Keeping Wealth Local

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Excerpt from Marjorie Kelly with Shanna Ratner, "Keeping Wealth Local"

In emerging experiments nationwide – and in older alternative designs that may be under-appreciated – communities are demonstrating that powerful ways to own and control rural assets are through local and shared ownership. While local ownership is broadly understood, shared ownership is an emerging, broad category of ownership designs that can take many forms. It can mean ownership is shared among individuals, as in cooperatives or employee-owned firms. It can mean ownership is shared between an individual and a collective entity like a land trust. Or it can mean a sharing of certain ownership duties – like marketing dairy goods or managing wind rights – while other aspects of property ownership remain in individual hands.

Absentee ownership is detached from the life of a community and its enterprises. By contrast, shared ownership means that the interests connected to the living fabric of an enterprise – employees, community members, the natural environment – are represented at the table of ownership and governance.

  • The most familiar rural examples are producer cooperatives like Organic Valley in Wisconsin – the $433 million company owned by the 1,200 organic family farms that produce its milk, cheese, and meat. By owning their own marketing company cooperatively, these farmers cut out the middleman and increase their income.
  • The community interest in keeping farms permanently affordable and locally owned is being served by community land trusts, which make ownership of land a community resource while permitting individual ownership of houses. This shared ownership model allowed a family in Williamstown, Mass., to retain ownership of their house and continue farming their land, while receiving payment from Equity Trust for their land.
  • Unfragmented open space for wildlife is being preserved on nearly one million acres in Arizona and New Mexico, through a ranchers’ organization called the Malpai Borderlands Group. Using the shared ownership tool of conservation easements, this group created a nonprofit oversight organization that brings together ranchers, scientists, and government agencies to engage in cost-sharing range and ranch improvements and endangered species habitat protection.
  • In a creative new approach in Maine, the community interest in preserving waterfront for commercial fishing is given legal standing through working waterfront covenants, which are shared ownership agreements that attach to property deeds in perpetuity. These covenants allow communities to purchase and hold development rights, making it more affordable for local fishermen to own and use the property.
  • In a model now spreading from New Hampshire to the nation, residents of manufactured homes are joining together to create resident-owned communities.  By cooperatively owning the land of the communities where these manufactured homes reside, residents work a legal transformation in the status of their homes, from personal property into real estate. The result is increased property values, more stable families, and greater participation in the life of the community.
  • In Minnesota, farmers and community members have come together to create cooperatively owned wind farms through the company MinWind, which owns and manages rural wind generation facilities. Community members earn more from those wind resources than if they had rented the land to absentee-owned power generation companies.
     

In Parts IV and V, this report explores various models of shared and local ownership and models of community wealth control useful in rural areas. If these models are not widely used or understood, it is in part because our culture lacks a conceptual framework in which to make sense of them. The variety of community wealth designs can seem a wilderness of single instances. Building a framework in which to place those instances is a task this report turns to in Part II. In Part III, it looks at the opportunities and challenges of our moment in time, as a way of helping developers see how to move forward. [Click here for the full report Keeping Wealth Local.]


Excerpted by Marjorie Kelley from “Keeping Wealth Local: Shared Ownership and Wealth Control for Rural Communities” by Marjorie Kelly with Shanna Ratner, A Report for the Wealth Creation in Rural America project of the Ford Foundation, 2009.