Posted by: scintillatingspeck | October 9, 2010

A personal request and update

Dearest family and friends,

I wanted to let you all know what I’ve been focusing on in a big way for nearly a year now, and to make a request.  It’s time to provide an update and fill you in on what has captured so much of my attention, energy and enthusiasm!

Many of you know that I have deep concerns about global problems that have no easy solutions: the climate is shifting in frightening ways, we are facing limits to energy resources that we have relied on all our lives, the natural world is being abused to the breaking point, and many people around the world are living in conditions of horrible oppression and suffering.  Sometimes it is unbearable to contemplate how heavy these problems are.  Sometimes it feels easier to say, “There’s nothing I can do.  I’m only one person.  What could I possibly do to change this?”  There have been times when I’ve been in profound despair and feeling helpless about it.

But not now.

I have found myself at the center of an astonishing local food movement.  Never before have I felt so strongly that this is the path I was meant to walk.  By pouring my energy into supporting local food security and sustainable agriculture, I know that I’m taking some of the most powerful steps I could possibly take to address problems that extend way beyond my home, my region, my nation.

In the fall of 2009, a small band of grassroots activists in Northampton gathered out of concern about the fate of a piece of farmland in the city, the Bean Farm.  The City was proposing to purchase it and turn it into sports fields.  We said, “Hey, wait a minute.  This is prime farmland!  We need a discussion about community priorities and land use regarding this.”

That was when I jumped in with both feet.  I helped coordinate a petition effort to save the Bean Farm for farming, which was signed by 850 residents of Northampton (and even more signed from elsewhere in the Valley, the state, and even from out-of-state).  A lot of voices started to be raised out of concern for the community’s food needs as well as recreation needs.  It was exciting to be part of a series of public forums where this conversation took place.  I made a short speech on the importance of local agriculture at one of them, with my knees shaking and feeling like I was going to faint with 300 people watching me.

Fast forward a month or two: suddenly, we were no longer talking just about the Bean Farm, but about the adjoining Allard Farm as well.  The City was proposing to buy enough acreage to meet recreation needs (24 acres) and preserve the floodplain forest along the adjoining Mill River, but the remainder was agricultural land that they were not planning to purchase.  Suddenly, our band of activists were approaching every organization we could think of to find out if they would buy the land and manifest the vision that so many in Northampton were getting excited about: a community farm with CSA shares, farm education programs for all, community gardens, local organic food that would feed our community, farm-to-school programs, farm camps, and the corresponding community vibrancy and resilience that would result.

Not only is the Bean/Allard land beautiful, fertile farmland, but it has historical significance as well.  It was a stop on the Underground Railroad for runaway slaves in the 19th century, and an area known as the Locust Grove on the land (where locust trees still grow today) was the site of anti-slavery conventions.  It was also farmed by a 19th-century utopian community, the Northampton Association of Education and Industry, of which the African-American abolitionist and women’s rights activist Sojourner Truth was a member.  Generations ago, this land sustained people working passionately to address suffering and injustice; we follow in these giant footsteps, also seeking to right the wrongs of our culture.

There were no organizations ready to take on the project of buying the Bean/Allard farmland.  So one night in February 2010, we gathered, took a deep breath, and voted to incorporate Grow Food Northampton as a non-profit.  We were going to do it ourselves, from the ground up.  We started with no money, no established organization, little more than a dream and a small group of impassioned people.  We knew it would be a wild ride.  We knew we might not succeed.  But we were driven by our sense that not only should this land be farmed, we had to do everything in our power to insure that it would be a community resource for generations to come.

It HAS been a wild ride.  As Tom can attest, I have probably never worked harder on anything in the entire time we’ve known each other.  It has been a long-distance sprint for the past many months.  I have written grants, entered thousands of names into our donor database, attended endless board meetings, learned bookkeeping, read proposals from interested farmers, and attended to countless details and discussions about how to move this project forward.  I was also featured in a 3 minute film about our project which I invite you to view here:

Most of you know that I’m also a full-time parent of Lily.  So please try to imagine, for a second, what I’ve taken on here: the equivalent of another full-time, unpaid job.  You don’t even want to know how many nights I worked on Grow Food Northampton work until 2am, because Lily was sleeping and that was when I had time.  (Almost every night.)  Why have I done this?  Why have I run myself ragged and questioned my sanity to do this?

Here is my answer:  Lily Hartley.

When I think about the future awaiting this child, I want her to be eating healthy, local food that wasn’t doused in petrochemicals in every step of its production, distribution, and processing.  I want her to know the farmers who grow her food.  I want her to know how to grow food herself.  I want her to love the land that sustains her and to understand that she is a part of nature, not separate from it.  I want her to sit in a field of strawberries and eat her fill until the red juice is running down her chin and she can hardly contain herself for joy.  I want her to experience the satisfaction of commitment to her community, through sharing food, supporting the local economy, and having a sense of place.  I want her to know that she belongs here, right here, on this land, where we are planting our roots and our hearts.

For that reason, Tom and I made the single largest donation we’ve ever made, to this amazing effort of which I am a part.  We stretched as far as we could stretch.  Our donation was made in honor of a magnificent person: our daughter, Lily.

I invite you to donate to Grow Food Northampton, and further, to make your donation in honor or in memory of someone you love– maybe your children or grandchildren, or your late great-great uncle who was a farmer, or even to the entire planet.

I know that these are hard times for a lot of people, financially.  What I most hope for is that people will examine their most cherished values as well as assess their resources, and give accordingly.

Another gift is to spread the word about this effort.  Feel free to forward this email, or adapt it if need be.  Post the Grow Food Northampton video on your Facebook or Twitter account.  Send me your fundraising ideas.

We don’t have a lot of time; we need to raise $450,000 by Nov. 15 and a total of $670,000 by Jan. 31 (the final deadline) in order to reach our goals.  (There is more detail about the effort at  The timeline is very, very short, and not our choice, but it’s what we have to work with.

To donate: checks can be made payable to “Grow Food Northampton” and mailed to: Grow Food Northampton, PO Box 849, Northampton, MA 01061.  (We also have a Paypal option through our website, but I encourage you to send a check if you can, because then every dollar you send will go towards farmland rather than 3.2% of it towards Paypal fees.)

I’m profoundly honored to be working on something that is 100% in accordance with my values, on behalf of the health of my child, my family, my community, and the larger world.  Thanks for reading, and I wish you abundant blessings.



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