The Intervale: City Farm–San Luis Obispo model farm 3
The Intervale Center is a land based organization working to strengthen community food systems in Vermont. Farm incubation is one of their oldest and best-known programs. Incubator farms are swiftly becoming a popular and successful means to ease starting farmers into the business. Incubation means support in several aspects, including through physical land attainment. The Intervale Center is set up on and manages 350 acres of an agricultural intervale, which is a low-lying tract of land near a river, where programs have been created to allow for starting farmers to work the land and have a secure environment to start their endeavors. The Intervale also provides much support in the way of financial easement. Farmers who join Intervale’s incubation program are given access to equipment and low rental rates for their plot and for infrastructure for the first three of the five total years of possible participation. Incubation also means education. Intervale provides business planning support to help starting farmers learn about the farming business in a reduced stress and risk environment, in addition to information about state wide workshops and classes. Intervale wants to keep sustainable farming alive in Vermont with fresh, young farmers seeking to realize their farming dreams.
Intervale’s Agricultural History
Intervale began not as an incubator, but as an organization geared towards land conservation. They were first drawn to this particular plot of land because of the historic productive agricultural activity for over three centuries. Native Americans originally occupied the land until the 1700s when immigrants started dairies and flower farming operations.. More recently, the land that Intervale now operates on has become both a dumping site and a popular place for homeless individuals to sleep. The Intervale recognized this rich, diverse agricultural history and did not want to see viable productive land being lost to pollution, so they teamed up with a nearby land-owning family and the City of Burlington to acquire the land for conservation purposes. Once the land had been acquired, Intervale aimed to begin renewal and renovation through farming and composting where the potential for agricultural growth was realized. Intervale continues to embrace its conservation mentality and its care for environmental stewardship. Intervale pushes organic practices and certification and dedicates the rent and capital money obtained from the farmers to their stewardship budget. This is an entire account dedicated to the constant upkeep and ethical management of the land they work on.
Local Food Distribution
With the success of restoring and providing land to incubator farms underway, The Intervale was then able to expand and initiate programs geared towards further community improvement. One of the major programs that Intervale has started is called The Intervale Food Hub. This is an online subscription based market called The Food Hub where individuals can select the basket of vegetables, bread, fruit and other ingredients that they want to have delivered to them each week. The Intervale packs the boxes with produce from many of the farms that lease land from them while also partnering with over 40 other farms from across the state. The Food Hub also supports students through the College Food Hub. This is an aspect of their Food Hub program that offers smaller subscriptions specifically for college students. Through targeting these specific markets, The Intervale Center has been able to increase knowledge of local foods amongst college students and makes it more attractive to buy locally and eat healthy.
Summervale Food Festival
Another program that Intervale has initiated is an event that they call Summervale. This is a weekly food festival held throughout the summer months on Intervale’s land that celebrates the local Vermont food system while also increasing awareness of The Intervale. Local restaurants and organizations converge on Intervale’s land to set up booths and tables where the community is able to learn about local foods through educational demonstrations and through the local tastes of Vermont. One highlighted product at the festival is Maple Tea, made from the sap of the maple tree that the public is free to taste. Summervale is Intervale’s way of sharing what they do with the community together by bringing everyone together for an exciting and educational event about local, fresh food.
Successful Food Systems
Intervale is part of an up and coming trend that is rapidly taking hold amongst many non-profits throughout the United States and Canada. Incubator sites have proven to be a greatly effective means in allowing starting farmers to safely test the waters of an agricultural business without putting their livelihoods on the line. It provides a way to attain less expensive land and capital, where proper training and education is given, and where a group of like-minded individuals can interact and share ideas that strengthen the overarching food system. Intervale is one such organization that has successfully adapted both an incubation site with community driven programs. The ability to combine incubation with market sales and summer events is truly a representation of an innovative addition to the community. Also, the success of an organization in starting as a stewardship project illustrates that non-profit local food producing organizations can successfully incorporate sustainability and resilience into a shifting food system. The Summervale festival is a prime example of a way to continually combine strong education with a fun atmosphere in that the community is physically brought to the site of Intervale’s operations where bonding occurs through taste and demonstration.
The Intervale Center strives to enhance the opportunities of aspiring farmers by creating a comfortable environment to start-up their enterprise. They realize the importance of consistent new generations of farmers as a critical means in being able to instill innovative ideas to shape a local, sustainable food system.All photos are from the Intervale Center’s website.