By Steve Gillman
Can you rent nature to make money? Well, yes. One company
has been doing this for many years. Let's take a look at what
they do, and then I'll have a few suggestions for other ways
to rent nature as a business proposition.
If you haven't heard of the company Rent Mother Nature®,
it can be a bit difficult to explain what they do. They connect
consumers with family farmers who produce things in natural,
organic ways, allowing a customer to buy a "lease"
on a cow, a bed of rice, an oyster patch or any of more than
a dozen other items. The lease guarantees you "a share of
one harvest for one season." You can buy these for yourself,
of course, but buying them as gifts for others seems to be the
primary thrust of the marketing.
Still not clear? Let's look at a couple examples.
Suppose you want to rent a goat for next year, as a gift for
a friend. At the moment (late 2011) the price is $49.95. Your
friend will get a fancy lease document, an "announcement
folder" which will have your message in it along with a
description of benefits, progress reports about life on the farm,
and then a delivery of goat cheese when the time comes. At the
moment Rent Mother Nature® is guaranteeing a yield of three
logs of fresh Chèvre, each weighing five ounces.
Your friend will be able to actually choose the milking date,
and will get the cheese about a month later. The goat will be
raised on "a small family farm in the Berkshires dedicated
to the principles of sustainable agriculture." There will
be no preservatives or any unnatural additives in the cheese.
A photo of the goat is extra, but allows your friend to show
off the source of his cheese, and his contribution to "helping
support America's family farms."
What if your friend is vegan? Buy him a maple tree lease.
For just $64.95 he'll get "a reproduction of an 1890 U.S.
Treasury 'License for Sugar Producer,' printed on parchment and
embossed with a gold seal." Three newsletters will come
to him as the season approaches, and then he'll get a minimum
of 50 ounces of maple syrup in April or early May. The syrup
comes in decorated jugs, and there is no extra charge for regular
Other things you can lease include Grapefruit trees, berry
patches, cows, oysters, and wheat fields. In many cases the lease
holder can visit the farm where he is leasing the plants or animals.
Rent Mother Nature® says that you will also be "helping
farmers who use natural, sustainable, and chemical-free methods
of agriculture succeed in the marketplace."
Using This Idea of Renting Nature
You might like the idea, but you may not want to try to compete
directly against the main player in the industry. So what others
ways can you effectively rent nature to others for a profit?
Let's look at a few unproven possibilities (in other words try
these at your own risk; they have not been done to my knowledge).
Rent bonsai trees to people who don't have the time or patience
to grow them on their own, and who need them only temporarily.
A man needs some cool decor for a party, but doesn't want to
spend $120 for a fancy bonsai tree, so you supply it for the
weekend for $20. This would tie in well with plant rentals of
Rent a pond. You could lease trout ponds and as part of the
lease stock them with baby trout and keep them fed. The lease
holder would be allowed to take his friends to "his"
pond when the trout were the right age, and fish for them.
Rent a wilderness. There are a few places in the west where
you can still buy large parcels of land for reasonable prices.
As a way to hold onto them and pay the property taxes, you might
rent them out to private parties for hiking and camping. Unlike
with public lands, your customers could be guaranteed that they
will be the only people in the whole valley.
There are many other ways to apply this "rent nature"
idea to make money or support a cause. Live Christmas trees are
now regularly rented out. Large predators in animal sanctuaries
might be "leased" (sponsored) with the renter getting
special access to see them. A tree in a wild area, rigged with
a live camera, could be leased out, with the lessee having access
to the live feed online. I am sure there are many more ideas
in this area, and a few of them might actually make some money.