Small-scale, sustainable farms have lots to offer their communities: education, environmental stewardship, meaningful connections and nutritious food.
Community farms provide opportunities for people to be more involved in producing the food they eat. Community involvement on small farms can give people a sense of meaningful purpose within their community, as they can contribute to growing food that feeds their neighbours, friends, and families.
Small, community-based farms can also help build ‘social capital’ in communities, the “links, shared values and understandings in society that enable individuals and groups to trust each other and so work together.”
By bringing together a diverse group – such as farmers, community members and organizations – who offer different skills and knowledge, community farms can build relationships and make connections that can benefit everyone.
While farms contribute many positives to a community, community members have lots to offer too – their support and engagement plays a very important role in the success of community-based farms.
Many small farms use a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) model to help produce and distribute food. A CSA model consists of individuals who commit to supporting a farm by purchasing a share of the farm’s production before the growing season begins. In return, CSA members will receive regular distributions of food produced by the farm during the growing season.
Upfront payments to farmers at the beginning of the season ensure their financial security throughout the growing months to cover costs of tools, seeds, and other necessary inputs.
The CSA model also lets farmers gauge how much food they should be producing, helping minimize food waste, while keeping money in the local economy – directly from the consumer to the grower – rather than being exported out of the community to large corporations.
Investing in community farms can help strengthen local food systems, while securing farmland that may otherwise be threatened by development. Keeping green spaces alive, healthy and productive within communities is a benefit that everyone can enjoy.
Hayes Farm in Fredericton aims to create a community farm model and template that can be easily adopted and adapted in other areas.
The Hayes teaching farm offers hands-on education that encourages local residents to examine their role in the food system and take action to create change. Claire May, Coordinator at Hayes said that there’s a lot more to farming on a small scale than just the economics of it.
“Having the human and personal connections of community when you are small-scale is really important because… for the most part, those are your customers,” said May.
Hayes Farm aims to distribute their produce within a two-and-a-half kilometre radius of the farm, though May says they don’t set those parameters strictly. The radius is merely an effort to demonstrate the impact that a small farm can have within a community.
“There is room for not just one Hayes Farm in the City of Fredericton… there is room and capacity to support [many] community farms in Fredericton.”
Maintaining the focus of a small radius helps Hayes stay focused on who to connect with. The farm wants to provide food to people who otherwise may have trouble accessing nutritious, fresh food – and connecting with community organizations helps them reach those people.
May said that building partnerships with organizations in the community help them establish relationships with clients in the community who may be struggling to access fresh, nutritious food. Rather than Hayes seeking out individuals who need support, organizations with an existing client base can help build those connections.
“Being a community farm, we wanted to make sure that we’re still accessible and not excluding the people who have been our customers for the past two years, so [we’re] working with partner organizations as well as opening up access to the public”.
Hayes Farm has lots to offer their community, but much of their success has been made possible by contributions from community members. CSA memberships allow the farm to operate with more financial stability, and as a non-profit organization, donations are always welcome and gratefully appreciated.
“Our core team is really strong and quite diverse, but we’re still a group of between six and eight. Bringing in community members to help envision what the farm can be, and contribute to ideas and decision-making on a high level will help to guide us. We only represent a certain perspective, and a few demographics of what our community is and what our community needs.”
The goal of Hayes Farm is to create a space that will benefit a broad range of people. Encouraging others to be part of the conversation and share their perspectives is one way they are working to achieve this.
Hannah Moore is a recent graduate from St. Thomas University, currently working as a Food Security and Regenerative Farming Reporter for the RAVEN project at the University of New Brunswick.