Overview and Current Scope

Overview of Land Trusts and Farmland Trusts

A land trust is a not-for-profit organization whose mandate is to protect land for ecological, cultural and/or social values, to prevent undesirable land use changes, and to promote natural resource conservation and land stewardship. Beyond this primary mandate of land protection, land trust organizations can vary widely in how their organizational structure, their geographic scope, and their particular land protection goals and strategies.

The protection of the land is achieved either through land ownership by the trust or through the establishment of a legally binding covenant held by the trust and attached to the land title. Land owned by a land trust is effectively removed from the real estate market and is thereby no longer subject to development pressures and speculation. Land that is protected under a covenant can still be sold on the real estate market, however the covenant limits the uses of the land for all subsequent owners and as such removes the land from development pressure and speculation. The establishment of a covenant will typically lower the real estate value of land to account for limitations on development and associated economic gains from the land.

On top of holding land and holding covenants on land, a land trust organization typically takes an active role in managing their land holdings. Management activities will depend on the reason the land was acquired.  The majority of land trusts in Canada are conservation trusts, protecting land for its ecological value, and as such management entails activities such as surveying, monitoring, and restoration. Land trusts may have staff members directly responsible for management of land holdings or in the case of covenants the organization works alongside land owners to achieve a set of land management objectives, (Campbell and Rudec, 2006; Hanson & Filax, 2009; LTABC, 2014)

Farmland trusts operate using the same principles and mechanisms as nature conservation trusts however the mandate of a farmland trust is to protect and manage agricultural land for the purpose of maintaining an actively farmed agricultural land base. A farmland trust has the potential to protect farmland through the prevention of undesirable land use change, through the promotion of ecologically sustainable land management, and by increasing land accessibility to farmers through different types of land tenure agreements, (Gorsuch and Scott, 2010; Hamilton, 2004; Wittman, 2009).

 Scope of Land Trusts British Columbia

Land trusts are not a new concept, however it is only since the 1990s that the use of land trust organizations as a conservation strategy really began to grow in Canada and BC. Between 1995 and 2005 the number of trust organizations was reported to have doubled in Canada and in BC the number rose from 24 to 37, (Campbell and Rudec, 2006). The Land Trust Alliance of BC currently represents two national trusts working in BC, one provincial trust and 30 regional trusts, and there are other trusts organizations in the province who are not members of BCLTA.

Click here to view BCLTA’s directory of BC land trust organizations.

Farmland Trusts in Canada and BC

Though the land trust movement is growing, our research has found that there remains little land trust activity specific to agricultural land in either Canada or British Columbia. While it is known that some conservation trusts do deal with agricultural land, our research has found that there is a lack of information available to understand the current scope of land trust activities with respect to agricultural lands, as well as a general lack of data on the current amount, location and type of land protected through land trusts in Canada.  In conversation with the BCLTA it was learned that while they do not have specific data on agricultural land held in trust, it is known to be minor in scope and those organizations that are holding agricultural land are doing so to protect ecological value of the land or part of the land rather than to protect the agricultural value of the land. The BCLTA does not have any member organizations that are farmland trusts.

Farmland trusts currently in operation in Canada:

British Columbia The Land Conservancy (2006 – 2012)Salt Spring Island Farmland TrustLinnaea Farm Trust (single farm)Pender Island Community Farmland Acquisition Project

Farmlands Trust Society

Sooke Region Farmland Trust Society

Alberta Southern Alberta Land Trust Society (SALTS)
Saskatchewan Genesis Land Conservancy
Manitoba NoneFeasibility Report for Farmland Trust
Ontario Ontario Farmland TrustRedeeming Our Soil Economically (small trust, single farm)Preservation of Agricultural Lands Society (PALS) (focused on Niagara fruit region)
Québec La Fiducie Protec-Terre (single farm – Ferme Cadet-Roussel)
Prince Edward Island L.M. Montgomery Land Trust
Nova Scotia Annapolis Valley Farmland TrustHeliotrustTatamagouche Community Land Trust (single farm)
New Brunswick The New Brunswick Community Land Trust (NBCLT)
Newfoundland & Labrador None
Yukon None
Northwest Territories None
Nunavut None


The Land Conservancy of BC (TLC)’s Farmland Program (2006-2012)

The Land Conservancy (TLC) of BC played an important role in developing farmland trust activities in British Columbia between 2006 and 2012.  In the face of financial difficulties TLC has narrowed its activity back to a core mandate of land conservation and the farmland program was dropped.  While TLC still holds and manages some agricultural properties, in some cases the management of the lease has been transferred to another organization and in one case the land is being sold by TLC.  TLC has left behind both positive examples to learn from as well as negative examples of what can go wrong to learn from.

There is currently a gap in that there is a lack of land trust organizations that will deal with farmland in British Columbia. In response to this gap and to a perceived need for further mechanisms to protect and manage farmland in the province there are initiatives underway to develop a land trust devoted solely to agricultural lands.