Get down and dirty in the garden
Our Sunday mornings begin with swiss chard, cauliflower, and piles of carrots. Once a week, our neighbors harvest veggies from our local community supported agriculture (CSA) farm. It is a worker-share arrangement, so each member works a couple hours each week, or else pays in a larger sum to receive a share of the harvest.
Little River Community Farm was started by members of Belfast Cohousing & Ecovillage (BC&E), a multigenerational community in Midcoast Maine on 42-acres that will contain 36 units when complete next year. The homes feature a passive house design, are highly energy efficient, and are oriented to make good use of the sun. BC&E has just three unsold units and having an on-site CSA is an alluring benefit for some potential homebuyers.
The farm helps further the sustainability values of the community and promotes a healthy lifestyle. It is boosting the soil quality of the several acres it uses by planting buckwheat, millet, vetch, and pea cover crops that boost nitrogen, retain topsoils, and boost organic matter, thus boosting the fertility of the land for years to come.
"To me, a really important part of being a member of BC&E was there being a farm where we would raise food and work together," says Jeffrey Mabee, a member of BC&E and Little River Community Farm, and an avid gardener. "The CSA has really answered my prayers about that. Having young farmers using the land in such a responsible way feels right. The farm feels like the heart of any intentional community. It has a much greater significance than merely producing food."
When my family made the move from Wisconsin to Maine in August, we arrived with no established garden. The CSA had started harvesting the fall share and we had instant access to high-quality and extremely local veggies. After a big move, it is particularly gratifying to eat local foods and get acquainted with local flavors.
Some community members really appreciate how BCE helps promote a healthy lifestyle. With limited automobile access and clustered homes, it is appealing to walk to visit neighbors. The presence of the CSA promotes culinary exploration and a high content of vegetables in the diet. The weekly harvests help keep us active as we pick and haul the veggies to be distributed.
The support from BC&E has been essential for Little River Community Farm to have a successful first season, including having people trade use of a tractor or tools for a free share in the CSA. "It’s great to work with the community and have the support," explains Amy Adamson, member of BC&E and one of the founders of Little River Community Farm. "Starting a farm without support can be a huge investment of time and money to establish the needed farming infrastructure."
There is a desire by many BC&E members to see the farm become lucrative for its founders. "There are cohousing communities that have grown high-priced vegetables that restaurants are willing to buy, such as mushrooms and mixed lettuces," says Judith Grace, Jeffrey’s wife, and a member of BC&E and Little River Community Farm. "That’s been the way they’ve been able to turn a profit. Maybe this group will decide to do that."
Some of the downsides of a worker-share CSA are luxury problems: figuring out how to use or preserve several bunches of kale in one week, learning to prepare less known crops such as mustard greens, and helping out in cold or rainy weather. This has provoked community members to make jokes about using kohlrabi as a paperweights and weaving baskets from green onions.
This scenario can also create an opportunity. I’ve learned to store, freeze, and pickle a variety of veggies this year and I have a large stockpile for the colder months.
"One of the things I enjoy most is the veggies that we wouldn’t bother or simply haven’t grown for ourselves over the years," says Judith. "It’s opened up new tastes and dishes. Kohlrabi or fennel for instance comes to mind."
The founders of Little River Community Farm have demonstrated that they are driven largely by their principles. "I love the idea of teaching people how to grow food," says Amy. "I think a lot of people don’t understand how inexpensive it is to have their own garden. A lot of people could get much healthier food if they grew their own. They just have to invest their time in it."
Photos by Jeffrey Mabee of Belfast Cohousing & Ecovillage
Sarah Lozanova is an environmental journalist and communications professional with an MBA in sustainable management. She recently relocated to BelfastCohousing & Ecovillage in Midcoast Maine with her husband and two children.