It began in 1970 with a field and a dream. Better Farm is a sustainability education center, artists’ colony, animal sanctuary, and a 65-acre organic farm located in Redwood, NY. It was founded on the idea that every experience is an opportunity for personal growth. The farm has since become a safe haven for artists, activists, and abused and neglected animals alike; a place where everything from deer to horses, wild birds, dogs, mice, and over a dozen “rescue” chickens have been rehabilitated.
But before all that, it was simply a community. Better Farm provided an escape for the flower children of the ’60s and ’70s looking for a warmer, more welcoming alternative to concrete jungles and “survival of the fittest” mentalities. “The original Better Farm of 1970 had no centralized mission for everyone to adhere to,” says Nicole Caldwell, whose uncle founded the colony and later passed the torch to her in 2009. “It was comprised of people who wanted to leave behind their suburban or urban upbringings.”
Transforming Better Farm from a loosely-organized community into the impressive arts and educational center it is today was no small feat. Caldwell recalls:
“I arrived in Redwood from New York City without a central endowment for funding, with no business training, and no farming experience. There have been many challenges, including figuring out how to create a draw to an extremely rural area (only 600 people live in Redwood) far off the beaten path. I also had to learn marketing, website design, figure out how to farm, and renovate a mid-19th-century farmhouse.”
That farmhouse, along with a two-story, 1,400 square foot barn, now provides rental space for artists living in the commune as well as space to host special events such as weddings, parties, corporate events, and workshops. The “Art Barn” also functions as a studio, gallery, and stage for outdoor concerts and other events tied to betterArts, a nonprofit organization created by Caldwell and dedicated to, “offering creative exploration and growth to artists of all kinds through artist residencies, community outreach, education,” and more.
Beyond the house and barn, Better Farm also boasts a one-acre mandala garden — which is cared for using a “no-till, no-chemical fertilizers or pesticides, 100-percent organic, mulch-gardening system“— a Hügelkultur herb garden, and both aquaponics and hydroponics tanks. Koi and goldfish fertilize a bed of fresh greens in the aquaponics tank, while the hydroponics tank is manually fertilized with organic materials by members of the commune.
The Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA) program, which runs from May through November, offers locals weekly shares of fresh, organic produce at drastically lower prices than those found in grocery stores — deliveries can also be arranged for a small extra fee. For neighbors looking to grow their own gardens, Better Farm offers personal garden consultations to plan out the landscaping and plant species options that best fit your home and garden.
Growing a Conscious Community
What’s more, Better Farms truly shines by educating and motivating people to embrace healthier, greener, more imaginative lives. According to Caldwell, “the main focus of Better Farm is to bring people in, train them to live more sustainably, inspire them to push their creativity, and then to send them back out into the world to be change-makers.”
Better Farm’s Sustainability Education Program is a 1-3 month certification course which combines daily assignments and chores along with student-designed projects to create an immersive, hands-on learning experience related to environmental awareness and organic farming. Completion of the course is rewarded with an official certificate, and college students may additionally receive course credit.
In addition to formal education, Better Farm plays host to various BetterArts events throughout the year, including workshops, volunteer projects, eco-friendly festivals, and — through a partnership with Survivor Outreach Services of Fort Drum and Hospice of Jefferson County — an annual holiday party called A Time of Holiday Remembrance for children to celebrate the lives of lost loved ones and create arts and crafts in their honor.
Here’s What You Can Do
Obviously, the most direct way to help Better Farm achieve a better world is to join the cause in Redwood. Volunteer, take a workshop, sign up for the education program, or check out the betterArts Residency Program. You can also support the community by donating to betterArts, or by buying merchandise and sponsoring various animals on the farm via the online shop.
Here are a few suggestions, courtesy of Caldwell, that will allow you to create a better world on a day to day basis: “start a garden, even if it’s just growing one thing, or herbs in your kitchen, or spinach on your window sill. Shop your zip code. Commit to only eating local meat from reputable sources (or give it up entirely!). Kill your TV. Make art for art’s sake. Volunteer at a community garden.” And finally, “Be nice to each other.”
Lead Image Source: RichardBH/Flickr