Planning for community farms across Connecticut
This project addresses 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 approach to this problem is to work with 5 community groups or individuals in different towns across Connecticut to help them work with their towns and communities to get a farming operation started on the land. We are using Holistic Management to bring together stakeholders to set a holistic goal for the farm, develop a plan to make progress toward the goal, implement the plan, and evaluate and monitor the results.
We have brought in a Holistic Management Educator, Erica Frenay, who has worked with each of the 5 groups or individuals on developing a holistic goal for the project and on testing decisions against the holistic goal. We are planning our second annual Community Farming Conference for February of 2007, featuring speakers on combining youth education and farming (Lynda Simkins of Natick Community Organic Farm) and on starting a Community Supported Agriculture farm (Elizabeth Henderson, of Peacework Organic Farm, and a SARE farmer-educator).
We will continue the Holistic Management Training to include sessions on Ecosystem Processes and financial issues, bringing in additional Holistic Management educators for each of these topics.
- (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. Speakers on integrating agriculture and education, how to start up a community supported agriculture project, working with town governments, business planning for non-profits
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.
Forty (40) people were introduced to the basic principles of Holistic Management at the conference in January 2006. Twenty-two (22) people participated in the initial training of each group to define the whole under management and define a holistic goal. Seventeen (17) people participated in the second training to learn how to use testing questions in making decsions in accord with the holistic goal. Two groups missed the second training and will have this later.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
Each community farming group is setting its own holistic goal, and each is also in a unique situation. Here are some specifics about the groups:
Friends of Ambler Farm: In the first training, during the process of defining the whole that they manage, the Board realized with clarity for the first time that their messy decision-maker structure was causing them trouble. They were spinning their wheels, frantically throwing energy in dozens of directions, and feeling burned out. The process of defining who they are, what they manage, and what they want as a group helped them realize that they cannot fully move forward until they straighten out (in writing) their relationship with the Town. As a result, they have scaled back some programmatic activities and are focusing energy on getting an agreement in place.
Down to Earth Farm: Last year, their visionary and energetic leader launched a CSA operation. It went very well, but she burned out on it and decided not to farm this year, and with her the group also lost the main administrative volunteer. The group was highly inspired by the process of defining their whole and holistic goal together, as they had not previously defined any goals. My observation to this point is that the Holistic Management process has been and will continue to be valuable for helping them navigate the chaos they feel was created by Sarah’s departure.
Friends of Boulder Knoll: The first two Holistic Management trainings were timed very fortuitously for the Friends of Boulder Knoll. The first training happened to be on the day that the group received a long-awaited Request for Proposals from the town for non-profit organizations to propose uses for 88 acres at Boulder Knoll. The process of developing the holistic goal helped the group members get in touch with their vision for the possibilities of the land and their organization before plunging into an arduous month of proposal-writing. The second training came just before a general membership meeting to adopt by-laws and elect a Board of Directors and officers, and allowed those present to work through a decision about how their group would operate in the future – specifically about the process by which they would make decisions.
Water Song Farm: Recently replaced Town Farm Dairy, which withdrew due to time constraints. The owners of Water Song Farm recently went through the process of defining their holistic goal.
New Haven Land Trust: Also has just taken the step of defining the holistic goal.