Many of my best childhood memories in Iran are shaped around holidays at my grandparents’ hobby farms. Climbing trees, harvesting fresh fruits, picking and cracking nuts, and living with extended family & friends are some of my vivid memories of those days. When my grandfathers passed away, other members of our family chose to carry on the tradition, although not to the same extent, due to the constraints of modern life. Later on, when I immigrated to the west, that sense of connection to the land and people vanished from my life.
My journey to the west, however, introduced me to the sustainability challenges of our era and intrigued my curiosity for finding potential solutions. As I elaborated in Quantifying the Path to Sustainability, I realized that the best solutions are those that improve our Quality of Life (QoL) while reducing our Ecological Footprint (EF). I further argued that a transition from a culture based on individualism to one that is based on interdependence and community could satisfy both of these conditions.
I’m now at a stage where my desires for community and sustainability are merging through what I call Collective Hobby Farming (CHF). In this initiative, I envision a community of about one hundred people coming together to use the land surrounding cities to collectively grow food and co-create gatherings. I have purchased 40 acres of farmland near Vancouver, where I reside, in order to experiment with CHF. What follows is a more detailed account of how I envision CHF could manifest in practice, and the role that such model could play in our transition to a more sustainable lifestyle.
During my childhood in Iran, we almost always only had in-season fruit available in stores. As such, we had a great sense of appreciation for the fruit that we consumed, to the extent that we have a Persian word for the first fruit of the season: “nobar”, which means “new harvest”. I also recall the quality of produce was much higher than the produce that I now find in Vancouver stores. This is because the large variety of produce that is available in stores year around becomes possible through long distance transportation. As such, in order to survive the journey before reaching the customer, the produce needs to be harvested unripe, which largely diminishes its quality. I remember an instance when my aunt, who is chef, was visiting me in Canada. I had a bite of a peach I had bought at the store, then gave it to her while complaining how it had no taste to it. She took one bite and said, “this isn’t no taste; this is bad taste”!
Anyways, as a whole, that story embodies my complaints with the quality of the food I often buy here, contrasted with what I grew up with. I always smell the tomatoes that I buy in stores, and if I close my eyes, I can’t tell them from apples! But enough about substandard produce. Instead of complaining, I want to focus on what we can do to grow high quality produce. I envision CHF bringing quality fruits and vegetables into our lives, growing them ourselves and allowing them to fully ripen before they are harvested and consumed. This would not only improve our QoL as a result of higher quality fruits and vegetables, but also would reduce the EF of our food, as it minimizes its supply-chain requirements.
Another key characteristic of CHF is that it offers a framework for a deeper connection with self, community, and nature, which I find vital to my own sense of wellbeing. I live in a community house and consider myself well rooted and connected with my community, at least within the social norms and standards of our modern lifestyle. Yet, I still find the yearning for greater continuity, openness, trust, and vulnerability within my community. I believe the collective operation of the CHF provides continuity in connection and a sense of belonging to the land and people, further strengthening the fabric of the community network. On a more individual side, the farmland is an excellent platform to conduct transformational events, ceremonies, rituals, and journeys to facilitate deeper connection to our subconscious and provide emotional healing and growth, as I elaborated on in Unlearning Spirituality. In addition, growing food and catering to plants over the seasons helps us become more grounded and in tune with nature and its cycles. Together, these CHF activities would strengthen our connection to self, community, and nature, and improve our sense of wellbeing. Furthermore, I believe the community-based cultural values that are acquired through the operation of CHFs provide a healthy and sustainable alternative to the consumer culture that is harming the planet and putting our survival at risk.
Financial relationships are another important factor for CHF operation, especially as money can play a critical role in creating communities (instead of playing a part in disintegrating communities). In the old days, gifting and debt principles were the way of non-monetary societies. In such societies, the parties that participated in gifting or debt needed to know about each other’s offerings and needs, so that the transaction could happen. In addition, as the exchange could not happen at the same time, the relationship needed to last in order to ensure the transaction was reciprocated. On the other hand, barter was used primarily for transactions with strangers and potential enemies, in which the transactions completed without the need for further interactions, and thus without cultivating community and ongoing reciprocation. Bartering dynamics further intensified when currency became the primary means of negotiating commerce. Unfortunately, while money makes commerce more efficient, it has also eliminated the need to know about each other’s needs and offerings, and has eradicated an economy that requires ongoing human-to-human connection and exchange. Sadly, the loss of gift and debt economies and the rise of currency-based economies have contributed to the disintegration of sustainable community-centered societies and to growth of unsustainable individualistic ones.
As one of the core values in CHF is to bring back a sense of community to our lives, I believe it is essential to adopt an alternative approach to our economic transactions. I believe a non-monetary gifting principle can play a significant role in creating long-lasting connections within a community. This principle can manifest through each individual taking a role that expresses his or her aspirations, interests, and skills, and offering that role as a gift to the collective. Such operational model would eliminate the need for monetary transactions within the collective, and could be instrumental in creating a feeling of kinship and true interdependence for the members of the community.
There will, of course, be costs for the services that the CHF receives from outside the collective, such as utilities, insurance and equipment bills. I envision income to be generated by the collective through the services that they provide to society, in order to offset such costs. Such services would depend on and be unique to the aspirations, interest, and skills of each collective. In the CHF that I’m initiating, I envision transformational events and retreats offered to society as a way to generate income. This would not only generate some income to offset costs, but would also expose the greater society to CHF, community-based culture, and would inspire them to take or support similar initiatives.
The governance structure is another important consideration for the smooth and sustainable operation of CHF. In community-based initiatives, functional groups make decisions and run the operations of their respective area. The leads of each group form the core council, which steers the overall direction of the community.
The level of commitment that I envision for the operation of CHF is on average 2 days/month. I believe that one hundred people contributing two days per month would allow for the growth of a significant portion of food and for the co-creation of events and gatherings. The proximity of the CHF makes it feasible to live in the city and collectively operate the farm.
Last but not least, I believe CHF is the suitable initiative for cultural transition from consumerism to one that is based on community. This is due to the fact that a hobby farm outside the city can be viewed as more of a vacation place, where we spend time with our loved ones. This reduces the stakes and makes it a suitable ground for practicing a new way of relating. As we build the human capital on community values through CHF—such as council-based structures instead of hierarchical management—the door opens to more involved and elaborate initiatives such as collective housing and collaborative institutions.
In closing, I invite you to imagine ending a hectic week of work in the crowded city and driving to your Collective Hobby Farm where that you helped grow!, and revel in co-created gatherings that nourish your soul and open your heart. You fall asleep to the sounds of nature and wake up the next day to a shared meal with your beautiful friends. You get your hands dirty in the garden, come back to another fantastic meal, rest, connect, make a fire in the eve, play music, and dance around the fire. This is what I call this life 101! You return to the city not only refreshed physically and emotionally, but also with a basket filled with quality produce for the week! It very much excites my heart. Let’s co-create hobby farms to enjoy life more and to create our new world ~