Despite its name, Belfast Cohousing & Ecovillage’s Little River Community Farm produces big results – fresh, healthy agriculture for this thriving community.
Sunday mornings begin with swiss chard, green onions, and piles of kale. Once a week, neighbors harvest veggies from Little River Community Farm, the three-acre on-site community supported agriculture (CSA) farm at the ecovillage. It is a worker-share arrangement, so neighbors dig in the dirt, snip, wash, and bundle the farm bounty together, while discussing recipe ideas.
Belfast Cohousing & Ecovillage is 36-unit multigenerational community in Midcoast Maine that has attracted members from all walks of life, including musicians, gardeners, educators, and naturalists. The 42-acre property was previously a dairy farm, but is slowly turning into an ecovillage, with gardens, walking paths, fruit trees, bird watching, several flocks of chickens, and many ideas for the future.
Despite being a rural property, the homes are clustered to preserve open space for wildlife habitat, recreation and food production, with the built area limited to six acres. Many of the super energy efficient homes are near net zero, with solar panels powering and heating the homes.
The farm at Belfast Ecovillage is unique because the 22 farm shareholders collectively own the land as members of the ecovillage, reside at the community, and contribute to maintaining the farm. An additional share was purchased by community members and is donated to the Belfast Soup Kitchen weekly.
“To me, a really important part of being a member of Belfast Ecovillage is the farm where we raise food and work together,” says Jeffrey Mabee, a member Belfast Ecovillage and an avid gardener. “The CSA has really answered my prayers about that. Having young farmers using the land in such a responsible way feels right. The farm feels like the heart of any intentional community. It has a much greater significance than merely producing food.”
Being a member of the community farm provides an opportunity to have a deeper relationship with food. “It teaches us about eating everything off of our plate because we realize all the work that has gone into our food,” explains Brian Hughes, a Little River Community Farm cofounder.
It is common to see children at the farm workdays and harvests, giving them a deeper relationship with their food and an opportunity to learn.
“I didn’t learn where food comes from growing up,” says Hughes. “I grew up in the suburbs and I was in my 20s before I knew what potatoes, beets, or carrots looked like.”
Some community members appreciate how Belfast Ecovillage helps promote a healthy lifestyle. The community farm promotes culinary exploration and a high content of vegetables in the diet. The weekly harvests help keep members active as they pick, haul, and distribute the veggies.
“It is as fresh as you can get, like getting it from your own garden,” says Hughes. “That impacts nutrition and taste. We’re avoiding most of the carbon footprint of the food and we don’t use packing except recycled bags.”
In addition to the farm, there are several other multi-family farming initiatives in the community. A seven-household chicken club recently formed, where members raise hens, while sharing the eggs and expenses. There are also three multi-family flocks of meat birds and a flock of laying hens. Numerous ecovillagers dream of having an orchard and then canning the harvest in the common house, that is currently under construction.
“Somehow when you are part of growing food, it feeds you more than just physically,” explains Jenny Siebenhaar, a Little River Community Farm cofounder. “It feeds your soul and spirit and there is a beauty to this. It goes beyond calories, vitamins and minerals.”
Feature image courtesy of Belfast Ecovillage