Here’s my old
article about insurance for gardens.
It’s still pretty much true.
Insurance for community gardens
For several years, the board of the
American Community Gardening Association has been working to provide liability
insurance for member gardens.
Surveys of members suggested that obtaining such insurance was a
priority for many gardens. We did
provide access to coverage during 1998, but less than a dozen gardens took
advantage of the offer. In 1999,
the insurance company was unwilling to renew the coverage, and we were unable
to find another carrier. Although
we have continued to seek a carrier, we continue to be unsuccessful. While the search continues, here is
what I have been telling members who are seeking insurance.
insurance protects the organization that owns it or some other entity (like a
land owner) who is “named as additional insured” on the policy. It protects gardeners or volunteers
indirectly only if the insured organization stands between them and a potential
lawsuit. It does not protect
individuals from legal action, nor does it necessarily pay individuals for
injuries or damage that occur at a garden. Most gardens have insurance because they have an
organization to protect or because some other entity requires coverage in order
for the garden to exist.
individual gardens seeking liability coverage will pay a high price. Just as group health insurance is much
less expensive than individual coverage, insurance purchased by a larger
organization to cover a multitude of risks will be less expensive per coverage
than the same insurance purchased piecemeal. Therefore, if you are a single garden suffering from sticker
shock, the best avenue may be to ask a larger organization that already has
liability coverage to sponsor the garden.
Such organizations might include community groups, churches,
horticultural/agricultural organizations, or anything else that might work in
it is a city or town providing land for a garden that is requesting
insurance. They usually have a
“risk manager” whose job is to protect the municipality against all risk. Whenever the town enters into a
relationship, that relationship is passed before the risk manager, and the risk
manager almost always says “buy insurance” to protect the town. But towns always have lots of
insurance. They engage in lots of
risky business. Adding a community
garden to their list of risks will have almost no impact on their overall risk
and on the cost of their insurance.
It becomes a political issue and should be treated as such. If the town wants to support community
gardening, the risk is trivial; if the town doesn’t want to support community
gardening, it is easier to say “buy insurance” than “we don’t like you.”
A side issue
that arises in some cases is whether the gardens are public. In Berkeley, California, the city
wanted to require insurance and also require that the gardens be open to the
public. People who don’t want to
support gardens compare them to parks that are ostensibly open to everybody all
the time. They point out that
community gardens have fences and gates and private plots. More politics. Perhaps compare your garden to a
football stadium. Very risky
activity going on there, and fully supported by the town! Anybody can go and watch when there is
a game on, but hardly anybody gets to play. Which is more exclusive, a garden or a sports field? Remember that anybody can walk by and
look at the garden. You might even
schedule some times when the garden is open for public enjoyment. This does suggest, however, that
gardeners need to design and maintain their gardens in ways that truly do
enhance their neighborhoods.
is a local business, governed to some extent by state law and regulation. Although there is a certain amount of
uniformity and insurance companies operate across state lines, your experience
with coverages and costs may be quite different from those in a neighboring
state. If you have to buy
insurance, a creative and responsive local agent can be very important. Remember that there is a good chance
they haven’t insured a garden before and they will have to figure out how to do
it. Here in Connecticut, we
started out with an insurance agent who decided gardens were like vacant lots,
which tend to attract inappropriate uses.
Premiums were based on street frontage and they were high. Strangely enough, our largest garden,
which had no street frontage, was insured for nothing, while one of our smaller
gardens on a corner lot carried a high premium. Our current agent, which specializes in insurance for
non-profit social service organizations, decided gardens were like social
service programs and did a more general analysis of risk. Our premiums are now quite low.
gardeners or garden officers are concerned about personal risk (i.e.-potential
for being sued as individuals due to their involvement in a garden), the best
solution is probably “umbrella coverage.”
People can usually obtain this for a relatively small premium as an
add-on to homeowner’s or renter’s insurance. Talk to your agent.
am not an expert on insurance.
Don’t take this as professional advice from me or from the American
Community Gardening Association.
At best, this is an indication of insurance issues as they have been
faced by community gardens throughout the U.S. (not much info on Canada). You need to work out your own local
situation. I will attempt to respond to
questions about the information provided here and specific insurance issues.
Jack N. Hale
Knox Parks Foundation
75 Laurel Street
Hartford, CT 06106
some of your questions.
