Community Farming

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By Kelly McCartney:

"Many urban areas boast community farms. Some of those cities, such as Detroit and New Orleans, lean on farms as a means to rebuild themselves. Nestled in the heart of San Francisco, the 2.2 acres of Hayes Valley Farm serve multiple urban agriculture-related functions. The farm provides an educational center, a community hub, and more. Booka Alon, one of the HVF coordinators, explained, “Space-sharing is what happens when people get creative about 'best use' for underutilized spaces. In our current economic climate, it might also be said, that more people are entertaining the idea of space-sharing, because the means for singular ownership or singular usage isn't practical or possible, due to financial shortcomings.”

Hayes Valley Farm is open and accessible to everyone in the community: “People come and volunteer their time. If food is ripe and it's a harvesting day, they are welcome to take home whatever has been harvested. These days, it's arugula, borage, fava beans, cape gooseberries, and lots of kale, chard, and lettuce greens. For their time, we offer them whatever food is available. They are also encouraged to take home calendula seeds, and seeds of other flowering plants that are maturing and dried.”

HVF hosts volunteer days on Sundays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays for people in the neighborhood looking to play in the dirt. They also educate people, sharing a bounty of wisdom along with the bounty of produce. Alon said, “We also have additional classes for urban farmers who want to know more about seed saving, urban permaculture, honey beekeeping, and other areas of sustainable energy usage and urban homesteading. We never turn anyone away for lack of funds, and welcome work-trade options for those who would like to participate in 'getting dirty' in exchange for the education opportunities.”

It might be obvious to state, but community farming isn't just for city dwellers. Participating with a local farm can happen pretty much anywhere. To help find a farm near you, Local Harvest offers a convenient community-supported agriculture (CSA) search tool on their website. Peruse the results, make some calls, and find a farm that welcomes volunteers. In Ojai, California, Rio Gozo Farm echoes Hayes Valley and offers a common barter with volunteers — come help harvest and get a free box of produce. And, like Red Damsel, they also share their 17 acres with others, including the Ojai Valley Green Coalition. Farmer Elizabeth Del Negro feels that volunteers mean "everything" to a farm. She elaborated, "We can't do it without our community. Farms require either community or a very large family. They don't happen by one person alone."

For their part, the helpers have myriad reasons for pitching in. Eleven-year-old Zane enjoys "learning about different vegetables and when they are ready to be picked. And picking is fun." For Amber Nelson of Ventura Locavore, it's all about community: "It's important to me to be able to look my farmer/food provider in the eye and say thank you. The relationships that have developed as a result of volunteering on the farm are priceless." (