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BRATTLEBORO -- Focused on healing trauma associated with racism and helping the community, the SUSU commUNITY Farm is set to start up soon. 

"We're really excited about it," said Amber Arnold, co-executive director of the SUSU Healing Collective LLC. 

Arnold said the farm had been one of the "bigger vision goals" of her group since starting the LLC last year. The COVID-19 pandemic then "jumpstarted" a lot of the work because the group responds to community needs, she said. 

With support from Retreat Farm and the Vermont Land Trust, the group secured a one-year purchase option on a farm in the West River Valley. Arnold said she couldn't yet share more details about the location. 

The next step is to form a planning committee to look at how to run the farm. The group also hopes to complete its fundraising goal this year. 

More than $280,000 from hundreds of donors has come in so far. An additional $500,000 is being sought to cover the cost of the land purchase and permitting. 

The immediate plan is to move a pilot program at Retreat Farm in Brattleboro to the commUNITY Farm. Free, community-supported agriculture is offered to the Black, Indigenous, and People of Color or BIPOC community in Windham County. 

"Once we have the farmland, it will become a permanent program of the farm," Arnold said. 

Another program to begin right away is the Heritage Garden. 

"We're planning to have multiple different gardens grown just for traditional lineage and heritage throughout the African diaspora, growing in a way that's aligned with the way our ancestors have grown food," Arnold said, describing how a lot of time will be spent preparing the soil and gardening in sustainable processes as to not harm the earth. 

An online program for Black and brown community members that deals with trauma will happen at the farm in the future and include an herbal component. Another program is designed for white Vermonters who want to help with building a multi-racial community and healing from white supremacy. 

Later, the plan is to launch the Youth Deliberation Pipeline and partner with other BIPOC groups. Curriculum will be developed based on offering an alternative to the "youth to prison pipeline." 

Arnold said in Vermont, BIPOC youth are being "funneled" into mental health and foster care systems. Her group's program is meant to support youth and help them heal from trauma caused by oppressive systems by teaching coregulation and emotional skills, and connecting them with mentors and peers with shared experience. 

Last year, a GoFundMe campaign was created for SUSU's Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) and the page continued to run in order to raise money to buy land. Then, Arnold said, organizations and small businesses across Vermont and New England started taking on fundraising for the effort themselves. 

"So it was really a communal fundraising effort," she said. 

The project was announced by Retreat Farm in a news release last Friday with a subject line saying "THIS is Black History." 

"A year ago, as SUSU commUNITY Farm began to dream and vision about a future where food sovereignty is guaranteed to the next generations of Black and brown people in Vermont, where their children and their people could connect back to the land, a place to herald and reclaim their ancestral legacies, and a place to build Black futures right here in their own community, they reached out to Retreat Farm for support," the release states. "Retreat Farm, whose mission is to steward a place where people come to feel a sense of connection to the land that feeds us, to our shared history, and to the remarkable community we inhabit, deeply believed and trusted in their vision and did what any good ally does — listen. It was only a matter of time before these organizations came together to bring connection, healing, food security, and mutual aid amidst a global pandemic and crumbling racialized infrastructure to Vermont."

The two farms' relationship, the release states, "is based on a deep commitment to the much needed change across the state of Vermont and the country." 

"There is nothing more freeing than seeing this reality unfold in one of the whitest states in America, signaling that change is not only possible, it is happening, and most importantly there is nothing more healing than having the space to come back into right relationship with the land, a sovereign living being that holds and nourishes us all," the release states. "We need land to thrive, to live, to be free, and to heal. We all do, and now we have the opportunity to work together to repair hundreds of years of state-sanctioned violence that has severed disconnections from earth and all her relations to create a culture of liberation right here and right now."

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