This is a retrospective review. I've read Brian Donahue's, “Reclaiming the Commons,” three or four times now and it continues to inspire and educate me. It’s one of those few books where I’ve made more notes in the margins than I can shake a stick at. Looks more like a used textbook at this point. But that’s the hook. Last week, it jumped out at me again from my bookshelf.
I picked it up in 2000 while still living in Providence, in-between stints in Tiverton. Looking back, I have to say that this could have been THE book that solidified my belief that turning this crazy world of ours around starts at home in your own community; that food and farming can be those conduits of change; and that I wanted to someday try to replicate this concept in some form.
The book recounts Donahue’s trials and tribulations of creating a vibrant, self-sustaining community farm and forestry business within the 2,000 acres of public land in Weston, MA. The farm, called Land’s Sake, evolved into a true community commons – that focal point of activity that brings together friends and neighbors, old and young alike, together to create a new bond with the land and themselves.
Weston, while slightly smaller than Tiverton in both land area and population, is similar in its geography and agrarian past. Both have classic New England farming heritages steeped in history, succumbing to the challenges of modern suburbia; citizens out of touch of where their food comes from and the value that a local food economy can bring; youth disenchanted with the wonders of an outdoor classroom and that thing called work ethic.
From market farming to animal husbandry to cut flowers; from community forestry to maple syrup production to apple cider pressing, Land’s Sake has taken the natural resources of Weston and transformed them into a successful community-based business model. What makes Land’s Sake a wonderful model for what a community farm could be is its fortitude in ensuring all of its various enterprises adhere to the four basic principles of the ecological, economical, educational, and esthetic.
They farm organically and practice sustainable forestry; their enterprises are self-sustaining and profitable; they include kids at all levels of the operation ensure a new generation of well-educated land and local food advocates; their work beautifies the land and welcomes the public to it as a respite from their hectic lives.
What I love the most about the Land’s Sake model is that they have forgone the potential for a more efficient operation for the opportunity to involve kids and integrate an environmental education component into their operation. From summer jobs to school-time fieldtrips, kids are working the land while expanding their minds. What a win-win.
Bottom line: As a resident of the Sakonnet area, you owe it to yourself to read this book. Then sit back and imagine reclaiming our own commons. Building that new focal point for our community that connects the past with the present while ensuring a sustainable future. We could do this. All we need is the land and the vision to make it a reality. It’s the total package: Land conservation, local economic and food security development, and inter-generational engagement.
(Note: Tiverton’s library doesn’t carry this book, but you can order it through the online Ocean State Libraries system.)
Have you read this book? Have you ever envisioned a new “commons” here in Sakonnet? Please take a moment to share your thoughts.