a model for conversation and creativity

posted December 2, 2013

We love this idea.  And if you’re feeling the spirit of giving, chip in!

Lily Piel PIctures Oct. 2011 001

Quill’s End  Farm is a 100 acre farm in Penobscot, Maine.   It is a grass-based cow dairy and raises small livestock on pasture grazing rotationally.  Heather and Phil Retberg farm this plot of land with their three children, Alexander, Benjamin and Carolyn.  Phil hand milks 4-6 cows and all the milk is exchanged through a private buying club and their on-farm store.  While they have farmed for 16 years, the last few years have posed some challenges they couldn’t overcome alone.  They came to the conclusion that hard work and perseverance was not going to address those challenges and   reached out to their farm patrons, friends, and community of support to help them brainstorm some creative ways forward during a potluck brainstorm session in November.  Below is how Heather describes the day and what transpired:

“We brought together between 35-40 of our Quill’s End farm patrons for a potluck–midwives, teachers, farmers, doctors, lawyers, bakers, beer brewers, parents, retired and young  to help us brainstorm on some tough obstacles intersecting to pose some real survival challenges to small, diversified farms of our generation.  This was a very dear group of people and the level of discussion and sharing that happened was truly phenomenal and a worthy model for any other community.   While sharing it was difficult, it has also been a real gift to experience the deep care, love and very attentive thoughtfulness that came from that hard, raw, beautiful day.  A lot flowed through.

The hurdles we identified are: lack of infrastructure for farming–on farm and off-farm, the banking/finance system, the regulatory system, and the problem of land access/staying on the land.  We shared our experience that any one of these hurdles is surmountable and maybe even two, but when they start overlapping, small farms like ours are in precarious positions.

Great discussion was had around tough questions we posed: Is a community farm possible?  How does a community/a farm make up the difference in the cultural and social value of a farm and monetize that to fill the gaps left by Systems pressures and the earning capacity of the farm?  If we can figure this out for Quill’s End, is there a wider impact for other small farms and their network of patrons?

This made creative space to talk about what we hoped would be at the heart of this discussion: a paradigm shift.   At day’s end, we had found a way forward with a  strategy for our farm that includes financing our farm through our farm patrons at a social investment rate.  In the meantime, one of our friends and farm patrons set up a paypal donation account to help us fill the gaps until we can erect the legal structure around community financing.  Other farmers, artists and this community are now staying engaged with us not only in support, but in this ongoing discussion and learning curve.  We left with a way forward.”

If any in the Greenhorns’ network of folks would like to contribute to the Paypal  donation effort, you can follow the link below to make a one-time donation or a recurring monthly donation by checking the box next to the amount.    We’ll  keep you all posted as we proceed down this road.

Donate via Paypal

You may also contact Phil and Heather directly at phabc@localnet.com