Clusters: Creating Community in the Rural System

communityThe local food movement is alive and kicking in America today as community-based food efforts strive to help small and mid-sized farms along. It’s a good thing too, for we’ve seen how these farms struggle in Five Benefits of Small-Scale Farming. Farmer’s markets have sprouted all over the country, providing grassroots places for exchange between small farms and hungry families. Small farms have also banded into coops to help smaller or mid-sized farms market their products to a wider customer base. An example is this organic farms coop, CROOP. Products from CROOP are now familiar under the Organic Valley and Organic Prairie labels in conventional supermarkets. And anyone can visit Local Harvest for a heartwarming visual of how local food efforts have spread across the United States, as well as for information on the farms, coops, and local food stores in your area. 

The good news doesn’t stop here, either. Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) has been expanding since 1984. One form of the CSA system combines the produce and products from multiple farms in an area and delivers it to buyers such as high schools, hospitals, and farmers markets.  In another form of CSA, a farmer sells shares to families, who then receive a portion of the year’s harvest. In both cases community members have the opportunity to ask the farmers about their farming practices, and to regain touch with the land by eating regional food grown in-season.

Rural System presents a new, systematic way to build rural communities using “clusters.” Similar to the first CSA approach mentioned, clusters link individual farms together for shared benefits. For example, if there are several small farms geographically close together, they could share a tractor or other farm equipment.  Or, if the fertilizers used are cheaper if bought in quantity, then all farms in the cluster can combine funds and purchase fertilizer in bulk. The potential benefits for all properties involved are many.

However, the properties in a cluster may not all be farms.  Redefining the Farm: It’s not Just Science, it’s Survival introduces the Rural System concept of enterprise environments, the properties under Rural System management.  Enterprise environments in a cluster may be diverse in land characteristics as well as in the groups acting on the land.  If one enterprise environment has a great deal of forested land and a neighboring enterprise environment has open space for a mill and/or a wood shop, these two cooperating in a cluster could potentially work together to expand profits. In this way, Rural System offers a way to create more bonds of community and to expand upon the CSA system by promoting sharing between farms.

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About Laurel Sindewald

Laurel is an alumna of Warren Wilson College with a BS in Conservation Biology and a BA in Philosophy. She is a writer for Rural System, Inc.

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