This project addressed a specific problem in many communities across Connecticut – farmland that has been protected through purchase by town governments, land trusts, or other non-profits, but is not being used for farming – and is generally not being managed for any other purpose, either. Our initial approach to this problem was to work with 5 community groups or individuals in different towns across Connecticut to help them work with their towns and communities to get farming operations started on the land.
We offered training in Holistic Management to these five groups. The training in Holistic Management was not very successful for several reasons: high turnover in the leadership of the groups, too much time required for thorough training for these busy groups, and a lack of clarity about how the training was applicable to their needs.
However, other aspects of this project have been more successful: establishing the annual CT Community Farming Conferences (the Third conference in Feb. 2008 attracted 60 participants from 11 farming groups), creating a network and identifying resources that community groups can use to establish and operate their farms, and publicizing the concept of community farms in Connecticut through conferences, interviews, talks, and a listing of farms in Connecticut offering farm-based education.
Original performance targets from the proposal:
(Before beginning of the funding period) January 2006. First Community Farming Conference. Provides a forum for community farms to learn about each other’s projects, learn from each other’s experiences, and share resources. Holistic Management Educator also introduces the ideas of Holistic Management, and invites community farm groups to join the project.
August 2006. Holistic Management educator meets with each of the 5 groups to work with them on developing a Holistic Goal for their project or organization.
November 2006. Holistic Management educator meets with each of the 5 groups to test decisions against the Holistic Goal, and also review the Holistic Goal.
February 2007. Second Community Farming Conference.
March 2007 Holistic Management educator meets with the 5 groups about Holistic business and financial planning.
May 2007. All the groups meet together with the Holistic Management educator for a workshop on ecosystem processes, with the goal of helping the groups understand how their management decsions affect the health of the land, and identifying signs they can use to monitor their own land.
August 2007. One-year follow up with all groups.
February 2008. One-and a half year follow up with all groups in association with the Third Community Farming Conference.
August 2008. Two year follow up with all groups.
As described above in the original performance targets, we hired Holistic Management educators to train community farming groups in Holistic Management. Erica Frenay was the leading educator who kept in touch with the community farming groups involved in the project and who worked with other Holistic Management educators to arrange workshops in ecosystem processes and financial processes. Here is the chronology of the Holistic Management training process:
January, 2006 – Erica Frenay presented the basic concepts of Holistic Management to community farming groups at the first Community Farming Conference (40 attendees). This was followed up with written material on the basics of forming a holistic goal and testing questions.
March 2006 – Kim Stoner and Erica Frenay got letters of commitment from 5 community farming groups saying that the board members and core leaders of these groups were prepared to set aside time for holistic management training.
August 2006 – Erica Frenay visited with 3 groups. One group, Town Farm Dairy, already dropped out of the project (but returned for a while later). Initial training in forming holistic goal.
October 2006 – Water Song Farm (not really a community group – a couple who would like to make their farm open to the community) recruited to replace Town Farm Dairy. Erica Frenay trains remaining two groups in forming a holistic goal.
November 2006 – Erica Frenay visited with all groups and trained them in using the holistic goal and testing questions.
February 2007 – Second Community Farming Conference. Speakers on integrating agriculture and education, how to start up a community supported agriculture project, working with town governments, business planning for non-profits. 35 participants.
February – May 2007 – Erica Frenay consulted by phone with community farming groups and planned the Ecological Processes Workshop.
June 2007 – Ecological Processes and Land Management workshop, led by Phil Metzger of NRCS and Erica Frenay. Held at Ambler Farm.
October 2007 – Erica Frenay checks in by phone with all groups.
February 2008 – The Third annual Community Farming Conference, drawing 60 people from 11 farming groups to a program with a keynote on “Farming for Survival” (Bryan O’Hara), two speakers on educational programs on farms, and a program by Jiff Martin of the American Farmland Trust on how to work with your town government to support agriculture. There were also small group workshops, including one on using Holistic Management as a planning, monitoring, and evaluation tool, led by Kim Stoner.
