New Farm Site

March 26, 2011

The farmers of Community Cooperative Farms are proud to announce we have another farm site, equipped with a barn! We’re in the process of turning the fields over, by hand (well, with shovels). The barn is full of a lot of old treasures, which will require some deep cleaning but, we’re up for the challenge. The land is smack dab in the middle of residential homes…hopefully, that’ll make it really feel like a community. We’ve already received a lot of support from our new neighbors and we’re looking forward to growing with them!

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CSA Member Boxes

March 26, 2011

Under the stewardship of CCF’s  co-owner/manager Will Levin( wood artisan/carpenter/wood worker), we had the pleasure of building our CSA members’ produce boxes and boxes to be used for transporting our produce from the field to farmer’s markets. Using locally harvested pine wood, milled by local wood worker Will Conklin, we constructed over twenty boxes (without using any nails). A lot of love and care was put into each box! A huge thanks to both Will Levin and Will Conklin for working with us on this project and sharing your knowledge

Will's Wood Shop in Great Barrington

Wood Shavings Recycled for Chicken Hoop House


The Berkshires recently received a down pouring of rain… and our Route 7 Farm site was pretty much drowned. Luckily, the growing season hasn’t started. We’ve got some preparing to do…

Spring Updates

March 25, 2011

Despite the fickle weather, the farmers of Community Cooperative Farms have been busying . From germinating seeds, signing members up for our 2011 CSA, to planning out the new farm plans for our various farm sites, taking down trees to build our own timber frame shed/farmstand, building boxes for our CSA members, painting signs,  collecting eggs and doing some good old fashion spring cleaning.

Justin and Will building boxes

Junk/Treasures in the barn

Laying Hen

Washed Eggs


More Sprouts

The turn of the century marked a new age in America—the age of industry.  Big business took over labor-intensive jobs and entrusted our country’s survival to iron-clad machines and methods that would yield the heartiest produce, not necessarily the healthiest. A group of dedicated, recent college graduates are doing their part to ensure agriculture’s legacy is not forgotten in the wake of mass production. Community Cooperative Farms (CCF) is dedicated to returning to the “traditions of high-quality, holistically produced agriculture products” that fed our countrymen and women of old.  Tashiana Colston of CCF sat down with UBW for a brief interview:

How did Community Cooperative Farms come about?

It came about in a funny way—a  lot of late night apocalyptic-end-of-our-civilization talks, hypothetical dreams, real fears and a real drive to help people. The five of us met at Pitzer College, Justin and I were next door neighbors in our freshman dorm while Alex lived on the floor beneath us, Mael, Justin and Jane all had the same freshman seminar course. I don’t know if we all sat down and hung out in the same room together until our senior year, though. Early on in the spring semester of our senior year (Jan. 2010) we started having meetings with about five other people who were also interested in starting the farm about how to operate a cooperative, what materials we thought we would need, and who could be out to Massachusetts from California when.

I think it’s fair to say the farm is Justin Torrico’s brain child, and I would credit him with spearheading the project (finding the land to farm, organzing the people, ensuring that we had CSA members, initiating the purchase of our seeds, securing housing for us, and without his small town relationships, we might not have had the amount of support we’ve received). The farm is a convergence of his passion for food, his studies of the Political Economy at Pitzer College, and his drive for social justice.  I think a lot of us, including myself-his girlfriend- thought these were just musings but as he built a case as to how fragile our economy is and how dependent we are on non-renewable resources and industrialized farming, we all began to see farming together as a viable, realistic and revolutionary act. I think we all came to the decision to farm for different reasons, and we all have different strengths, and that’s what has made the potential of this cooperative farm so intriguing, different and capable of change.

Do you remember the first crop sold?

The first things we sold were radishes, bok choy, swiss chard and kale. We sold it at our first small farm stand in front of Justin’s brother’s house. Looking back at it now, it looked pretty sad but we were working our butts off.  The town of Mt. Washington where the farm stand was, and where we currently have farm stands three days a week has been incredibly supportive. Their support has really kept us going. From different families we’ve been given dishes, tools, we’ve been offered more land to farm, the opportunity to speak to the entire community from a living room, lunch on long days at the farm stand, as well as their business through our CSA and direct market farm stand.

Do you have any crops that you are most famous for?

We’re becoming well known for our red currant tomatoes. They’re this cute little tomato the size of a blueberry. Most people haven’t seen them, and once they try them it’s all over from there. Our top sellers are our tomatoes. We have 10 varieties of heirloom tomatoes.

How can someone who is not near one of your three locations purchase your product?

