Ninety-three community members participated in the On the Farm evening event held at Stonewall Farm on February 18, 2016. Attendees represented an array of organizations and stakeholders in sustainable farming, equity and conservation including farms, health providers, agricultural agencies, academic institutions, locally-owned businesses, social service agencies and other nonprofits. The event was co-sponsored by Antioch University New England (AUNE), Stonewall Farm, C&S Wholesale Grocers, Healthy Monadnock 2020; AUNE’s Community Garden Connections, Monadnock Farm and Community Coalition; and the Cheshire County Conservation District. The evening’s local farm-to-table catering was provided by Pisgah Farm in Spofford, NH.
The evening was primarily a celebration of the book, On the Farm: The Uncertain Future of an American Legacy, with both the author, Ron Dodson, and artist, Adriano Manocchia, participating. This event was also an opportunity to network, identify strengths in the Monadnock Region related to the book’s themes; and gain participant input to inform Antioch’s future directions in service to this shared work.
After initial comments from AUNE’s president, Dr. Stephen Jones, the author and artist provided an overview of their publication. The following 30 minutes were spent in small groups discussing themes highlighted in On the Farm, including: Health, Environment & Economic Prosperity; Conservation & Stewardship; Equity & Sustainable Communities; Civic Engagement & Education. Eight regional leaders in sustainable agriculture, conservation, higher education, health, local economies, social services and education served as conversation facilitators. These individuals were all AUNE graduates from environmental studies (6), management (1) and education (1) departments. An additional eight current AUNE graduate students served as table hosts and note takers for these conversations. This facilitated process helped generate conversations related to community strengths, visions for the future and potential roles Antioch could play in effecting positive change toward a sustainable food system for all.
Community strengths identified highlighted an array of cultural, social and natural resources of the Monadnock Region. These ranged from recreational and natural resources to programmatic (e.g., garden and farm education programs, health providers, etc.) and organizational assets (e.g., agricultural commissions; universities, hospital; social service agencies, local farms, etc.). Social capital like various collaborations, as well as motivation and interest in issues and purchasing local goods, were identified as additional strengths. Key barriers highlighted included insufficient time, money and resources to leverage change, alongside issues of poverty and livable wages for all; jobs that attract young people to the region; need for capacity building and education across the lifespan; gaps in understanding and research; and need for enhanced communications across sectors and entire region/state.
Themes across all conversations identified the following key roles for Antioch:
- Education and Outreach. Connect people and resources.
- Research and Evaluation. identify trends, interests and community needs
- Collaboration and Partnerships. Enhance existing—and develop new partnerships—with stakeholders/organizations across spheres (economic, conservation, social, political, educational) such as colleges, non-profits, and health providers, among others.
- Civic Leadership. The general theme was for Antioch community members to serve in community leadership roles across contexts (e.g., planning boards; non-profits) and to model good citizenship through our efforts, including sponsoring these sorts of community events and purchasing local products.
- Enhance Communications with the Greater Community. Suggestions included serving as an “anchor organization,” advertising programs and resources offered through Antioch, and creating shared resources like an informational database.
Overall, the event was well-received. Sample feedback included:
- Great set up and overall event idea!
- Good small group discussion, great to have a facilitator and scribe at each table.
- Great food!
- Everyone participated thoughtfully and had something to contribute.
- …it was an excellent experience with great interest in helping our community.
- The event had great energy and our table conversation had everyone engaged.
- Very broad and interesting group.
- Nice gathering and enlightened conversation.
- Connection, community, inspiration, and well-structured.
As one participant stated in terms of AUNE’s continued role:
“Be the intersection point and help all the people, organization[s], and small businesses work collectively to achieve more. I think this evening is a perfect example of the expertise and energy in this region to make real change- this would be strengthened by an organization that served to connect and create a collective energy.”