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 has been 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.
In 2008, we continued to offer assistance in Holistic Management to community farming groups, bringing in Seth Wilner to present a workshop on Financial Processes, but only two of the farming groups participated.
Other important aspects of this project have been: to establish the annual CT Community Farming Conferences (the 3rd conference in Feb. 2008 attracted 60 participants from 11 farming groups), to create a network and identify resources that community groups can use in establishing and operating their farms, and to publicize the concept of community farms in Connecticut.
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 3rd annual Community Farming Conference was successful, 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.
The Holistic Management Financial Processes workshop took place on March 2-3, 2008 in Cheshire, with participation from Friends of Boulder Knoll and Water Song Farm.
Kim Stoner completed a publication “Farm-Based Education in Connecticut,” which was posted on the CT Agricultural Experiment Station website, 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.
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 16 community farms in Connecticut in the CT NOFA 2008 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. 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 raising funds for a well. 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.
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.