March 2008 – Financial Processes workshop led by Seth Wilner of NH Cooperative Extension. Friends of Boulder Knoll and Water Song Farm participated. Review of holistic goal and training in analyzing financial processes and testing decisions.
Throughout the project, Kim Stoner was in periodic e-mail contact with a wider network of community farming groups, including all the groups in this project, as well as organizing the Community Farming Conferences and conducting other outreach, as described below.
It has been harder than we anticipated to get busy community farming groups to stay committed to the process of learning Holistic Management and applying it to their farms. Part of the problem is turnover in the leadership of the community farming groups. Part is the substantial time commitment required to learn and apply Holistic Management.
On the other hand, we continue to get enthusiastic attendance at the Community Farming Conference each year. Participants in the conference have commented frequently on the importance of maintaining a network of community farms, getting the farming groups together, and exchanging information.
Updates on individual farms:
The Holistic Management training has been most useful to Barbara Putnam and her family, who are managing Water Song Farm. This is a private farm, not a community farm, but Barbara and her family want their farmland to be a community asset, and for it to continue to be farmed into the future, even though their daughter is not interested in farming. Holistic management gave them a structure for talking about these goals, and beginning to put them into action. They value holistic management so highly that in setting up a conservation easement on part of their farm, one of the requirements of the easement is that the farmer use holistic management in managing the farmland. Barbara Putnam and her family are actively farming, and are working toward establishing a CSA.
The Friends of Boulder Knoll group was finally able to get access to land – a 10-month lease on 2 acres of land at Boulder Knoll Farm, starting in July 2008. They started converting part of this hayfield to cultivated land, growing 12 bushels of produce for the local food pantry, giving away additional produce at the town’s fall festival, and selling a little to a local caterer. They also had their first on-site educational program, “Learn Today, Grow Tomorrow” featuring talks and tours on composting, invasive plants, birds and other wildlife on the farm, and starting an organic vegetable garden. They are working on developing a more cooperative relationship with the town, extending the lease for a longer period, starting a leaf composting operation, and have just hired a farmer to start a CSA for the summer of 2009. They have not been systematic about using the whole Holistic Management system, but they do refer frequently to their Holistic Goal, updated during the Financial Processes workshop in March 2008.
Ambler Farm now has a 1.2-acre garden in the West Field, completed in 2008, with fencing and well for irrigation. There is a 4,500 square foot garden behind the Yellow House. The gardens are managed by Ambler’s Farmer, Ben Saunders, working with the Agriculture Committee and with the help of a fantastic group of hard-working volunteers. In addition, they now have an active education program, including a maple sugar workshop for 50 families, a spring program with 29 fourth-grade classes from Norwalk, Stamford, and Wilton, and a summer program with 330 children, pre-K through 7th grade.
Here is a quote from the Friends of Ambler Farm website about the Community Farming network set up by this project:
“The FOAF participates in the Community Farm Coalition sponsored by the Connecticut Northeast Organic Farming Association and the CT Agricultural Experiment Station. Participating farms in this group share common attributes and goals. Most are on town or other publicly-owned land, and are operated by a nonprofit organization. Members of this group recognize the educational opportunities a farm can provide to their community and are interested in finding ways to provide those benefits. Most have historical buildings worthy of being preserved, educational goals to be met, and need to be run on a self sustaining budget. This group is a valuable resource in connecting Friends of Ambler Farm to the agricultural community in Connecticut. It is a tremendous source of information on funding, farm advice, technical expertise, land care, educational programming, and community building.”
Town Farm Dairy is unfortunately out of business. The farming couple who was managing the farm left, and the group tried to continue to run the farm as an organic raw milk dairy as volunteers. There was an incident of bacterial contamination that forced them to quit producing raw milk, and they decided to close up the dairy.
Several members of the Down to Earth farm group participated in the Community Farming Conference. Since the departure of the original leader and farmer organizer, the farm has been run cooperatively as a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) farm. This unusual arrangement has worked well for them – a couple of farmers and a CPA are among the volunteers. Holistic Management is not at the center of their organization, but they value the annual Community Farming conference and occasional updates via e-mail from the community farming network.
