed, 9 Aug 2017 05:26:53 -0700 (PDT)

At Rocky Corner, starting construction soon in Bethany CT, we have worked through these issues (prospectively, of course). So I'll give you what we've come up with (in line, below).

Dick Margulis

On 8/8/2017 12:48 PM, Emily Gilquist wrote:

Hi all!
I am a 20-something in the *very early* stages of planning a cohousing community in 
Montana. My partner and I are organic veggie & flower farmers and hope to run 
our business on the land we live on.

My questions are:
-how might rural zoning regulations differ from those found in/near cities? 
Will they be a help or a hindrance?

The town where we bought our land deludes itself with a slogan about being rural. In fact, it fits the model Lisa Prevost describes in Snob Zones ( In a misguided effort to keep the riffraff out, the town has 3-acre zoning in half the town and 1.5-acre zoning in the other half. You can't farm on 3 acres, realistically. So the real intent is not to keep the town rural but to keep it rich. I doubt that you're going to find anything similar in rural Montana, but it's something to keep an eye out for. You'll also want to check state and local regulations about community water supply, septic design, etc. You will certainly need a lawyer's help to ensure you've found everything that might apply and to avoid nasty surprises later. A lawyer can also advise on what form of ownership (condominium, coop, or something else) the state's legal infrastructure (lawyers, title companies, courts, regulators) are most familiar and comfortable with.

We used Connecticut's affordable housing statute (every state has one, I believe) to override the density restriction, so that we're able to build 30 homes clustered in the middle of a 33-acre property and keep the rest open for farming, recreation, and wildlife habitat. This has enabled us to make 13 of the 30 homes income-qualified affordable homes and to get a $2.6 million state grant that makes that possible.

-what challenges come from select members running a business on the property? 
Specifically a business that is more or less the foundation of the community. 
How do we make it egalitarian while still making a profit?

Part of the definition of cohousing is that there is no common enterprise (thus distinguishing it from a commune). So all businesses based in a cohousing community are private enterprises. Join the club.

Here's how we plan to tackle that, with respect to the farming that a subset of us are interested in doing (this is not final, but it's what we're thinking).

We're setting aside an area for a community garden. This will be divided into allotments for each home, and then the owners can combine or share plots or, if they're not interested, let someone else have theirs. This is outside of any commercial farming.

We will form a separate entity (corporate form to be determined, but probably an LLC) consisting of a handful of members that will be the farming entity. There are a couple of reasons for this.

One of the entities that provided a predevelopment loan to us (Equity Trust, Amherst MA) specializes in farmland preservation. They have developed a model based on a 99-year lease. It allows a tenant (a young farmer with limited capital, perhaps) to access farmland (perhaps belonging to someone elderly who no longer farms) long term. The lease then becomes an asset the farmer can use to secure loans for buildings and equipment. So we're thinking the farm entity we create will be a tenant of the cohousing community. It will have its delimited leasehold where it will do farming, and it will also provide services to the community on community land (such as the community garden, recreational areas, permaculture plantings, etc.) as part of its in-kind lease payment.

The second reason for this approach is that NRCS can provide grants to an entity for various improvements, but it is limited to recipients with gross annual income from all sources (outside jobs as well as farming, in other words) of $900,000 or less. The cohousing community as a whole, rather than a separate farming entity, would not be able to meet that condition. But a small number of people would.

So the idea is for this entity to have a master lease and to negotiate overall lease terms with a committee of the cohousing community's governance structure. Then individuals or groups of individuals will be able to negotiate subleases from the farm to engage in their particular farming activities. If someone wants to raise sheep, they'll propose that to the farm entity. If someone wants to raise vegetables or mushrooms or chickens, there's a structure there to allow that. Their enterprise will be their own, and they'll obtain their own financing for capital needs. Profits will be theirs to keep, but the lease terms may envision that payment is a percent of those profits (not determined yet, of course), which would be a benefit to the community. Or perhaps payment in some cases would be a percent of the crop provided to the community for common meals. All to be worked out case by case once we're living there.

Results generated by Tiger Technologies Web hosting using MHonArc.