EarthDance Farms: Bringing Food from Farm to Table to Community
The concept of farm to table isn’t new, but for the residents of Ferguson-Florissant, eating healthy can be a challenge and the idea of organic virtually out of reach. EarthDance Farms is working to bring healthier food choices and practices to this North County community and, by educating aspiring farmers and gardeners, to people across the country. The organization benefited from a YouthBridge Jumpstart Grant – a new fundraising program introduced in 2018 – which helped nonprofits generate over $150,000 in new revenue during the year.
“As we say, the need for healthy food is universal, but access is far from it,” says Rachel Levi, Acting Executive Director of EarthDance Farms. “Our vision is to see more organic farmers feeding their communities, and communities caring for the earth that has so much good to give.”
It’s the vision that Founding Director Molly Rockamann had when EarthDance Farms began in 2008 with a single acre of rented land on a 130-year-old family-owned farm in Ferguson. Rockamann visited the farm as a teen and never forgot the sights and sounds, the feel of the soil in her hands, and the passion they stirred. After earning her education in environmental studies and working with organic farmers around the world, the St. Louis native returned home with the knowledge and desire to impact the food system in her hometown. Upon the passing of its last family members, Rockamann set out to save the farm and preserve an essential asset for the community. Today, EarthDance Farms owns and operates the remaining 14 acres to grow food and farmers, and share the harvest.
“There is a tremendous need for healthy food options and lifestyle education right here,” says Levi, pointing to a 2015 community food assessment conducted by EarthDance that found significant food availability and affordability barriers in Ferguson, particularly for low-income residents, who have few to no healthy food store options available to them. Not surprisingly, this same population has higher than the statewide average of people with diet-related illnesses, with the incidence rate of diabetes “off the chart,” according to Levi.
“We want to change these statistics by changing the landscape of food production, access and sustainability,” says Levi. Along with producing Certified Organic vegetables, fruits and livestock, EarthDance Farms trains would-be organic farmers from all walks of life on the seed to market process through a 5 ½-month farm and garden apprenticeship program. “Some aspire to operate farms, others want to cultivate home or community gardens,” she explains. “However they use their skills, it’s bringing more people into the production of healthy food.” Levi gives the example of a program graduate who recently broke ground on f(Root) Snacks Farm, a partnership with the Ferguson-Florissant School District to involve students in food production at the site in Florissant. He initially came to the farm as part of court ordered community service.
Giving youth an active role is the only way to effect long-lasting change, says Levi. Every summer, EarthDance employs youth from the Ferguson-Florissant area to work the farm, and participate in research and community outreach. The farm also accepts youth volunteers and hosts field trips for 800+ students annually. Levi says, “We’re teaching them the principles of healthy eating, as well as community leadership, which we hope they’ll carry with them for a lifetime.”