EPNI builds community ownership of Urban Farm


Far too often, development means gentrification, displacement and exploitation. The East Phillips Neighborhood Institute (EPNI), the group which made state and national headlines through the environmental justice campaign to save the warehouse building formerly called the Roof Depot, is now engaged in developing a community ownership model that is the first of its kind in the nation, according to the legal team that represents EPNI. The purpose of the ownership model is to ensure that neighborhood residents, who fought for the salvation of the building for almost a decade, will own the asset in common, create generational wealth, and return self-determination to this marginalized community.
On Feb. 24, EPNI hosted its second community ownership visioning event at the Little Earth gym. EPNI presented a draft legal model for how to own the EPNI Urban Farm in common. Roughly 50 community members broke into three small groups to discuss and give feedback on its component parts: board structure; profit distribution; and eligibility requirements for who should receive a voting share in the community.
The model would be developed through a complex arrangement of nonprofit organizations and cooperative for-profit companies, held together by a limited liability company which would manage the development of the East Phillips Urban Farm. Each entity would have a specific purpose: EPNI would own and manage the land itself; the East Phillips Community Foundation would manage the distribution of profits back to the neighborhood; the Community Investment Co-op would allow residents to purchase dividend returning shares; and the Business Tenant Co-op would lease space from the East Phillips Urban Farm LLC.
EPNI is represented by three legal firms – Fredrikson & Byron, Dorsey & Whitney, and Faegre Drinker – and cooperative development experts from Nexus Community Partners, all of which have offered their services pro bono to set up the novel ownership model. As a community member at the Feb. 24 event said, “it’s empowering to have skin in the game. Rather than receiving handouts, people have autonomy with community ownership.”
Go to epnifarm.org to sign up for event notifications or follow EPNI on Instagram @eastphillipsurbanfarm for more information. There will be another event in March to learn about hydroponics and aquaponics from national leader Farmer Will Allen.

Daniel Colten Schmidt is an East Phillips resident, and the Funding Manager for the East Phillips Neighborhood Institute.

Comments are closed.