Local Farmers Grow Community Roots
These days, it’s more likely the food on your plate was shipped from across the country—or imported from another country—than grown at a local farm. But Jen Smith thinks we’ve got that backwards (and we agree!).
Jen believes local food serves up more than fresh nutrients; it grows community and fosters relationships with the land, too. That’s why Jen and her husband, Nate, have dedicated their lives to seeding, weeding, and harvesting farmland protected by The Trust for Public Land.
“It’s so important that people have the option to get food locally,” says Jen. “One can see, from looking at the current food system, that it’s just not sustainable to truck and transport food. There’s real strength in having local agriculture in cities and towns.”
After Jen fell for her husband Nate at a farm-study program in Virginia, the agronomist pair attended the University of California-Santa Cruz Farm & Garden Apprenticeship program. Together, they dreamed of running a cooperative CSA farm in a supportive local community. But, like many young farmers these days, they didn’t have family farmland to settle on or the investment capital required to purchase land and equipment.
When The Trust for Public Land permanently protected two established farms in Northampton, Massachusetts, it was a dream come true for the couple. Conservation of the riverside farmland ensures it will forever be used to grow local food—and leased to local farmers.
“There’s no way we would have been able to start our own farm if it weren’t for the conservation component,” says Jen. “The Trust for Public Land made it possible for us. ”
The 99-year lease Jen and Nate signed on the newly formed Northampton Community Farm came with a few stipulations. Jen and Nate must offer public access to the farm, provide hands-on farming education, and host community celebrations. They also have to sell food locally whenever possible and manage the land organically.
“The lease holds us to higher ideals,” says Jen. “The farm was protected for the common good, and we’re committed to leaving the land in better shape than we found it.”
Working with nonprofit partners Grow Food Northampton and the Farm Education Collaborative, Jen and Nate’s Crimson & Clover Farm enjoys 300 CSA shareholders, dedicated volunteers, well-organized farm events, and professionally planned educational opportunities for local kids.
“We love sharing the land,” she says. “We want to offer super-fresh local produce, but also a place to see your neighbors, a place for kids to camp, run through a field, and watch a carrot come out of the ground—places like this are hard to come by these days.”
Fueled by the local food movement, cooperative CSA farms like Crimson & Clover are offering communities so much more than food. A visit to the farm offers insight into the growing of that food, a knowledge of sustainable farming, and an appreciation for the land; all things we miss out on when our food is shipped from far-flung cities or countries.