Well, we’re a small local farm and we intend to sell locally. This is a political and social decision to focus on the local economy rather than cater to the needs of a consumer who is across the country or even 100 miles away. The transportation of our goods outside of the local community would only add to the external cost, and injure the environment more. We would encourage someone who is not near one of our three locations who wanted to purchase our product, to instead support a small responsible farm (not necessarily organic) near them. If someone wanted to specifically support our farm, they could purchase a CSA share for a family in need, visit the farm and volunteer time, invest etc.

With most people being invested in technology and remaining glued to their computers, ipods,etc, how have you been able to market CCF and its mission of returning to the basics to sustain a healthier life?

We recognize that these technological gadgets can have their advantages to spreading a good message. We don’t see technological advances as an inherently bad thing, only that our current societal use is focused on short term cultural phenomena. We seek a long term vision, and as we seek to attain a sustainable healthy life we know that we aren’t going back to the complete basics. I see it much like the Adinkra/Ghanian word and symbol Sankofa, meaning “go back to fetch it,” or “go back and take”, a symbol of the wisdom in learning from the past in building the future. We aren’t shirking all technology by honoring practices of our ancestors, we can learn all the healthy sustainable practices and use new things to help build a better life for everything and everyone. So we have embraced Facebook, blogs etc. to a certain point to market our message for social profit. However, we do understand there are lives being risked to bring us the materials that make our laptops and resources being depleted, which is all unacceptable, and if we can get the message out now, perhaps someone will hear us before it’s too late.

Where do you see CCF in five years?

We’d like CCF to be a non-for-profit organization that runs a farmer apprenticeship, facilitates short-term internships on our farm sites with inner city youth, and works with local schools and organizations. We will be looking to buy land in the future to construct a center for the farm and organization, with a fresh produce, meat, and crafts market.  We also have plans to expand the bio-diversity of our crops and animals, save more seed, and produce more secondary goods.
The mission of Community Cooperative Farms is to foster community, sustainability, sufficiency, permanent agriculture, living with the patterns of nature, spirituality, and ancestry through the production of high-quality food. In order to deconstruct interlocking systems of domination that deny all of us the right to live healthy productive lives, we are committed to addressing issues of race, gender, and class that continue to be ignored.

To find out more information about Community Cooperative Farms, visit: What do you think?

Written By Ra’Kenna J.

Pig Slaughter

March 12, 2011

Selecting the Kill

Selecting the first Kill

Justin and Chris Dragging the Pig

Chris, Mael and Keith Dragging


Justin Skinning



From Tashiana

Justin Torrico (CCF), Michele Hatchette, Nia Francis (Harlem Seeds), Tashiana Colston CCF

I was fortunate enough to attend the first annual Black Farmer and Urban Gardener Conference, on one of the three days it was held (from Nov. 19-21), at Brooklyn College in New York. The Conference was presented by Black Urban Growers, “an alliance of Black urban farmers and gardeners, food activists and allies united in rebuilding our community wealth and health by reconnecting to the land and our traditional roles as agriculturalist and environmental stewards.”

I was moved by the turn out of people who came out in support of black farmers. It was beautiful to see the mixed bunch of a crowd that the conference attracted. It was nice to see more than shades of brown in support of black farmers, to know that there are other people of color and other white people who understand the importance of having more black farmers, and the dire need to deconstruct the racism and classism in our food system. These were people who weren’t questioning why the conference was made for and directed to black people, unlike the majority of the white people I encounter on a daily basis. Instead, the non-black people at the conference were there with us, questioning the very systems that make it necessary to have a black farmer and urban gardener conference, they were becoming a part of the solution rather than questioning whether the conference had exclusionary practices. But in all honesty, I was most inspired by the different shades of brown, the dreads, the natural ‘fros, the pressed out hair, the roller set curls under Sunday-best hats, smooth skin, to the wrinkled evidence of wisdom on every black farmer/gardener/food activist in attendance. It was beautiful to see faces like my own, my cousins, my mother, my brother, my uncles, my grandmother, my aunts who are actively trying to literally and figuratively feed our beautiful black communities. It was moving to know that while I may be the onliest black wombyn on my farm, there are other black farmers consciously trying to feed the movement, and fuel a revolution!

The welcome was given by Karen Washington of La Familia Verde, her energy and enthusiasm were phenomenal. She highlighted that the conference was about creating a dialogue about the food system and black farmers that should go beyond the conference, a dialogue that led to action.  She stressed that black farmers are at the forefront of exerting our agency for the betterment of ourselves and our people, “We no longer want a hand out, we want a hand in on the solution.” In his welcome, the borough president of the Bronx encouraged the innovation of farmers to help improve the standards of living and the health for people of color. He cited vertical and rooftop gardening as innovations that will help communities of color in urban areas. I was pumped when he hit on the notion of sankofa, “ Thinking ahead, is looking back.”

