Farm Programs Cultivate Community Across Southern New England

An agricultural support network clears a path for inclusive and sustainable practices

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Local farmers – and those aspiring to carve a space for themselves in the industry – gathered in late May at Wild Harmony Farm in Exeter for a potluck dinner and meet-and-greet. Farmers Ben Coerper and Rachael Slattery gave the group a tour of their certified organic and pasture-raised livestock farm and walked them through some of the sustainable and regenerative practices in place, like silvopasture, a combination of forest and pasture that allows animals to roam and forage.

This was just the first of many educational evenings of the season hosted by Young Farmer Network (YFN) of Southern New England, giving a local farm the chance to highlight what they’re doing that’s exciting or unique while building community.

“The opportunity to visit farms and talk with other food producers and brainstorm solutions to the broad or specific challenges we face is the backbone of the Young Farmer Network,” says coordinator Elizabeth Malloy. “At farm tours, social events, and workshops alike, we focus not only on education but also on the cultivation of a strong social fabric.”

Young Farmer Nights make up a series of inclusive, casual get-togethers at a different farm, like Wild Harmony, every month “for everyone interested in the realm of farming,” says Malloy,  “whether they are new farmers, past farmers, seasoned farmers, aspiring farmers, passionate about food systems, or just interested in learning more.” This summer’s series has a theme of climate resiliency with specialty crops.

Along with these more informal gatherings fostering connections, YFN’s mission is to be a resource for regional farmers of all ages, experience, and backgrounds. “We work towards a supportive landscape for farmers and prospective farmers in developing socially, ecologically, and economically sustainable farm businesses and fulfilling lives,” Malloy explains.

This includes Farmer Short Courses, a more formal series of instruction “covering everything from tractor repair, to business planning, to agriculture-related policy work.” Through connections made in these programs, collaborations have also formed, with members sharing booths at farmers markets and lending equipment to each other. 

Forging a career in farming – especially for those traditionally excluded from land ownership or new to the processes – relies on these deeper relationships and networks for trading knowledge. “YFN prompted other local beginning farmer organizations to coordinate regional events discussing topics such as race and equity as related to beginning farmers’ access to land and other resources, and the importance of unearthing the histories of land dispossession and slavery in New England to better understand the context of contemporary landscapes and labor issues,” shares Malloy.

“Building solidarity among farmers, consumers, and justice groups will help develop resilient communities as we struggle with issues like climate change and land security, structural racism and the economic viability of small farms.” Offering wide-ranging programs and services like childcare and translators at events throughout Rhode Island’s and southern New England’s agricultural landscape, YFN begins breaking down these barriers. 

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