Over the past decade, urban-farming projects have exploded across the nation.As more communities come together to access resources, evaluate the agricultural landscape and rebuild local businesses, startup farming hubs often look to similar initiatives that have cultivated successful partnerships and launched sustainable food networks in urban settings. Once such prototype is the Linda & Gene Farley Center for Peace, Justice and Sustainability.
Located in Verona, Wis., on 43 acres, the Farley Center provides two invaluable services in the region as one of the few green cemeteries/natural burial grounds in the state, in addition to offering the only farm incubator-training site (predominantly for migrant farmers) in Dane County.
The Farley Center’s farm managers Emmet Fisher and Cella Langer provide insight to the cogs turning behind the scenes that help the founders’ innovative vision continue to become a reality.
1. Has it been easy to forge partnerships between the center and other organizations in your community?
In each grant application to the USDA, we have written in several community partners to strengthen both our application and our connection to the community. Through these grant partnerships, we are able to weave our organizations’ missions together to better serve our program participants. Over the past four years, the Farley Center has partnered with FairShare CSA Coalition, Dane County Extension, Community Groundworks, Peacefully Organic Produce, Midwest Organic & Sustainable Education Services (MOSES), in addition to partners in Minnesota, such as Farmer’s Legal Action Group and Minnesota Food Association.
2. How does the Farley Center provide adequate educational programming to the farmers—and visitors to the center?
The Farley Center has hosted many workshops at our farm incubator and elsewhere in the region for beginning and aspiring farmers. Topics have included building hoop houses and walk-in coolers, applying for organic certification, and cover cropping. All workshops have been free and open to the public, with Spanish and Hmong interpretation available. Some of these workshops have also been recorded and made into training videos, which are available online.
Groups can also schedule a visit to the center and get a tour of the farm incubator by one of the farmers that grows here.
3. Have you found a way to provide a community resource that was previously lacking in your region?
Our main focus is to work with immigrant and minority farmers in Dane County. We provide interpretation for any program participants who don’t speak English fluently. The farm incubator at the Farley Center is the only program of its kind in Dane County and one of only a few in the state.
4. How is the mission of the Farley Center directed at promoting and effectively sustaining grassroots action and change?
Farmers involved in the Farley Center farm incubator have been among the first Hmong and Latino farmers to obtain organic certification in Southern Wisconsin, as well as some of the first Hmong and Latino-owned CSA farms to be endorsed by our local CSA coalition. We feel it is important for these networks of local, sustainable and community-based farmers to be representative of the farming demographic in the region, and involving immigrant and minority farmers is a big step in that direction.
5. Are there any opportunities for community involvement for non-farmers?
Being located in a rural area, we have only a handful of neighbors. However, it is a requirement of the Farley Center by-laws that there need to be at least a two to three neighbors on the board of directors at all times. In this way, we keep those in the neighborhood connected to our work and involved in the decision making process.