At A Growing Business, we talk about community, and we talk about growing food. The question today is – how do we grow a community?
Richard Andres has spent 27 years developing his local outreach and knows how to grow a community. Tantré Farm has hundreds of CSA members, parents and their kids who enjoy the field trips to the farm, and volunteers who love what they do. These are his community, and they give him hope for the future.
Tantré has developed wonderful, specific practices for connection. It boils down to this – we grow community the same way we grow food. We consciously plant a few seeds. As they grow, we respond, we tend to them. We go where they lead us. We share what they give us.
Click here to watch A Growing Business interview the founder of Tantré Farms about the innovative ways he’s growing his local community!
Click here to learn how to start your own CSA business!
As our producer explained the work Tantré Farms does in our local community, transplant-me was able to claim some local knowledge. I haven’t lived in Ann Arbor for long, but through my daughter’s school, I was quickly acquainted with the farm.
First, there were the ducks that hatched at my daughter’s preschool the year I was responsible for the yearbook. I created an entire page dedicated to adorable pictures of little ones gently cradling baby ducks. Eventually, the fuzzy baby ducks grew too big for their preschool home and had to go live in a more suitable space. We resigned ourselves to never seeing them again.
The Field Trip
Then there was the field trip the next fall. Parents and children bundled up and headed out to Tantré Farms, where we met Farmer Deb. She entertained the children with farming twists on nursery songs. She encouraged the kids to pick sweet peas and berries and try them fresh from the vines. The children, literally and figuratively, ate it all up.
She had the kids try lovely herbs at the herb garden like sweet basil and not so lovely, bitter herbs. She wanted them to have the confidence to try fresh foods, even if they were not a favorite.
Farmer Deb then solved the great cilantro mystery – why my sister and I protest to cilantro lovers, “But it tastes like soap!” which lead to said cilantro lovers – some of our own family members – looking sideways at us like we were crazy. But, aha! We weren’t crazy, and neither were they. Apparently, how cilantro tastes to us has everything to do with a genetic issue affecting our olfactory receptor gene.
After a day of wandering fields, picking foods and flowers, and relaxing under syrup-generating maple trees, we rounded a corner to find a fenced area filled with ducks. We immediately recognized the duck we thought wouldn’t make it. The helpless one had to be handfed because it hatched with its neck bent at a striking angle. There it stood, neck still bent but alive and well.
The kids clung to the fence, their fingers winding through it as they pointed and cooed over the ducks, their ducks, living now at Tantré Farms.
The popular Farm-to-School program is one way that Farmer Deb, a former teacher, grows community – by reaching out to the youngest in the community and encouraging us to grow together.
Tantré Farms hosts many visitors interested in learning about farming, food, sustainability, ecology, animals, and the local food supply chain. A variety of groups from preschool through university can enjoy edible Farm Tours and Educational Field Trips, by summer camps, Girl Scouts, other local organizations, and curious visitors of all ages!
Community matters to Farmer Richard, Deb’s husband and the founder of Tantré Farms. Growing up in the ‘60s and ‘70s, he remembers the secure feeling he had sitting down to dinner every night as a family. Intertwined with his local community of relatives and friends, Richard felt encouraged and supported.
When he started Tantré Farms, he knew he wouldn’t only be working the fields – he intended to plant his business in the soil of community. He wanted it to be a contributing participant in the local ecosystem.
Tantré Farm’s mission is “to produce and distribute fresh produce while serving as an educational, sustainable, and social network for our surrounding community.”
Central to the concept of community is sharing abundance and turning to the community for support when needed. For Richard, this meant partnering with other farmers, trading the abundant crops from his fields for the less abundant crops others grew more easily. It meant sharing equipment, borrowing root cellars.
It also meant sharing the abundance of fresh, nutritious, local food to help meet his community’s needs. Tantré has donated CSA shares to silent auctions at a wide variety of local schools for twenty tears. The farm consistently donates produce, sometimes even seeds, to over 25 local events. Excess produce is also regularly donated to a food bank and a residential community for people with developmental disabilities.
Not only do these donations uplift and support the community, but they also embed Tantré in the fabric of the community. This feels good to the farmers, it feels good to the community, and it has the bonus of increasing their reach to people who otherwise might not have been aware of this local farm.
Since 2018, Deb and Richard have been running Harvest Kitchen, a prepared food CSA, and meal plan for homes, schools, and businesses. In partnership with other local farms, Harvest Kitchen enables Tantré to have another outlet for serving the community by producing regular, healthy, fresh-cooked meals made from local ingredients.
As a mom who cooks a lot of produce from her CSA box, I appreciate having this added service available to my community. Life is life, and sometimes we are too busy or worn out to cook. This kind of meal support can provide serious relief. It’s also a great gift to donate to a friend or community member recovering from surgery, a birth, a loss, or dealing with any other life struggle.
Tantré offers regular internships/apprenticeships for self-motivated individuals “who would like to work on a bio-intensive, small scale, family farm.” They offer room, board, and a negotiable stipend. Interns typically work for 3+ months at a time, living in a semi-communal environment during the growing season.
The internship is described as “experiential and will focus on hands-on application of sustainable agriculture practices.” Sounds good? Sounds great? Click here to learn more and apply!
Volunteering is also prized and encouraged. Many volunteers come by the farm to help with weeding, harvesting, packing, and all sorts of farm duties. As a bonus, if you volunteer during the day, they will cook you a farm-fresh, homemade lunch!
Plus, the farm is a beautiful place to spend the day. Not to mention the fun to be had on its homemade swing!
Watching it Grow
Like the foods we grow, the seeds that we plant in the community will find their own way, orienting toward the light, encouraging us in the directions most useful to our growth. Social media is great, but it’s not enough.
Tantré is a bold and beautiful example of growing community. Their example teaches us to get out there and get our hands dirty in the soil of our community.
We need to shake hands (for now, keep your sanitizer on deck), we need to share our knowledge and abundance, we need to support each other in reaching our goals, and we need to give back and stay connected.
This way, we all grow together. Even in a crowded field, there’s enough sunlight streaming down to reach and nourish us all.
Watch A Growing Business interview the founder of Tantre Farms about its CSA program here.
Want to learn how to start your own CSA? Click here.
Click here to read my blog post explaining what CSAs are and how they work.
Subscribe to the A Growing Business YouTube channel and learn about more sustainable business practices!
Rosamond Rice is a fiction writer, blogger, and organic microfarming enthusiast living in Southeast Michigan.