The Strong Family Farm: Creating a White Paper

 

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Background

The Strong Family Farm is in a unique position in the agricultural nonprofit space for 3 reasons:

  1. The family has been in the Vernon area for 152 years, and at the farm’s present location for 135 years.
  2. The family is well-known as is the farm.
  3. They are located on  7 +/- acres of land in a heavily developed area adjacent to a grammar school.

The current executive director of the farm, Nancy Strong, understands the revenue limitations they’re dealing with as an educational facility.

The farm does not have the resources to support large-scale gardening or animal related production such as meat, milk or eggs. That means operating a Consumer Supported Agricultural (CSA) site is not an option, nor is having animals year-round.

Critical to the nonprofit’s success is the support of the community.Programs and opportunities the farm offers must meet the needs of different age groups.

Nancy regularly communicates with other agriculture nonprofits around Connecticut and other areas and understands the revenue issues with which they’re dealing.

Purpose of Doing a White Paper and Case Study

The purpose of the white paper is to:

  1. Formalize Nancy Strong’s approach to establishing a self-sustaining nonprofit operation that will maintain The Strong Family Farm well into the future.
  2. Identify and document available methods and alternatives for servicing the community in ways suitable for a farm, and not provided by other town services or groups.
  3. Increase the email list, generate donations and be used to reach out to businesses and organizations in the community to get them involved with the farm.

The white paper will document The Strong Family Farm’s approach to creating broad-based community involvement, with the purpose of ensuring the farm’s continuance as a sustainable nonprofit well into the future.

The purpose of the case study is to:

  1. Provide a central site to document the process so Nancy and the individuals she selects can provide Nancy with additional information and ideas.
  2. Document the overall process for use as a reference for other niche nonprofits looking to become an institution in their communities.

Once the white paper is complete, the case study blog posts will be consolidated into a document. The final format has not yet been decided upon. Information contained in the case study will be used to generate a community survey.

Supporting Material

Available documents:

  1. Strong Family Farm Feasibility Study 2009
  2. Mission/Vision/10-Year Plan
  3. History of the Strong family as written my Norman Strong, Nancy Strong’ father
  4. History of the Strong Family Farm an expanded version of the family’s history with pictures
  5. New England FarmWays Site Assessment 2013
  6. Results of Brainstorming session after review of FarmWays assessment

The Feasibility Study was the foundation assessment that convinced the Strong family to go through with the nonprofit farm idea. It has nothing applicable for this case study or white paper though information on it may be included as an example of what should be done before embarking on this type of operation.

The family history documents will be used, along with other Connecticut historical data, to develop a simple timeline representation. This is being done to show the farm’s historical context. Relevant pieces will be included in the case study and white paper.

The remaining documents will be used in creating a big picture view of the farm including:

  1. Current plans for structural upkeep and additions (10 Year Plan)
  2. Proposed revenue generation items (10 Year Plan)
  3. Proposed modifications, additions and activities (Brainstorming)
  4. Current promotions and activities on the farm
  5. Key Points and other relevant information (FarmWays Site Assessment)

Big Picture and Gap Assessment

The information being used presents a point-in-time picture of the plans to move the nonprofit into the future while building an audience for its existing programs.

The nonprofit is in Phase II of the 10-Year Plan. Though there is a Board of Directors, and volunteers help out with each of the farm activities, Nancy Strong is the driving force behind the nonprofit and does most of the work.

The future of the farm as a nonprofit is going to rely on the value the local community perceives it to have.

In order to survive well into the future, the community needs to begin seeing the farm as “their” farm.

This means looking to the community to help support the farm in tangible ways by reaching out to individuals, organizations and companies in ways the relate specifically to them.

The Gap Assessment will identify what needs to be done to help move the farm to its future desired state, the documentation required to facilitate that, as well as identifying ideas and opportunities for making that happen.

This will enable activities and actions to be assessed for community involvement opportunities, and actions and activities prioritized.

A Different Way of Looking at the Farm’s Resources

The Big Picture/Gap Assessment will identify ways of looking at the available resources and facilities on the farm in terms of how they can be used.MrsP-B Teaching

The ways a resource can be used will be listed with what the space/resource will need to accommodate for each event, along with the relevant occupations that will need to work in the space. That information will generate a list of professions from which assistance or advice can be requested.

Example the Hay Barn:

Activity: Wedding Ceremonies

Space Needs to Accommodate: Diverse space planning, lighting, decorations, flowers, small stage, seating, people, etc.

People Involved: Wedding Planner, Florist, Photographer, Videographer, Other

Community Outreach: Invite one or more of the above local professionals to assess the venue and give you ideas and answers to questions regarding what they would need in order to work in the space, and how that would differ at different times of the day. Have this information available (with the appropriate credit given) as a handout to prospective couples.

Example Memorial Trees

Activity: Regular pruning and care

People Involved: Arborists

Community Outreach: Arborist to give class/demonstration on what and how to prune, feeding, handling growth problems, etc.

By looking at the farm’s resources in this way, it will automatically generate pathways into getting local people involved in making the farm successful.

The Farm’s Place in History

In the FarmWays Site Assessment, the assessor Stu Nunnery advises Nancy Strong that

“Your farm frames and sustains Vernon’s past and rural setting for the entire community (and future generations) to enjoy.”

In as many ways as possible, the historical and rural aspect of the farm and the family need to be emphasized in ways that people can relate to. That means the history of the farm needs to be visually displayed in a number of ways.

One of the easiest ways to help people understand the historical aspect of the farm is to place it in the context of what was happening in Vernon, Connecticut, and relevant events in the US and world history by creating a timeline.

While it’s important to place the farm in an historical context, it should be done in such a way that the focus is in the farm and Vernon first, and then extending out to Connecticut and world events.

Additionally, care should be taken in the information included in the timeline to associate the farm with people, items and institutions familiar to the public such Mark Twain.

Local heroes should be highlighted as well. For example, though not included in the timeline below, Gene Pitney, a singer, songwriter and musician whose songs are still played today, was born in Hartford, raised in Rockville, and buried in Somers.

Presenting the information that way will make it easier for people to relate to the historical aspects of the farm, take pride in its longevity, and hopefully create a desire to maintain it’s unique place in their community.

Here’s an example that was done utilizing readily available information.

Strong Family Farm Historical Timeline

April 12, 2016

Approval of the property review process was received on April 5th.

Per Nancy Strong: “I am good with this. I want to share it with the BOD, too. We will slowly get this done. A work in progress to build a road!”

Once the farm’s current fund raising activity is completed with the Chicken Run on April 10th, and Nancy has had time to wrap-up and regroup, she and I will get together and document the process for looking at a property with Strong Family Farm as the example.

Additional opportunities related to external community resources for promoting the farm and increasing community involvement are being done.

June 2, 2016

About a week after the farm’s annual Chicken Run on April 10th, Nancy and I were able to get together.

At that time, plans were made to work with a couple of members of the Board of Directors and do some brainstorming for potential uses of the various mini-sites on the farm.

Due to circumstances, this meeting was not able to be held. Nancy and I are looking into alternatives.

The annual Chicken Run is also the kick-off for the arrival of newly hatched chicks at the farm. The chicks are “adopted” by families who pay a $30 fee, and then attend mini-classes over the next several months. The cost of the adoption covers the cost of the care for the two dozen birds until they’re shipped to their forever home in September.

During the brief classes the families learn all about chickens, participate in their care, and get to pick fruits and vegetables from the garden.

This year the enrollment for the classes did not meet expectations and Nancy is considering restructuring the program.

Will be adding to the White Paper the need to consider the life cycle of fundraising efforts, and when new methods need to be incorporated.