The Imani Ag Coop A Food-Growing Cooperative at Earthaven
When we finished the first building at Village Terraces Cohousing Neighborhood in 2004, we had $50 in our collective checking account. As one of our intentions as a group was to grow food together, we began to think of it more as a long-term goal than a current one. Aside from the fact that clearing forest to make agriculture land was expensive, building homes, relationships, income-generating activities and contributing to Earthaven’s governance and development were ambitious undertakings, leaving little time for agricultural activities.
Two of our five original members felt passionate about food production as a social, ecological, and important political act, however, and decided to lease an adjacent agriculture field from Earthaven, called Imani Farm. They raised chickens and ducks and began experimenting with dairy animals. They soon realized that the 1.25 acres of land they had leased from Earthaven wasn’t enough to create their ideal goal – to provide food for our neighborhood family with excess going to Earthaven members and neighbors.
Along the same time, two new members joined Earthaven and decided to build the second building in our neighborhood. What a dream come true. It meant more people to share resources and contribute to our “common pot” of funds that paid for shared systems such as heat, water, electricity, etc. These new folks also felt passionate about food growing. Being from the city, they didn’t have skills themselves, but were well versed in the looming economic crisis, peak oil, and the “long emergency” soon to be facing us. A distinct advantage of them “being from the city” was that they had life-long professional careers, unlike many of us who dropped out of the rat race early on, which meant they had some funds to make their dreams happen. Luckily their dreams coincided with ours and the Imani Ag Coop was born.
Our neighborhood is over four acres in size. Much of that area (a little under three acres) was designated for agriculture land in large part because we chose to live densely in cohousing units, clustered near each other. Other neighborhoods at Earthaven have chosen individual home sites, which spread out the buildings and arable land amongst the homes, with a smaller shared agriculture area.
The challenge facing our dream of food production was, as always at Earthaven, turning a fairly dense, immature, degraded forest into open agriculture land. This translates to $10,000 per acre in cost and weeks, if not months, of toiling on the part of many people. But we had a once-in-a-lifetime match born out of shared vision, skill, and passion. Mihaly and Lee, the farming couple, had the experience and desire to coordinate and offer labor to the clearing and Martha and Finch, the city couple, had the money to give to the project.
In January 2008, the three-acre clearing began. Two years and nearly $75,000 later (including clearing, fence, investment in lumber, firewood, amendments, etc.), we have an amazing example of cooperation and the best investment money can buy – the ability to feed ourselves. All with no debt! Our neighborhood is beautiful in a different way than was the forest and our cleared land is fenced with a durable, handsome woven wire fence (to keep animals in and out of the area of homes and gardens as well as to keep predators out.) We’re focusing on a pasture rotation system for animals with resulting products such as eggs, duck and chicken meat, and small-scale dairy for family consumption.
As most food growing enterprises go, the Ag Coop doesn’t make a profit, yet the value to our lives is immeasurable. We eat the best food in the world, gain skill and confidence as food producers, and provide nourishment for the people we love. What could be more rich and rewarding? Recently two new exploring members, who share our passion for food, are joining the Ag Coop to share in both the responsibilities and the bounty. As we take these risks to join forces, we create more opportunities for new folks to step in and find a place here. Blessed be, the community grows.