April 1, 2016 by susanyvivi
Lessons Learned from The Village Farm Experience
Greetings to all the wonderful people who supported The Village Farm. This report is from the small group who continue to work toward the vision of the Village Farm albeit on a smaller scale and with the specific inclusion of a service element, which you may read about in the accompanying description of the current planning. We have had time now to reflect on the Village Farm organizing effort and realize that it may be helpful to share some of those reflections.
In April of 2013 it became clear that the effort to acquire the Wright farm on Helgeson Road was not going to succeed. The creation of a community farm we called The Village Farm was not possible at that time on that land. Many wonderful people believed in the vision and generously gave of their time, energy and financial resources to help realize the dream. We sent a message to everyone who participated to let them know that we would not be able to proceed with the purchase of the farm and that we would continue to follow the vision and be in touch. Last year we sent an update and gave people who contributed money a choice:
*send the donation to folks who were planning to continue the vision of the Village Farm but on a smaller scale on leased land *send the donation to folks who were organizing the Sooke Region Farmlands Trust
*receive a refund
We divided the money accordingly.
It seems right to describe how the last few years have gotten us to where we are. There was the initial time of sadness and grief, especially knowing the disappointment that those who had been so excited and supportive may feel. There was also relief because as the time drew closer to the day of closing, it became clearer that even if we were able to raise a down payment and negotiate the loans required, there was no way that we could guarantee payments on those loans.
Farming requires a certain amount of life to go on regardless of discouragement and grief. Calves arrived very shortly after we ended our efforts to buy the farm and we were once again immersed in the day to day of life on the farm we were renting. We continued to believe in the vision and knew that we would find another way to carry on. We also had to face the fact that we had burned up a lot of our energy and savings and we had not been living sustainably in the emotional or physical health sense. Some time was needed to rest and re-create.
Four of us tried to negotiate a secure long term lease to farm together and carry on the vision. That was not possible as the owners were not willing to go long term, so the risk was too great. Discouraged, but heartened by friends and supporters all around, we kept on believing in the vision of a community farm and kept on trying to understand what happened with the attempt to form The Village Farm. What were the lessons that would help us in our next efforts to create community?
The following thoughts are from one of the members of the group that was involved in the effort to buy the farm on Helgesen Road.
People First – Land Second
One of the first conclusions we came to was that we made the mistake of putting the real estate process before the completion of the group formation process. Of course, there were many skilled and enthusiastic people who were helping in the effort to acquire the farm. It was a remarkable time. However, in order to go ahead with a purchase we needed more people who were ready to commit to create the community who would live and work on the farm (and pay on the loan). Though many people were inspired by the ideas, there was not a strong enough foundation of trust and common experience to venture forth on such a big enterprise. Our thinking had been that focusing on a specific farm to buy would make the vision more real and draw more people to participate. And, of course the Wright farm is beautiful and has immense potential for a community farm. If we had had a year to organize instead of 3 months, perhaps it could have been done. The Harbourside CoHousing group took about 2 years of getting together before they bought their property.
Mutual Understanding and Agreement on Vision/Purpose
The members of the organizing group of The Village Farm fluctuated over time. The vision statement was created over many meetings with various members and it seemed to resonate with many people. However, the images of life lived via a specific vision are as varied as the people who experience them. We did not have/spend enough time talking with each other and clarifying our individual interpretations of the vision. We made the mistake of trying to accommodate too many interpretations and the result contributed to a lack of clarity about what was possible.
Training Together for Common Knowledge and Skills
We actually wrote this into the structure which was to be used by the community members once the farm was established. Again, the lesson relates to moving too fast with too little cohesion. The odds would have been much more in our favour if we had started out with group training in decision making, communication, facilitation, conflict resolution to name a few. Building on those group dynamic and relationship strengthening experiences it would have been easier to learn together more technical skill such as farming specifics, energy production, natural building and so on.
Plan a Clear Process with Agreed Upon Steps
One of the other reasons that people hesitated to get more involved had to do with the lack of a clear, concrete plan of action with steps along the way with written agreements. The lesson follows on the heels of skill building so that we might use the tools we learn together to create the processes we will use to acquire land, farm and live in community. The cohousing way of planning involves the hiring of an experienced facilitator who comes equipped with a clear ‘roadmap’, and accompanies the group for the entire process. It is something to consider and we are going to be conferring with a facilitator at least to talk about options.
Best to Have a Variety of Skills
There are many facets to community and farm life which require different sets of skills and interests. Visions tend to stay in the air (or mind’s eye), if there is no one to anchor them to concrete status without of course losing sight of the intent. In our efforts, we tended to have good people skills and public relations. Supporters provided super message making and getting the word out information. What we were lacking were committed, ‘live in the community’ members who were also skilled in these areas.
In other words, a great learning experience!
And we’ll be in touch.