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 also had a workshop on ecosystem processes, and we are planning a workshop on financial processes.
We also hold an annual Community Farming Conference in association with the Connecticut chapter of the Northeast Organic Farming Association.
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. 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.
The 2nd annual Community Farming Conference was successful, drawing 35 people to a program which presented information on starting up a CSA (Elizabeth Henderson) and a dynamic presentation on educational programs on a community farm (Lynda Simkins, Natick Community Farm). There were also small group discussions on educational programs on farms, how to form a non-profit organization, how to form a town agricultural commission, and Community Supported Agriculture.
The Holistic Management workshop on Ecosystem Processes with Erica Frenay and Phil Metzger of the Natural Resources Conservation Service was held at Ambler Farm on June 2, 2007, and drew about 25 people.
The 3rd annual Community Farming Conference is planned for February 9, 2007, with speakers on “Farming for Survival,” more educational programs on farms, and combining animals and crops on farms.
A Holistic Management workshop on Financial Processes with Seth Wilner is planned for March 2 and 3, 2007.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
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.
Another form of outreach about community farms is the listing of 13 community farms in Connecticut in the CT NOFA 2007 Farm and Food Guide. Ten thousand copies of this guide were printed and distributed in Connecticut.
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.
The Friends of Boulder Knoll also continues to use Holistic Management as their organization struggles with finding the most effective ways to work with the town government, educate the public, and build a base of support without yet having an agreement with the town that would give them access to land. They recently revisited their holistic goal, with a stronger emphasis on understanding what they control and what they do not control and therefore cannot manage (yet).
Friends of Ambler Farm hosted the workshop on Ecological Processes and is continuing to try to get a farmer set up on a long-term basis to manage the land.
Town Farm Dairy is not longer using Holistic Management (although they found the information in the Ecological Processes workshop useful). They have been very successful and busy in getting funding for and setting up equipment for on-farm milk processing.
Except for attending the Community Farming Conference last spring, Down to Earth Farm has not been in contact with the project leaders.
At the New Haven Land Trust, the staff member who took Holistic Management training has left and been replaced.