CFN staff have been busy visiting Care Farms in New York & Massachusetts this summer. As part of the Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) project, we are visiting Care Farms across the Northeast: sharing about the Network, identifying Care Farm mentors, building community, and learning about the diverse models of Care Farms throughout the Northeast US.
In July, we visited EquiCenter and Homesteads for Hope in Rochester, New York.
EquiCenter is a 501c(3) non-profit serving those with disabilities, veterans, and at-risk youth. EquiCenter’s programs include equine-related programs, therapeutic horticulture on its 3-acre organic farm, and farm-to-table culinary classes. During our visit, we discussed the importance of farm layout, how they manage hundreds of volunteers to operate their equine program, and enjoyed homemade popsicles from dried herbs from their farm.
Homesteads for Hope is a 501c(3) non-profit community farm that empowers people of all abilities to learn, work, live, and grow in nature’s classroom. Located on the Erie Canal, they offer a place to belong, and during our visit, we experienced just that! We loved listening to live music and being a part of their inclusive community during their unique Thursdays at the Farm event. During our visit, we discussed fundraising, budgets, mailing lists, and balancing production alongside mission with a focus on preventing staff burnout. Homesteads for Hope is currently in the middle of a capital campaign to raise money for their Forever Homestead, which will include classrooms, a teaching kitchen, and a farmers’ residence – and we got a sneak peek at their new building under construction!
In August, we traveled to Massachusetts and visited Cobblestone Farm, Cape Abilities Farm and Service Net’s Prospect Meadow Farm.
At Cobblestone Farm, we visited Donna’s homestead and heard how she started her Care Farm programs back in 2012. We were greeted by friendly Nigerian Dwarf goats and chickens running around freely and were impressed when they listened every time she called them to “come back” when they were getting too close to the main road! We discussed fundraising, how to research grant opportunities, and the importance of not underselling yourself!
Cape Abilities Farm is one of two innovative social enterprises established by Cape Abilities—a nonprofit providing jobs, homes, transportation, social and therapeutic services for people with disabilities across Cape Cod. Since 2006, Cape Abilities Farm has provided individuals with training, employment, and opportunities to interact with the local community. The farm offers organic and local food, flowers, gifts, art, and, most importantly, cultivates a diverse and inclusive community for people of all abilities.
During our visit, we discussed the similarities between Care Farms and the value that a Care Farm brings to an agency. The farm is the face of the agency– forming relationships with the community and vendors. Not only does a Care Farm provide vocational training, but they are also most importantly, ambassadors of the organization (replacing the image of the white van transporting people with disabilities across the community)
How can we be a resource & destination for our community?
-Tom Zurn, Founder, Cape Abilities Farm
Prospect Meadow Farm is similar to Cape Abilities Farm in that it is a social enterprise operated within a provider agency. Prospect Meadow Farm is the first therapeutic farming community in the Pioneer Valley – providing meaningful agricultural employment for people with developmental disabilities, autism, or mental health challenges. Prospect Meadow operates two farm sites; which includes a vegetable CSA, cafe, farm market, shitake mushroom production, and farm animals.
We were impressed with Prospect Meadow’s operation of employing 60 people with I/DD at $15/hour with plans to expand to 2 new farm sites in other counties. We discussed the importance of having a champion within the agency. Shawn shared his origin story of how Prospect Meadow farm started by copying the successful farm component of the shut-down mental hospital (acknowledging the benefits of care farming!). When starting up, Shawn’s most frequently asked question was: “What are you going to grow over the winter?” Shawn’s answer and a shared common care farm start-up belief: “Fake it ’til you make it!”