Abundance Cooperative Academy creates home in Barss Corner

Young people concerned with food security and sustainability start farm

A new farming initiative, the Abundance Cooperative Academy (ACA), is calling Barss Corner home.

A third of an acre has been mowed, tilled and planted with a fall cover crop of red clover. This plant is fixing nitrogen in the soil, while its fibrous roots are helping to break up impermeable embedded clay, preparing the field for spring.

The ACA is an association of young friends who have a common interest in creating a more food secure and sustainable future in Nova Scotia. They’re starting with an economically productive micro-organic farm.

“We want to learn how to create a prosperous future, to create the resources we need to live in such abundance there isn’t a population of people in our society that are in need, because right now that’s a huge problem,” said Matt Greenan, who originally conceptualized the ACA while working and learning on organic farms across Canada, in exchange for food and accomodation, for eight months of the past year.

He, along with Mykal Koloff and Jad Tawil, is investing a lot of time and personal finances in the planning of this project.

They are representing a larger group of 40-plus individuals, who are interested in having this project succeed by contributing their ideas and areas of expertise and volunteering their free time to working in the field.

“There’s this certain recognition the society we’re living in is going off the tracks, that soon we might experience an economic crisis where the food industry, where we all funnel in and out of Superstore – that might not be able to sustain us anymore,” said Mr. Tawil.

“We’re the young people right now. We are the future. If we can start right now on developing this self-sustaining alternative that would act as a blueprint for other young people who would want to do something like it, like nodes in a network, many communities will connect.”

The ACA has taken over this piece of Solomon Brook Farm, a 30-acre expanse of property owned by Lloyd Klassen and Helga Gruner, with the aim of growing vegetables for sale this spring.

“We are familiar with farmers who have made leases of land as a way of making land available to people who wouldn’t be in a position to buy their own, particularly young people who are anxious about the future and anxious about food security,” said Mr. Klassen.

“We were ecstatic to be able to have the land starting to get used, and growing food on it, without us having to invest our whole time and energy and run into a huge amount of debt to try to get it up and going.”

Mr. Klassen and Ms Gruner met Mr. Koloff and Mr. Greenan through the Blockhouse School Project, which hosted a permaculture design course on their hobby farm that both young men attended in the spring of 2013.

“That’s when I fell in love with growing things and realized producing an abundance of food was a possibility,” said Mr. Greenan.

They will be implementing what they studied in this garden project, by using the techniques and strategies of polyculture and permacultural farmers.

Instead of the monoculture style of farm with one crop of one plant, it will utilize a high intensive cropping system. This will resemble an ecosystem by promoting biological diversity through companion planting – growing certain vegetables which are symbiotically beneficial to one another in proximity – and creating habitats for species of birds and bees – to control malicious insects, and pollinate plants.

“We’re going to be improving the quality of the land by cultivating, digging water retention features to help irrigate the land a little bit more, starting a fruit and nut tree nursery, building a foundation for food security on this humble piece of land,” said Mr. Koloff.

Its owners share their goals and are agreeable to having preliminary agricultural work finished for them. They both work full time, as the farm itself costs so much.

“Basically, they’re paying us by their own investment into the property,” said Mr. Klassen.

But even though the land comes free, that doesn’t mean the group has the farming infrastructure and implements it needs at hand.

They’ve estimated the cost of the farm project to be around $28,000.

“We expected that grants would make up a large portion of what we were going to do, but we discovered that wasn’t going to be the reality,” said Mr. Greenan.

Instead, the group decided to put together a two-month Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign. They celebrated its launch with a promotional fundraising party.

“We’re really reaching out to our community because this project isn’t for personal gain. Ultimately, we’re trying to provide a service that provides access to healthy organic produce to our community in this area,” said Mr. Koloff.

They’re seeking $20,000 to help purchase everything from seeds and tarps to efficient tools.

“The success of this campaign will determine how much of this infrastructure we end up having,” said Mr. Koloff, who insists they will farm regardless of its outcome.

They chose Indiegogo because they can still keep the majority of what they make even if the group doesn’t meet their goal, although the site would take a larger percentage of the total earnings.

Aside from its volunteer labour force, the other unusual aspect of the ACA is being similar to the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) model, but without the upfront cost and commitment. Instead, it will offer an innovative distribution and pricing system.

Subscriptions will be offered to an on-line store where vegetables ready for harvest will be showcased, along with their approximate market value. The subscriber will be able to choose what they would like to order each week, as well as how much they want to pay.

“What we’re trying to do with this is create a way of payment that is non-awkward and makes it more accessible to people with different socioeconomic backgrounds,” said Mr. Koloff.

They’re aiming for somewhere between 15 and 30 subscribers to start out, as they don’t yet know the production capacity of the soil, but they hope to grow in the future.

“All of our revenue will go directly back into expanding our project, so we can serve a larger amount of people next season,” said Mr. Koloff. “Eventually, we aim to transition into a perennial self-regulating ecosystem.”

The group is also open to sharing what they learn.

“Eventually, we will become what you think an academy is, a place where you can go and learn through seminars and workshops, which we will hold after we’ve proven our techniques to be successful,” said Mr. Tawil.

The three will build a 14-foot by 100-foot hoophouse this month to house heat-loving plants such as varieties of heirloom tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers and to start transplants for the field. The field crop will ideally consist of radishes, beets, carrots, mescaline, kale, spinach, swiss chard, turnips, peas, broccoli and a diversity of cabbage.

If people want to get involved with the group or would like more details about the project, ACA recommends checking out its Facebook page and Indiegogo campaign and adding themselves to its mailing list to receive further updates.

 As originally published in LighthouseNOW Progress Bulletin

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