View Full Version : What is Community Farming?
13-10-2006, 04:32 PM
Was having a discussion with a friend about community farming which brought up some interesting perspectives and I like to gauge a wider scope.
When you think of a community farm, what does the big picture present to you - right now, in 2006?
Naturally, a group of people get together and work out what they want, approach the local council or some other institution for help in getting access to land and when they have gained access to land, they design the garden and start to cultivate it.
But after that, what then?
:arrow: Does it include setting up a worker's co-op and paying people an above market rate to perform work that, on the whole, could be performed without charge and to exact standard by volunteers?
:arrow: Does it mean you introduce workers' agreements and generous pay scales even though they cannot sustain current enterprise as it is?
:arrow: Does "being there first" or "the one to set it up" give special rights?
:arrow: Does a community farm involve primarily volunteer work or does employment have a legitimate presence? If so, does this include businesses set up by paid staff that also benefit?
:arrow: Indeed, how would view management of a community farm: one person as executive decision maker or a "jury" of "elected" committee members, particularly one that spent the majority of meeting time fighting with one another?
:arrow: Given the permaculture philosophy which advocates 'care for all living things', would you entertain itinerant people on the farm if all they did was take from you, humbug money, drink on site and assault people?
I would love to read your thoughts on this.
13-10-2006, 06:04 PM
Hi Squeak, as you know I'm relatively new to all this but I have *some* experience setting up a community group and have toyed with the idea of starting a community garden of sorts... so this is from a new person's perspective, with no experience of the politics of a really established garden.
Does it include setting up a worker's co-op and paying people an above market rate to perform work that, on the whole, could be performed without charge and to exact standard by volunteers?
I would prefer volunteers. Volunteers start out as unskilled but I love the idea of unskilled people learning through experience. I think paying for workers unnecessarily complicates things, although I guess it would make it easy to order people around? Also, if there are paid workers, what does this mean for the volunteers? Do they get edged out? Are they valued less?
Does it mean you introduce workers' agreements and generous pay scales even though they cannot sustain current enterprise as it is?
If current enterprise was unsustainable then I can't see how that would work at all. Especially if the garden was a permaculture example - surely it should be self contained and sustainable in the way it's run? I can see a need for basic working guidelines i.e. if you want to take food you must do work but not much more than that.
Does "being there first" or "the one to set it up" give special rights?
Ah, hehe perhaps. I guess the one who sets it up may have a vision for the future. However all things are dynamic and change may be inevitable. I know I struggle with this with my parent's group, being one of the founding members. We probably try to please everyone a bit too much. It's a hard question to answer. It really depends on the attitude of said person I think, and the size/makeup of the group.
Does a community farm involve primarily volunteer work or does employment have a legitimate presence? If so, does this include businesses set up by paid staff that also benefit?
Possibly the size of the farm would dictate this. If you are talking a small enterprise then volunteer work would likely be the most efficient way to run things (one would hope). A large farm with a distinct culture and presence may hope to present a smooth/professional face to the community by hiring workers to do things such as cook, or clean. I guess if volunteers stop showing up that may become a problem, if there is an expectation that say there will be food and drink but no one turns up to make it. Paid workers will show up (generally LOL). Ideally though primarily volunteers would get my vote.
Indeed, how would view management of a community farm: one person as executive decision maker or a "jury" of "elected" committee members, particularly one that spent the majority of meeting time fighting with one another?
Perhaps an amalgamation of both? A committee and a person elected for their commitment to the farm and its future, who makes the ultimate decisions based on what the committee puts forth? That person would have to be very special though and always have the future of the farm, and its ideals, at heart.
Given the permaculture philosophy which advocates 'care for all living things', would you entertain itinerant people on the farm if all they did was take from you, humbug money, drink on site and assault people?
Nope. I don't extend "care for all living things" to human leeches. Permaculture to me is an integrated system whereby everyone involved is involved. Those who seek to put themselves outside the system should find another system to sponge off. Put back in what you take out. You don't just take and take, that is not permaculture to me.
