Authentic Community

As I prepared to leave Tennessee to move to Connecticut, I was terrified. My stomach was in constant knots because of the uncertainty of beginning a new chapter in my life. I was sad to leave my mountains, my heritage, and my family; but most importantly, I was fearful to leave my community. I was lucky enough to have had an incredibly supportive and authentic group of people surrounding me at home and in college, but all I could think was that nothing in New Haven could live up to this community I spent so many years building.  

After less than 24 hours with the other Newman’s Own Foundation Fellows, I already felt at home. During our orientation process we became a family, through all of the things that create community; laughter, vulnerability, fun, fear, connection, challenges, and more. It is surprisingly easy to spend a significant amount of time with people without truly connecting; it takes intentional effort and trust to become a family. As Fellows, we put in the work; we built a strong connection in just a few days, one that stands firm to this day.

I was just as lucky in my first few months in New Haven. I found a roommate, friends, coworkers, and a church congregation who were willing to put in the work that it takes to build an authentic connection with me. I found a community that I was willing to give to, and one that was equally willing to give to me.

At New Haven Farms (NHF), our mission is to promote health and community development through urban agriculture; but an unspoken part of our mission is creating a family. Our staff, Farm-Based Wellness Program participants, volunteers, and community supporters are all a part of the New Haven Farms family. We love, and sweat, and learn, and grow (both our vegetables and as people) together. You are no longer just your individual self; you are a part of our community, with all that it entails. This is why I love this organization and my new home.

Being a family is what makes us unique and strong as an organization. Our programs don’t host thousands of participants, we can’t farm every single piece of open land in Connecticut, and we aren’t single handedly going to stop diet-related chronic disease in the United States. However, by focusing on each other, we have succeeded in creating a committed, loving, holistic, authentic family. We support each other wholeheartedly and that is our success. Land that was once trash dumps now hosts beautiful gardens where we come together to vulnerably share struggles and strengths. Mothers who could never afford fresh vegetables now return to the program weekly, bonding with other mothers over the healthy dishes they can now make for their children. We succeed as a group because of our investment in each other.

As the Advancement Officer at NHF, I wear about 15 different hats at any given time. You will find me doing anything from pulling weeds to writing grants. I take on whatever role I need to during every situation. I think this is part of what it means to be an authentic community. We become what our community needs. At work I am a farmer, an accountant, an event planner, a volunteer coordinator; at home I am a friend, a mentor, an activist, a musician, a counselor. I am what my community needs and my community is what I need.

After 3 months in my new home, I can look around and see the many beautiful faces of my new family. When I am in my church, or at the farmer’s market, a festival, or a neighborhood meeting, I am surrounded by so many others who have chosen to work alongside me in this journey of authenticity and growth.  I am overwhelmingly grateful for my experience so far and all the lessons I have learned and will continue to learn about building an authentic community, both with the other Newman’s Own Foundation Fellows and with New Haven Farms.

Anna Grace Barry – NOF Fellow at New Haven Farms, New Haven, CT.