Grow Food Northampton (GFN) is a non-profit organization dedicated to “promoting food security by advancing sustainable agriculture in the Northampton, Massachusetts area.” GFN is a small and relatively new organization. They began with the goal of preserving for agricultural uses a specific parcel of farmland that was going to be sold. In doing so, they attempted to foster a dialogue within the community about the value of saving prime farmland for farming and building a strong, sustainable, resilient community food system. For more information on this organization, check out the premiere issue of Together Northampton, which is devoted to ‘Food for All’ and features GFN and the role it plays in community food security and sustainable local agriculture.
Grow Food Northampton ran an extremely successful capital campaign in 2010, raising over $650,000. This allowed the organization to purchase 120 acres of land in Florence, MA (a village within the city of Northampton) and create the Northampton Community Farm (NCF). Like a traditional farm, a primary purpose of a community farm is food production, but for a community farm creating a connection between people and the source of their food is also a crucial element. To this end, the NCF encourages public access to the land and education about food production through events such as volunteer workdays, educational workshops, and farm-based community celebrations.
Today, a portion of the NCF is being farmed as a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) farm and another part of it is being developed into the Florence Organic Community Garden. In the future, two other remaining parcels will be leased to similar operations that share the values and mission of GFN and the Community Farm.
In addition to GFN’s mission to purchase and permanently preserve farmland, the organization’s other goals include increasing access to local food for all community members, playing a role in youth and adult education on issues of sustainable agriculture and local food production through both workshops and hands-on experiences, and encouraging experimental and innovative research into lower environmental impact food production methods. My internship at this organization is a general one, and my work has been quite varied. I have taken or will take part in work on all of the projects mentioned above.
The food access work the organization is involved in has been one of my main areas of interest. GFN’s food access program includes a successful campaign to double the value of food stamps used at the Tuesday Farmers Market in Northampton; the Affordable Farm Share program, providing CSA shares to low income residents; assistance in certifying the CSA on the NCF to accept SNAP benefits (food stamps) for CSA shares next season; organization of volunteers to deliver excess produce to the Northampton Survival Center; and facilitation of workshops at the Survival Center on how to use and preserve farm-fresh vegetables and fruits.
Additionally, I’m joining a committee of dedicated volunteers working on the planning and operations end of preparing the brand-new organic community garden to have 100 plots available for lease next spring. At least 15% of these plots will be offered at a reduced rate, to provide access to low-income residents of the community. Particularly because the garden will be entirely organic and encourage the use of permaculture practices, a great deal of community education is needed. There are so many aspects to this project that involve research, brainstorming and collaboration with local, state, and federal agencies; it’s been truly informative experience.
In collaboration with sustainable food and farming organization, Glynwood, I have also been assisting with a survey of the amount of agricultural land within the city as well as another survey quantifying local food within the local economy from a retailer/consumer perspective. Both of these projects can be helpful in assessing the ability of the local region to produce its own food.
The internship feels like it’s been going really fast, and my big fear is that I won’t have enough time to see the number of projects I’ve gotten started on to completion. The first few weeks were all about learning all I could and jumping in to all the projects I found most interesting. Then over the past couple weeks, I’ve been getting involved more deeply in the key projects I’ve chosen, and it’s time to start focusing more on prioritizing and narrowing my focus a bit.
I really appreciate that I was given the opportunity to choose the projects currently on my plate, based on the areas of greatest interest to me. I’ve been given a large amount of responsibility to work independently on important tasks, but I’ve also had the chance to work collaboratively in small groups, and both have been very enjoyable. I love that I have the chance to contribute something truly meaningful to this small, start-up organization. The work I’m doing here is very similar to the work I would love to do after leaving Bard. I believe GFN is a wonderful organization and their mission very closely matches my interests, so I’ve found my internship to be a fantastic experience so far.
Hope all BCEPers are having a wonderful summer,