Sorry if I've been a bit naive in my thoughts! :D Hope you sort out the red tape and the crap.
Richard on Maui
13-10-2006, 08:05 PM
Your hypothetical questions wouldn't happen to be about a particular place would they, Squeaky?
Look, if you don't dig the scene at Northey St, go start a project yourself. There is a whole planet dying out there for you to do just that.
14-10-2006, 07:19 PM
Thanks very much for your response, Anastasia. I don't have any experience setting up a community garden so you're way ahead of me. I don't have any crap or red tape to sort: I was just wondering aloud as to what the general consensus was in terms of an ethos that appears to be rapidly changing in these uncertain times.
In truth, my questions stem from a very stimulating conversation I had with a guy who'd just gotten back from a perm project in South America, a couple of people I know in Queensland, my mother and one of her colleagues, who happens to be doing great things with permaculture in Victoria. It was the kind of conversation where your cup of coffee goes cold and you are so wide eyed with learning that you just want to eat every word uttered.
The wildly differing opinions proferred by these people, some of whom were vastly experienced in their respective fields, kinda blew my perspective out of the water and prompted me to formulate some questions of my own.
I find your reply disappointing, Richard. For a person with an extensive background in permaculture, how unfortunate it is that you appear to have some bugbear that you can't rid yourself of in order to afford someone else the wealth of your experience. It's becoming patently obvious to me you have a lynching agenda, and I am not taking your bait. As I actually undertake paid work at a community farm and no, sorry to disappoint you, it's not Northey Street, I am actually wondering whether I am doing the right thing both in philosophical terms as far as permaculture goes in addition to ethical ones. If you won't take this post with the good intent that it is offered, then I find it quite sad that you should comment at all.
14-10-2006, 08:13 PM
Oh good, the way a couple of things were worded made it sound like you had some stuff going on. But conversations like that are great aren't they? Anything that challenges our assumptions is important.
Hopefully some more people will reply to give more perspective.
Richard on Maui
15-10-2006, 09:05 AM
Fair enough there Squeak. I must admit that my response in this thread was largely a reaction to my perception of your intentions in the tree spinach thread, and I was out of line. Please accept my sincere apologies.
So, to share my "wealth" of experience... (I have actually been involved in two or three of these things, though never as a founding member, more of a blow in);
Community gardens are always a process. Yes, the people that start them often feel ownership and will often tend to dominate proceedings. In many ways this is fair enough, especially when they continute to shoulder the bulk of the load. It is all too easy for enthusiastic newcomers to be critical and see better ways to do things, and somewhat natural for the oldtimers to be nervous about giving up responsibility until they are convinced of the commitment level of the new people. As I said in my earlier hasty response, if this doesn't suit the newcomers there actually isn't all that much to stop them starting their won community access gardens.
A really successful community garden (or any other kind of community organisation) will probably have a process for accomodating both the longtermers and the newer recruits... I suppose there are various models of decision making that are appropriate for different types of groups.
I think it is pretty inevitable that when you open a garden up to the community you are going to get a certain amount of hangers on. The real challenge for those who take responsibility for gardens is to try to identify the useful abilities in those who are attracted to the place and try to channel that energy in productive ways. In this way, you are seeing people like every other element in your system and attempting to best configure them to the rest of the system according to their needs and uses. From each according to their abilities and to each according to their needs. Having said that, it is fair enough for a community to make rules like "no smoking, no drinking, no panhandling". The hard part I suppose is enforcing them...
Regarding your questions about employment and renumeration, I suppose it all depends on the orientation of the garden. It wouldn't appear to make sense to pay workers more than the farm can produce and sell, but if other sources funding are available, and overall it is seen that paying some workers creates more stability and continuity to the effect that the farm is a valuable resource to the community, then sure, pay a few workers!
18-10-2006, 09:01 PM
oi squeeky, sure your not talkin about northy st?
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