Our founder, Philanthropist Amy Tarlow-Lewis, Feeding Her Community is featured on a podcast for You are a Philanthropist. Listen and Learn how the Littleton Community Farm got started.
What originally brought you to farming?
My neighbor always had a very vegetable plot next to my backyard, and as kids we loved to gather and eat the raspberries he grew. His father was a farmer and he used to teach us about the vegetables and the animals that lived in and around the garden. I knew most farmers were men, but he always made me feel like it’s something a woman could do.
Where else have you farmed?
When I lived in the UK I helped manage a one acre community garden space of raised beds, where I had two plots and cultivated in the common and neglected areas. I also grew at my home and on my windowsills! Here in the US, I worked as the farmhand at LCF in 2017 and worked for The Food Project on their 33-acre Baker’s Bridge farm in Lincoln MA.
Why work and volunteer with a community farm?
I believe that our food system essentially alienates us from our food. We are a society addicted to food that comes processed, packaged in plastic, cultivated and harvested by people who we never know and who are no doubt very exploited. Learning to grow food, whether by coming to learn at the farm or growing your own garden, overcomes that alienation. At the farm and in your garden, you can see the ecological processes of your food, and when you harvest and consume it you know for sure its story. When you support a community farm like LCF, you create meaningful jobs in your community and know that the food you eat comes from the very same place you live. I think this is powerful.
What is the hardest thing about farming and greatest reward?
I had to tackle many learning curves this year, but the biggest puzzle is balancing the production of food with effective stewardship of the soil. This year, John Bailey and I worked hard to cover crop our fields to enrich the soil, and nothing has pleased me more than looking up the farm and seeing a healthy cover crop growing this fall.
What value does a community farm have in agricultural community?
Littleton is a right-to-farm community, and while I believe people can and should do much at their own homes to grow food and raise livestock, the amount of food that can be sustainably grown on local farms is a huge part of creating a productive and just food system. The greatest threat to our food system in New England is the development of agricultural lands into estates of single-family homes. It’s something I’ve seen in my own hometown on the North Shore, as small farms I grew up around were bought up and developed. What many don’t realize is that these homes are now sitting on (and likely polluting) valuable agricultural soil in a world where arable soil is quickly depleting. Reserving these lands for responsible and sustainable agriculture is not just important to for look and feel of a town, but to the health of our local ecosystems and the strength of our food-system.
Given the pandemic what are the biggest challenges to micro farming?
LCF relies so much on volunteers who come to the farm to help with our cultivation. While farms are open-air spaces where people can technically physically distance, the reality is that much farm work is done in close quarters. Wearing masks in the summer heat is also certainly no fun, but we developed protocols and worked hard to stick to them. This year our volunteers gave more than their time and energy; they came willing to take risks during a global pandemic to help get food to the communities where its needed. We had to think carefully about our practices, and are happy to say that no one got sick coming to the farm this year.
Given the pandemic why are local farms critical to the food supply?
I’m sure we can all recall the empty shelves and aisles in our grocery stores last spring. While much of this was due to short-lived panic-buying, the first weeks of lockdown witnessed significant disruptions in our food supply-chains. Farm workers are essential workers, but this meant many were going to work (for very low wages) and exposing themselves to the virus. The irony of all this is that as commerce slowed, many farmers were left with viable crops but nowhere to send them, leading to mass crop destruction even as lines at food pantries around the country lengthened. What many may not realize is that the value of crops are often tied up in complicated financialized securities, such that stock-market crashes like we experienced resulted in harvests becoming negatively valued. All this shows the inadequacy of an over-stretched, fragmented food system. It’s designed to make profits, not feed people. Local food-systems are not only more responsive to economic disruption, they can get crops to where they’ll be eaten and stimulate local economies by creating commerce and jobs.
How can people help support non profit and for-profit farms?
I think there are two key ways you can support local agriculture. First, as a consumer, you can buy, eat, and donate to local agriculture. But the second thing you can—and should do!—is hold our local politicians accountable for resourcing farms, protecting arable land, and making food accessible to all.
What is your favorite vegetable?
Hands-down the eggplant, a.k.a. (for my UK mates) the aubergine. I love its nuttiness and it’s a wonderful versatile veg to cook with. There are also many different varieties—including a white variety, which I’ve never grown but intend to try one day!
Littleton Community Farm (LCF) was founded in 2013 to connect people to the land, food, and each other. Our mission is to reduce food insecurity in our area, provide farm-based education, and be a place for community connection. Our target population is low to moderate-income households in Nashua Valley and the gateway city of Lowell, MA. The farm is located in Littleton, MA; the farm leases 3 acres from our generous partner, the New England Forestry Foundation.
Food security for our most vulnerable populations, already a serious concern before COVID-19, has exploded over the past year. Children and the elderly, especially those in our minority communities, are most at risk. In July of 2020, The Department of Unemployment Assistance reported in Middlesex County, 13.7% of households are experiencing food insecurity. Food pantries are struggling to meet the demand for help and are pleading for healthy, locally grown food to assist those in desperate need. The COVID-19 crisis has exposed both the fragility of our food system and dramatically increased the number of at-risk and underserved populations. Having begun a review of our hunger relief and education programs in January, LCF will be expanding efforts to broaden our impact in vulnerable communities with each pound of food we grow. Your gift today will directly increase our capacity to increase the pounds of food grown for others.
COVID-19 has strengthened our resolve to our mission and called us to find new and creative ways to address the food crisis. Given the expected longevity of both unemployment and food insecurity, LCF believes it is imperative to quickly shift production away from our commercial community-supported agriculture (CSA) program and towards existing and new hunger relief programs. Your support is critical to allowing us to increase pounds of fresh, healthy vegetables grown with best organic practices to families in need this year and into the future. Generous gifts from donors like you are critical to covering the hunger relief program.
We have a strong record of success. Since 2015 we have grown and donated 21,500 lbs. of food for food-insecure families. LCF is unique in that our sole purpose is to donate produce– donations are not a byproduct of production; rather, the primary purpose of growing. Low-income residents who seek support at food pantries have less access to fresh vegetables and fruit. Pantries have limited refrigeration and resources. Pantries are heavily weighted with shelf-stable products, many of which are high-calorie, high-sugar foods. By providing more fresh local grown vegetables to food pantries, LCF increases the amount of healthy food consumed and decreases the need for pantries to spend limited funds on purchasing perishable goods.
Today, your gift will build the organization and the growing operations to distribute increased pounds of food to those who desperately need it the most. LCF is the only nonprofit farm in Nashoba Valley who grows directly for hunger relief.
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Donations to Littleton Community Farm are tax-deductible. We are a 501c3 tax-exempt organization. You can write to us at Littleton Community Farm PO. Box 1186, Littleton, MA 01460, or contact us online at LittletonCommunityFarm.org/contact