Birds, Bunnies, Wild Turkeys, Oh & People Too: Don’t Lose Sight of Community Engagement

by Marissa Patterson, she/her

I am serving as the Community Engagement Coordinator at New Entry Sustainable Farming Project. New Entry is a farmer training program that recently relocated from the Merrimack Valley to the North Shore. Farming is hard, and it’s challenging to start and run a viable farm business. We provide resources for new and beginning farmers to make it easier for them. As the CEC at New Entry, my service projects have focused on creative storytelling, outreach, and volunteer engagement.

New Entry’s recent relocation has been a long time coming. The organization chose to move because we have three different sites for on the ground programming- the Incubator Farm which serves as training land for aspiring farmers, the Food Hub which uses food grown by our incubator farmers and other local growers to address community food access needs, and staff offices where the nitty gritty grant and program management happens. In the Merrimack Valley, these three separate sites were located a few miles apart from each other. With the recent move, we have all three program hubs on one property: beautiful Moraine Farm!

Image description: the view up a long dirt road leading up to a big, old, red barn. To the left of the dirt road are dry fields with greenhouses and another barn in the distance. A line of coniferous and bare deciduous trees wraps behind the barns and greenhouses. The cloudless sky is an exceptionally clear blue on a sunny winter-almost-spring afternoon.

Moraine Farm is a Trustees of the Reservation property and a Frederick Law Olmstead landscape. We are extremely fortunate to be able to drive up to this beautiful land every day and explore everything it has to offer. From ponds with lots of wildlife (if you’re patient!) to forested trails and hidden yurts, we bask in the beauty and wonder of this land every day.

The transition to a new site has been a very crucial moving piece in my service projects. New Entry moved in March, but I began my service term in September. How does an organization do outreach for a community to which it has not yet moved? How do you form community partnerships and engage volunteers without yet having a local site? How do you build excitement for your programs and mission in a new community? How do you navigate community relationships with an uncertain timeline? These were tricky questions that I had to figure out how to address during my service term. I still don’t have the answers, but luckily, I have had great resources available to me.

This year, TerraCorps facilitated a Community Needs Assessment Learning Cohort for interested members, led by Angela Roell (they/them). With extensive experience in community-based projects, Angela has spent the last 6 months or so guiding some of my fellow TerraCorps members and I through conducting a Community Needs Assessment. Through this process, they have provided valuable mentoring and feedback as I have helped New Entry move forward with outreach in a new community. They have also provided guidance as I thought about how to build authentic relationships between New Entry and our surrounding community that will outlast my time here.

Though it was daunting to think about doing outreach in a new community, it was also exciting! My service this year lays an important foundation for New Entry in our new home on the North Shore. Knowing the weight of my projects, it was challenging for me to find a starting place. However, because of the Learning Cohort, I received direction and outside mentorship on addressing guiding questions and I will be leaving my service site with an Outreach and Facilitation Plan, a Project Management Plan, and a fully documented Timeline of Outreach and Engagement. On top of the value of spending 11 months doing this work, being able to leave these resources for the next person in my shoes builds capacity, enhances continuity in New Entry’s outreach, and clarifies outreach processes for other staff members.

Moraine Farm is beautiful land and we’re excited to establish roots here. It is relatively easy to put our heads down and get caught up in getting the fields and our farmers-in-training ready for the growing season but losing sight of community engagement can be very counterproductive. I am thrilled to be able to use my service to enhance and maintain that vision for New Entry. As I consider my professional future, knowing I bring these valuable skills and experiences to future workplaces gives me confidence and makes me grateful for the professional development opportunities I’ve had during my service year. I hope to continue to center my time around engaging communities and forming meaningful, trusting relationships that build equity and justice into environmental movements.

Marissa served as a Community Engagement Coordinator at New Entry for TerraCorps 2018-2019