Farming for the Future: A Fresh Vision
By Julia Powers
Round the Bend Farm (RTB), a Center for Restorative Community, is a picturesque 94-acre farm located in Dartmouth. A working farm, it is replete with fields brimming with vegetables, herbs, beehives, and animals peacefully grazing on pasture. But, from its tiny houses to its inspirational guiding principles, RTB is a bit different from other local farms.
As its most recent annual report details, RTB is dedicated to:
- redirection personal and environment health, economy and social systems
- Local access to non-GMO and pasture raised meats and chemical free foods, education about low-impact living and well-being
- investing in local, sustainable, inclusive industries and small businesses
The genius of the RTB approach is modeling for the community, in concrete and achievable ways, how we can collectively affect social change through the choices we each make in our daily lives.
It Takes a Village
RTB is the manifestation of the collective vision–as well as years of hard work–of several South Coast residents, including its guiding visionaries, Desa Van Laarhoven and Geoff Kinder, who long dreamed of establishing a center for restorative community. Their vision, nurtured through years of education, volunteerism, and participation in the Rancho Mastatal community in Costa Rica, came to be shared by other like-minded people. Over the course of many months, this group contemplated how to create such a center. Desa, then the executive director of the Marion Institute, a nonprofit incubator for social change based in Marion, MA, was overseeing approximately 20 projects worldwide but knew, “we [Geoff and I] wanted to do something locally. We wanted to do something around food and health and local sustainability.”
Over time, their vision found a home at RTB but it took several more years to find a forward-thinking financial backer to make their ideals a reality. In 2013, Ellen and Duncan McFarland, who are funders of the Marion Institute and, thus, very familiar with Desa’s work, purchased the land through their Bromley Charitable Trust, and the RTB Farm, a Center for Restorative Community, was born. Although the concept of a restorative community may be unfamiliar to people, Desa noted that it transcends the more familiar concept of sustainability. She explained, “The word ‘sustainable’ didn’t match where we as humans have to go. Neither did ‘green.’ RTB is about the bigger picture, the world and restoring it, so it’s beneficial and healthy for all.”
The RTB Agripreneurs
Every facet of RTB was thoughtfully designed in harmony with its founding principles: valuing diversity, modeling nature, and redefining wealth. To that end, RTB is structured differently than many traditional farms. The land is worked by four “agripreneurs,” a diverse collection of people who cultivate the land in different ways. RTB and the agripreneurs have a symbiotic relationship. RTB provides the farmers with a valuable support structure, including land resources. In return, the agripreneurs produce different forms of capital that support the farm’s mission, including giving some of their food back to the farm, as well as providing intellectual capital to the farms’ visitors by leading a varied array of educational experiences.
- Ashley’s Produce Owned by Ashley Brister, this agripreneurial venture grows produce using organic growing practices. She offers two CSAs: one with the farm as the pickup location and a second in nearby New Bedford. In keeping with the farms’ tenets, 15 of the 40 CSA shares Ashley offered last year were available at half price to local residents who might not otherwise have been able to afford access to the nutrient-dense food she grows. The New Bedford CSA pickup has morphed into a kind of pop-up farmers’ market, with non-CSA members stopping by to purchase the freshly harvested, seasonal produce. Ashley’s produce is also featured in two local restaurants.
- Hana’s Honey Lucy Tabit is a passionate protector of pollinators and a staunch advocate of limiting the use of chemicals that are harmful to the bee population. Lucy manages approximately 30 hives on four different properties, including seven hives at RTB. Her honey is sold to Eva’s Garden, local health food stores, directly to families, and during RTB’s Open Farm Days.
- Nilsa’s Teas & Botanicals Nilsa Garcia-Rey is an herbal agripreneur who crafts teas, healing salves, tinctures, balms, herbal mixes, infused oils, and spice blends from herbs she grows at the farm. Grown using organic practices and thoughtfully dried and processed to preserve the herbs’ bioactive compounds, Nilsa sells her teas, spice blends and herbal products at RTB’s Open Farm Days and at three local farmers’ markets.
- Paradox Acres Geoff Kinder is the agripreneur-owner of the playfully named Paradox Acres. He raises cattle, pigs, and goats on pasture at RTB. The meat from these animals is grass-fed, non-GMO, pasture-raised, and rotationally grazed—and much sought after by customers who appreciate the opportunity to purchase ethically raised local meat. Geoff offers a meat CSA and also sells his meat at two other local farms.
