What is an ECOFARM?

ECOFARM is an acronym for Ecological and Community Oriented Farming and Resource Management, which is essentially an integrated community compost farm that is deeply rooted in ecological design and increasing community access (to healthy food, healthy soil, and other resources) and connection. It is a model some friends and I have worked on developing in recent years, and we have officially launched 2 pilot projects so far.

There are many important aspects of this model, making it multi-dimensional in nature. I would not say one aspect is emphasized over the other, though it depends on the community members involved in executing the model. In which case, that depends on the skills, resources, and inherent biases of that community.

In this model, community input is integrated into the design so that it serves the immediate needs of the neighboring community. The whole site is designed under ecological principles, which can include any number of garden elements, such as vegetable beds, food forest, composting, medicinal and herb gardens, native and pollinator gardens, community gathering areas, beehives, a seed library, water infiltration basins and swales, ponds, flowers, etc. Generally when we ask the community, they are interested in having all of these things.

The composting aspect is intended to be a fully fledged organic waste processing program, which receives food waste from the community, and composts it with farm trimmings, manure, and wood chips. Thus, there should be some kind of food waste collection program, whether that’s a drop-off program, or a hauling collections program.

My personal mission is to manage these compost piles very well, so there are no odors or pests, and the composting part is pleasant, inspiring, and welcoming. I do this by ensuring the compost reaches hot temperatures, meeting EPA standards for killing off human pathogens like Salmonella and E. Coli. This is done by ensuring a good initial compost recipe, so our site managers are trained to build piles in this way. In this way, our collections programs can accept meat, dairy, bones, and other plate waste.

One of the reasons I am interested in the ecological design of a compost project is that the increased biodiversity and ecological health and function of the space all help to minimize pests and pathogens around the compost. The compost can be used immediately on site to improve the land right there.

Principles of ecological garden design look to wild systems for inspiration on how best to facilitate ecological health under human-managed vegetable cultivation. Increasing biodiversity, increasing wildlife and native pollinator habitat, native pollinator habitat, integrating trees, and developing erosion mitigation and soil building strategies. So we are not just growing food or growing soil, but we are growing whole ecologies.

And that extends to human ecologies too. Low-income neighborhoods lack access to fresh healthy food, so it’s important for this food and medicine that is grown on these sites to contribute to the livelihoods of disadvantaged folks. Accessibility is about distance, affordability, and cultural appropriateness of the food.

The farm is managed collectively. There are some paid staff in charge of running the farm and coordinating volunteers. The paid farmer organizes the tasks for the day, and works with volunteers to accomplish all of these tasks. Community volunteers get to take a share of the harvest home with them. This is different from the conventional community garden where each individual manages their own plot as well (or not) as they want to.

The idea is that everyone has a voice, and as a community we can integrate as much of everyone’s individual desires as much as possible. So if there is something you want to grow, we can grow it. The benefit of collective management is that you can be there tending to your favorite spots, and it’s okay for you to be busy too, the community is still caring for your favorite parts of the garden. There will still be food and medicine waiting for you when you return.

Ecologically, the site has a better chance to develop as a whole ecosystem, which increases its efficiency and function and overall health. Issues around pests and pathogens can be troubleshooted as a whole ecosystem issue, rather than an isolated issue that relates to your personal skill and ability as a gardener.

One of the great shifts in perspective that this type of collective management brings is the idea of stewarding common resources – acknowledging our commonality, and choosing to collaborate and work together to manage those resources responsibly and equitably.

Beyond that, I personally just want to have fun. So creating spaces for educational events, creative opportunities, and community gatherings are an integral part of these projects. It is magical to bring people together over a farm to table dinner, with fresh flowers, juices, fruits, and just harvested garden salads.

It takes a lot of work, labor, and resources to install a fully featured ECOFARM like this, especially when it is taking a new spin on community gardening. Because it integrates community decision making processes, things often happen on a slower time scale. More people feel included in the process, which improves the relationships within the community, and people are less likely to feel undervalued. However, it does mean that one person can’t just blaze on and create the whole thing, which might give you a beautiful overnight garden, but doesn’t have the community trust built in behind it.

There is more education and communication that is necessary for this model to work. Some perspectives on community gardens are that they are better served as an organizing tool for community members to come together and empower themselves to advocate for better services and resources. The ECOFARM model can also work in this way.

I am working with some friends to formalize this model and house it under a 501c3 non-profit organization that is utilizing cooperative leadership structures. So yes, if you want to fund us, we’ll be happy to take your money. We have leads for more opportunities to implement this model, so your money will always go towards expanding ECOFARM. You can donate to ECOFARM using the Donate button on the right, or Click Here to Donate.

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