The keynote speaker was Will Allen, the founder and ceo of growing power, inc.,  a farm and community food center in Milwaukee. Will is considered the leading authority in the expanding field of urban agriculture. I really respect him as a black man using methods his father, a sharecropper taught him; methods that are truly sustainable and healthy… that take in a great consideration for the health of the soil. Will trains community members to become community farmers and he showed us how he’s able to do so through a lot of innovation (like growing on asphalt, aquaponics, vermicompost, intensive growing methods etc.). He was also happy to see so many faces that resembled his own, saying that at so many of the farm related events that he attends he looks out and sees less than a hand full of people who look like us. He was also really happy to see that about 60% of the attendees were people under 40, which gave him hope that farming roots will be passed on. He encouraged us to figure out how the system works by including everyone (corporations etc) at the table, pushing us to be more realistic than idealistic. I was a little bummed when one of his slide photos boasted the Wal-Mart executives touring his farm and he said that some of his farms products would be in Wal-Mart stores in Milwaukee soon. I guess that’s what he meant when he said include everyone…

I’m not sure that this approach (working with profit-maximizing corporations with a history of marginalizing people) will work out in the end. I don’t see small (black) farmers having interests that are aligned with that of large multi-national institutions. Shit just doesn’t add up.

While his call for us to “control the movement” and letting the, “revolution be televised,” was inspiring… and his encouraging words about moving forward with making good food available for everyone instead of planning first were comforting…I wanted more…More black power talk, more black encouragement, more black consciousness in his vocabulary… Which in retrospect seems unfair, he has made thousands of job opportunities in farming available for people of color in urban areas, created educational programs that span reading, writing and farming (which includes science whether the kids know it or not) to many young black children-farmers. He’s ‘bout it ‘bout it

For the first breakout workshop session there were so many good options…

  • The Next Generation: Youth Creating Food Change
  • Reclaiming & Reframing Black Farmers’ History in the US
  • Undoing Racism in the Food System: Lessons from the Detroit Struggle
  • Kid’s Hands On Cooking Demo (Led by my great friend Michele Hatchette of Harlem Seeds)
  • Using Herbs as Companion Plants in Your Organic Garden
  • Scaling Up! Greating 100,000 New Farmers: Local and National Resources for Rural and Urban Farmers
  • The People’s Struggle for Food Sovereignty: From Local to Global, Another Food System is Possible!
  • Detroit Black Community Food Security Network
  • Black family Land Trust
  • Urban Farming as a Framework for Holistic Community Development
  • Increasing Access to Affordable Foods in Communities of Color

I chose “Reclaiming & Reframing Black Farmers’ History in the US” based on my belief that looking back to our past will have a very positive effect on constructing our future.  The workshop was led by Gail Myers, a black cultural anthropologist out of Oakland, CA and Jennifer Steverson from the Weeksville Heritage Center. Myers traced an African based knowledge throughout some of her own research, in interviews with black farmers in Ohio and throughout her readings of black farmers and contextualizing the history of black farmers throughout America. This African based knowledge she referred to, and many other scholars refer to as Africanisms, holds that everything has a use, often an everyday use. She has concluded that black farmers have taken this philosophy and applied it to farming using everything from old scraps of food to feed the soil, tractors parts to rebuild fences etc. This recycled mentality creates an aesthetic…brickologe (spelling?). She outlined how black people used gardens as a cite of resistance and agency in times of slavery, creating alternative territorial systems; pathways away from the sight of their masters. Jennifer highlighted some black farmers of the past (Oliver Toussaint Jackson, Lucreatia Marchbanks, William “Curly” Neal, Daniel Webster Wallace), the autonomy of free black farmers and organizations/networks like the Negro Cooperative Extension that taught canning, beekeeping and the latest farming technology and methods at Tuskegee. They recommended books; You May Plow Here, African American Gardens and Yards in the Rural South, Uncommon Ground, and To Love Wind and Rain.

I think expanding on this knowledge of black farmers’ past and (re)introducing it to everyone and (re)establishing farming as a positive occupation for people, is necessary. I think collectively we need to examine why so many of us are continuing to move away from farming. We also need to examine what the consequences of not having a hand in the food that sustains us means…. We need to look at the agency we had and can have in feeding ourselves…we can’t free ourselves until we can feed ourselves (national black farmers association mantra). Until then, we’re depending on the people that uphold the very systems of domination that are keeping us down, to feed us…what’s wrong with that picture?

I give my deepest thanks to everyone who was a part of making the first black farmers and urban gardeners conference possible… from those who organized, those who volunteered, those who spoke/presented, attendees etc. It was necessary for my soul, my spirit, my sanity and will drive me further!