Working collaboratively improves the outcomes for all of the agripreneurs. For example, Lucy’s extensive efforts to augment the pollinator population improve the yield of Ashley’s fields. And the pigs that Geoff raises clear invasive species from the land, allowing for further expansion of farmable land and expanded space to graze other animals.
The agripreneurs also benefit from RTB’s commitment to community—both personally and in their work. At times, the agripreneurs share their daily meals together, enjoying food prepared by one of the staff members using the farm’s own bounty. And, team members, apprentices, and interns can choose to stay in one of several seasonal tiny homes built by the farm community. These 200 square foot homes, with no electricity or plumbing, allow community members to live intentionally simple lives that promote financial freedom, greater time spent outdoors, and reduced focus on material possessions, all while minimizing environmental impact. As Desa explains, RTB is structured in such a thoughtful and purposeful way because “We are building a community. It’s slow and deliberate.” By modeling these behaviors, the hope is that “people will visit and pick up even just one thing.”
Modeling for a Better Tomorrow
While they are farmers, the agripreneurs are also educators. In late 2017 they, along with the rest of the team and supporters, celebrated the completion of the new 7000 square foot education center. The new center contains classroom space, a library, offices, and a covered outdoor space as well as two fully equipped commercial kitchens, one of which is used as a demonstration kitchen where guests can learn how to turn RTB’s food into nutritious meals. It is also where the staff’s daily meals are prepared. The second commercial kitchen will be used for canning, making jams, ferments, soaps, and other such products that can then be sold to the public. Desa points out that this could “greatly impact the agripreneurs because they can take their gleanings and create added value products by making sauces or ferments.”
RTB also intends for the building itself to be a teaching tool, modeling how sustainable choices can be thoughtfully incorporated into building design, leading to a structure that is functional and aesthetically beautiful while minimizing its environmental impact. In a real-world example of how ‘little decisions add up’, the building’s environmental impact was minimized by using a solar energy system that runs the entire farm; composting toilets that will conserve significant amounts of water; and cedar siding, a renewable resource that also is naturally water-resistant and chemical-free.
In addition, local products and businesses were selected to be part of the project wherever possible, both minimizing the project’s carbon footprint and keeping money in the local economy. For example, when choosing roofing materials, slate and imported plastic shingles were rejected in favor upcycled roof shingles. Local workers fabricated these shingles from unused landfill liner, giving the material new life and reinvesting in the local economy.
The new education center, along with its commercial kitchen, also enables RTB to host various events, including corporate functions and community meetings. It is an attractive venue for any organization moving towards being more environmentally conscious.
In the vein of teaching through example, function guests respect its guiding principles by using food grown at the farm (or within a 25-mile radius), eschewing paper napkins in favor of cloth, and even using the composting toilets. In late 2017, the farm hosted its first wedding, providing a meaningful venue for a special event.
Also in 2017, another important milestone was marked with the acquisition of 55 acres of the former Ocean View Farm, which directly abuts RTB. This purchase, funded through the generosity of the Bromley Charitable Trust and a grant from USDA (as part of the Allen’s Pond Conservation Completion Project), greatly expands the farming capacity of RTB. The purchase also preserves this beautiful property as conservation land in perpetuity.
Hopefully, people who traditionally have had a difficult time acquiring farmland, such as women and people of color, will farm this new land. The aim, Desa explains, is “ultimately for this acquisition to continually bring increased diversity to RTB and the greater farm community.” RTB is certainly unique; as a farm, a social movement, and a living laboratory, it brings a fresh perspective to the South Coast and, as Desa, sums up, “We are excited about the possibilities!”
And what possibilities there are! Looking to the future, Desa shares her vision. “In ten years I would like to see more farmers on the land, one or two institutions such as a hospital or school purchasing local produce, several farmhouses built and filled with farmers and possibly their kin. In addition, the education building would be flowing with hands-on workshops, philosophical and academic classes ranging from seed saving to soap making, and how to live more restoratively and connected. I see a group of healthy, diverse, love-filled humans working the land here and manifesting love and abundance which spreads outside of our boundary walls and permeates the south coast and beyond.”
Round The Bend Farm
A Center for Restorative Community
92 Allens Neck Road
Dartmouth, MA 02748
*Please note that the incorrect phone number was published in the print version of eSS&SC. We apologize for the error.
Julia Powers shares RTB’s belief that access to responsibly raised, nutritious food is a health and social justice issue that has been overlooked for far too long. She applauds the work they are doing to change the paradigm.