Q & A with Ellena Baum from Grow Food Northampton (Northampton, MA)

May 16, 2019



I don't think anyone would object to calling you an environmental activist! What has been your most formative experience in the field (pun intended) and how has it influenced your current work at Grow Food Northampton?

I started volunteering on local small-scale organic veggie farms when I was in high school in Woodstock NY. I knew that I wanted to have a closer relationship to where my food came from. Since graduating from high school and college I have worked on various organic vegetable farms, cooperative land trusts, ecological building projects, and nature immersion programs in the U.S., Peru, and Ecuador. I routinely draw on what I learned through all of these experiences in my current role at Grow Food Northampton. 


What is the mission of Grow Food Northampton and what role does your position play in meeting these organizational goals? 

The mission of Grow Food Northampton is to promote food security by advancing sustainable agriculture in the Northampton, Massachusetts area. We believe that high quality, healthy, local food should be available to all. We believe that farmers leasing land from us should have opportunities to build equity, sell to local markets, and adopt practices that increase sustainability. Our programs are most successful when they contribute to developing relationships and meaningful partnerships that strengthen the community.


My combined position as the Lead Youth Educator and the Giving Garden Manager gives me the unique opportunity to interact with youth and community members in the classroom and on the farm. I lead field trips and classroom workshops in the Northampton public schools. During the growing season I manage the Giving Garden which is a half-acre parcel of land adjacent to our community garden, where we have the opportunity to grow food for local soup kitchens and food pantries. GFN's mission and goals are transparent in all facets of our work.



What is the most unique experience you offer to your visitors at Grow Food Northampton?

Our 121 acre parcel of land, the Northampton Community Farm, is comprised of a 50 acre anchor vegetable CSA farm: Crimson and Clover , a 3 acre medicinal herb farm: Sawmill Herb Farm, a 7 acre community garden, a half-acre market garden: Diego's Farm, and a half-acre Giving Garden for donation to local soup kitchens and food pantries. The Mill River, a tributary of the Connecticut River, runs along the eastern edge of the land. 


In the fall we host elementary school classes from Northampton Public Schools to tour the vegetable CSA farm, visit the honeybees, sample some carrots, and harvest kale to take back to their classrooms. Throughout the winter, we go into the same public schools to offer healthy cooking classes and nature-based lessons during the school day. In the spring, the elementary school classes visit the community garden, and learn about food insecurity while doing tasks in the Giving Garden. This timeline of learning throughout the year creates a holistic and integrated program.



4. What advice would you give other young professionals who are hoping to establish themselves in the world of farm-based education?

I try to incorporate storytelling in many areas of my work, whether the story of a recipe, or a crop that we're planting, or a particular person who farmed the land before us. I think that it is our responsibility as educators and active community members to remember the stories of where we came from, and tell the stories of who stewarded the land before we did. The U.S. food system is built on racism and injustice, and as farm-based educators we have the unique opportunity to crack open some of these stories, and try to shed light on how we can do better for each other and for the land. Keep learning, and keep listening to stories! It is a continual learning process for me. 


5. Finish this sentence: In a perfect world...

Six years ago when I was living in the southwest U.S., I visited Bean Tree Farm outside of Tucson AZ, where they focus on growing native Sonoran Desert trees and leguminous shrubs for food and medicine. When I arrived I was handed a slip of paper with Wendell Berry's poem, A Vision typed on one side. I still have that poem taped to the wall of my room, a little battered, having traveled with me everywhere I've been since then. It's one of my favorites. I like it because it speaks to the long arc of work that I know I'm committed to, which exists on a timescale that is bigger than me and longer than my lifetime. 


A Vision

by Wendell Berry


If we will have the wisdom to survive,
to stand like slow-growing trees
on a ruined place, renewing, enriching it,
if we will make our seasons welcome here,
asking not too much of earth or heaven,
then a long time after we are dead
the lives our lives prepare will live
there, their houses strongly placed
upon the valley sides, fields and gardens
rich in the windows. The river will run
clear, as we will never know it,
and over it, birdsong like a canopy.
On the levels of the hills will be
green meadows, stock bells in noon shade.
On the steeps where greed and ignorance cut down
the old forest, an old forest will stand,
its rich leaf-fall drifting on its roots.
The veins of forgotten springs will have opened.
Families will be singing in the fields.
In their voices they will hear a music
risen out of the ground. They will take
nothing from the ground they will not return,
whatever the grief at parting. Memory,
native to this valley, will spread over it
like a grove, and memory will grow
into legend, legend into song, song
into sacrament. The abundance of this place,
the songs of its people and its birds,
will be health and wisdom and indwelling
light. This is no paradisal dream.
Its hardship is its possibility  



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