Document Type



Vermont Law Review




There is a lot of talk about making our food system more “sustainable,” and eco-consumers — those who consider environmental sustainability as an important purchasing priority — are making themselves heard. This growing consumer segment is rapidly gaining national attention for moving more sustainable products to the market, and for its willingness to pay more for these options. However, while economists normally predict that higher prices lead profit-minded suppliers to enter a market to meet a new and growing demand, this transition is not occurring at the pace one would expect.

This Article argues that land tenure status — whether a farmer rents or owns his/her land — prevents the adoption of sustainable practice. Renters adopt fewer sustainable practices on the land, not because there is anything inherent in farmland rental that results in inferior environmental stewardship, but because legal agreements between the landlord and tenant do not incentivize sustainable practices. In order to feed the eco-consumer and motivate sustainable practice adoption, renters need incentives to adopt sustainable practices. Incentives to produce sustainably are vital given that 10% of farmers are due to retire in the next 20 years, placing more land in tenancy and into the hands of landlords with little farming experience.

Academics have given little attention to asking how sustainable practices will be preserved in the next century with these land-tenure trends in mind. This Article uniquely combines classical economic theory with U.S. Census of Agriculture farming practice data to expose gaps in existing policy and incentivize renters to adopt sustainable practices. In an era of limited federal regulatory power, this Article focuses on private sector solutions found in contracting, conservation initiatives, certification systems, ecosystem markets, and conservation easements.