At the New Haven Land Trust, the staff member who took Holistic Management training has left and been replaced. She is now the president of the Community Gardening Association of Connecticut, and remains in contact with the community farming network.
Education & Outreach Activities and Participation Summary
February 10, 2007 – Second Community Farming Conference. (See above).
February 17, 2007 – Kim Stoner interviewed by Lauresha Xihani of the Waterbury Republican- American on starting a community farm.
March 19, 2007 – Kim Stoner made a presentation on “Community Farming in Connecticut” as part of an Adult Education Course at the Cheshire High School.
March 20, 2007 – Kim Stoner interviewed by Tiffany Aron of the Meriden Record-Journal on starting a community farm.
May 2007 – First listing of Community Farms in the Food and Farm Guide of CT NOFA (Northeast Organic Farming Association of Connecticut). 13 farms listed. 10,000 copies of this publication distributed annually in CT.
February 9, 2008 – Third Community Farming Conference (See above)
April 2008 – Article “A Community Farm in Every Town” submitted to Gleanings (newsletter of CT NOFA). Printed in the summer issue of Gleanings and in the Farm and Food Guide. (Text of article attached.)
May 2008 – Second listing of Community Farms in CT NOFA Farm and Food Guide. 16 Community Farms listed, along with a definition of community farms and article on the Third Community Farming Conference.
May 2008 – Kim Stoner submits an article on starting a community farm to The Voter, newsletter of the League of Women Voters.
May 21, 2008 – Kim Stoner interviewed by Mike Puffer of the Waterbury Republican American about community farming and the Friends of Boulder Knoll.
May 21, 2008 – Kim Stoner spoke to the League of Women Voters of Cheshire and Wallingford on “Managing Open Space for a Changing World” with a focus on farmland preservation and community farms.
May 23, 2008 – Kim Stoner interviewed by Brian Koenig of the Meriden Record-Journal about community farming, community gardening, and local food.
July, 2008 – Kim Stoner completed a publication “Farm-Based Education in Connecticut,” (copy sent to the NE SARE Office with final report) which was posted on the CT Agricultural Experiment Station website (URL: http://www.ct.gov/caes/lib/caes/documents/special_features/farm_based_education_in_ct.pdf) , distributed by Sue Quincy of the CT Department of Environmental Protection to her networks of teachers, administrators and environmental educators, incorporated in the national database of the Farm-Based Education Association, and posted on the Yale Sustainable Agriculture website.
August 11, 2008 – Kim Stoner participated in a meeting on Community Farms at the NOFA Summer Conference organized by the community farming network of NOFA Mass.
October 13, 2008 – Kim Stoner and Bill Duesing (of CT NOFA) spoke at the Smart Growth Conference of 1000 Friends of Connecticut on “Getting Food to Where the People Are” including a discussion of community farms and gardens.
Community groups around Connecticut continue to start new community farms around the state – I know of three different groups that have organized in the last few months in three different towns, ranging from very upscale and suburban to quite rural: Greenwich, Guilford, and Columbia. The groups establishing these farms vary widely in the skills of their members and the resources available to them, but they often need help in several areas: the formalities of setting up a non-profit organization, the specifics of establishing a farm – often on land that has been abandoned for some years or that has been turned into a lawn, and setting up community education and outreach – particularly if the mission includes educational programs for schoolchildren that will fit into the school curriculum. The communication network and conferences have been very helpful to these groups, and they will be continued through my work at the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station and through CT NOFA. A similar network operates in Massachusetts, through NOFA Mass. I do not know if other states have such networks of community farms. There is a national organization, the Farm-Based Education Association, which works specifically on the educational aspect.
I am hoping to work with CT NOFA to get an intern to gather information about community farms and present it to groups that are not familiar with the concept – particularly town governments and other landowners. The idea of community farms is still not well known, and community groups often have a hard time convincing their towns that this model exists and has worked well in other towns in CT and in neighboring states.