1 above. You can place a lot of
constraints on use of the gardens, and some of them might have minor impact on
premiums, but at $125 per garden, you are primarily paying for paperwork. There is very little risk to start
with. My organization has been
running gardens for over 30 years with very few rules, and we have had no
claims. I’ve been told that
sometimes making a lot of rules signals to an insurance underwriter that you
think the activity is particularly risky, and it may lead to higher premiums.
harmless” agreement signed by gardeners is probably not a bad idea, although it
may scare some of them. Just
remember that no amount of such paperwork will protect your organization if you
are actually negligent.
certain activities that might affect premiums for gardens. Our agent always wants to know whether
we will be sponsoring events that will bring in additional people or whether
the garden is just for gardeners and occasional guests. I would stay away from roto-tiller
demolition derbies and pitchfork throwing contests. You should be honest with your prospective agent(s) about
likely activities. If they tell
you certain activities cause them stress, you should consider whether those
activities are really necessary.
also need to talk with your agent about the relationship between insuring
gardens and the rest of your insurance.
I think our agent just likes to write the biggest policy possible and
otherwise doesn’t see much connection.
also want to think about whether gardens really are in danger of shutting down
without insurance. In some
situations, landowners require proof of insurance in order to allow the use,
but in less formal circumstances, a group of neighbors using land based on a
handshake might not need that piece of paper. If people are worried about their personal liability, they
might do better obtaining umbrella coverage attached to their personal
insurance instead of insuring the gardening activity, which has no assets to
protect. That’s true whether the
garden has insurance or not. If
you leave a rake in the path and somebody trips over it and breaks a leg, they
can sue you and the garden or sponsoring organization. A good lawyer looks not just for who is
at fault, but also at who has the ability to pay.
may also want to approach landowners about being the garden sponsors. Many non-profits, churches, and schools
have insurance coverage that could easily absorb that added risk without
significant increase in premiums. Even municipalities could do that if you have the political
juice to make it happen. All of
those agencies typically sponsor risky activities for the benefit of their
communities. Think of football
teams and transporting children in vans and playgrounds that are open to the
Behalf Of Corrie Zoll
Sent: Tuesday, February 10, 2004
Cc: Joyce Wisdom;
Subject: [cg] Liability Insurance
Minneapolis – Saint Paul region, an organization called The Sustainable
Resources Center (SRC) has provided direct services to community gardens for
the past 30 years, including lease holding and liability insurance.
SRC announced in December that they would be unable to provide leases,
liability insurance, or other services to community gardens in 2004. SRC
insured more than 50 community gardens, and presumably every one of these
gardens is at risk of shutting down without liability insurance coverage.
able to insure community gardens at the very low rate of $35 per year per
garden site. This covered $1,000,000 in commercial general liability
insurance. To put this number in context, one small organization that I
work with found that insuring their single 5000 sq ft community garden site
would cost more than $1200 per year.
been working over the past two months to figure out whether my organization,
The Green Institute, can provide leases and liability insurance for community
gardens as a stop-gap measure until a more sustainable plan can be
developed. At this time, it seems that we can insure these sites for
approximately $125 per garden per year. With an administrative fee, this
would mean something like $200 for the gardeners, still a very large jump from
$35. In order to demonstrate that The Green Institute has an insurable
interest in the garden, we will lease the lot from the property owner for a
minimal fee. Gardens are owned by a variety of entities, including the
city, the county, churches, schools, non-profits, and a railroad.
looking for input from other cities on how to make this work. I am
hopeful that you all have experiences from which I can learn. Anything
you can share would be helpful. Here are a few of the questions I need to
answer for my board of directors:
we need to enforce a “safety policy” regarding use of tillers, gas mowers, weed
whips, chainsaws, chippers, etc?
we need to require organic gardening practices?
can we enforce these requirements?
we need to have gardeners sign release forms?
we need to keep a list of who is allowed to enter the garden?
happens when unknown people enter the garden?
the discovery of uninsured activity in the gardens affect coverage of other
claims on these policies increase premiums across the rest of my organization?
you for your attention. This crisis affects more than one in four community
gardens in the Twin Cities.
can see from this list of questions, the learning curve ahead of us is
steep. If you have samples of contracts, policies, or other documents
that you cannot send electronically, please feel free to use the fax number
Zoll, Program Director
program of The Green Institute
21st Avenue South, Suite 110