Creating a Food Forest in York PA

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”  ~ Winston Churchill

EJ_i-32sV9WB-X3Hi there. My name is Eleanor and I have a dream of creating a network of sustainable, art-filled food forests all around the country, starting in York, PA.

The path to realizing this dream is long and winding, with many unusual diversions.

Here is the story so far.

I first began sharing this vision publicly when the blueberry farm I stewarded with my then-parter was put up for sale. I ran an unsuccessful crowdfunding campaign to buy the farm ourselves and transform it into a sustainable food forest filled with outdoor sculptures, and operated on a gift economy basis.

It was a longshot, but not trying is the surest way to fail.

As a way to get the campaign in front of a large audience, I considered an offer from a production company to do a reality show about our unusual life on the farm and my quirky tribe of creative friends. The terms of the offer were ridiculous, but I saw incredible potential in unscripted entertainment so I started to learn everything I could about the industry. Previously I’d ignored it because, well: network reality tv.

It became clear that without getting a lot of exposure the campaign to save the farm wasn’t going to succeed. Around the same time, I was working with a development producer and was getting fed up with the whole short-sighted, backwards-thinking process.

(As a designer, working within flawed systems had always been an opportunity to make positive changes. I’ve always ended up improving any system I was allowed to, especially when several groups of people with different perspectives and/or end goals are involved.

Back when I started as a self-taught designer, nobody’d heard the phrase “design thinking” and design was still seen as just a shiny surface to slap on something at the tail end of the process, rather than something that shapes everything about the process.)

EJ-and-Mom-10543475_10204042752220188_268394603_oBefore I could regroup and do what I now know is called “pivoting” (hooray for nonstop learning!), my mother was diagnosed with advanced lung cancer, and died two weeks later. Right before her funeral my complicated 9-year relationship ended badly.

The following months were intense, as I dealt with my grief, the chaotic experience of being on the farm with my ex (I’d imagined that we’d remain friends, but I was wrong) and working to find ways to stay on the path towards my long-term goals.

Losing mom was my first experience with that kind of grief and I’d lost my best friend right when I needed them most. I felt like my life had been shattered.

That kind of sorrow rips your heart wide open, and it brings a rare clarity to everything.

Mom had an amazing and impactful life. And she died unfinished, too soon. I vowed that I wouldn’t.

Mom spent a lifetime struggling with many of the same demons I struggle with, and in the end she couldn’t overcome them. I vowed that I would.

I haven’t given up on my dreams — I’ve let them grow bigger.

Weaving together everything I’ve learned from these experiences, and with the help of my amazing friends, I began picking up the pieces to rebuild my life.

I co-founded a startup to disrupt unscripted entertainment and turn it into a tool for rapid social and environmental change.

We’re going to share our own unique and compelling stories transparently; in ways that make it possible to not just achieve our goals, but to change the world.

We’re not going to create just one food forest. We’re going to build many.

We’re not going to let obstacles stop us. We’re going to turn them into advantages and use them to propel ourselves forward.

We’re not going to simply survive. We’re going to live the lives of our dreams and make it easier for more people to do the same.

This is how we got to where we are now. Let’s see how far we can go.


22 thoughts on “Creating a Food Forest in York PA

    • Hi Christy — we’re in York, PA, and blueberry season starts this year on June 28th at 7am. Until we’ve been able to purchase the farm, at which point we’ll be instituting the gift economy model of business, pick-your-own blueberries are $3 per pound. Early in the season berries are huge and easy to pick, but the season usually continues into August, with berries getting smaller, more intense, and it takes longer to fill a bucket.

      The farm is Ravens Blueberry Farm, and I hope you’re able to come out — we grow the berries with love, and they’re pretty wonderful!

      Walk in Beauty,

  1. I recently visited your farm with my 5 year old daughter. The farm is very cool! I love how the bushes are in rows and surrounded by trees, very Zen like and calm. We were perplexed on how to go about picking the blueberries. The house down the path seemed like the obvious place to start, but no one was there. I assumed it was on the honor system and we figured it out. Perhaps more guided instructions to those who aren’t familiar with how your operation works? Otherwise, It was the coolest place I ever picked berries at! I tipped well, I hope you can keep this farm so my daughter and I can have this place to come to for many years to come!

    • Hi Nancy!

      Oh that is a hoot! And yes, I can, although I also highly recommend checking out Sacred Economics, which you can order on Amazon or red as a gift on Charles Eisenstein’s website

      Essentially, a gift economy is one where something of value is given as a gift, without expectation of something specific in return.

      So for example, in the case of the gift economy farm we’re creating, we will be offering the crops we grow to people as an actual gift. Something we do because we love to do it, and share with people because we love the feeling of being able to share, and we believe that what we’re doing — and how we’re doing it — is something that makes the world a little better

      There won’t be any price lists. We may keep the vintage scale because kids love to compare their berry-picking prowess with one another and the ritual of weighing the berries is so much fun for a lot of folks.

      But instead of there being a requirement to match up the amount of berries (or other crops we grow) with a specific amount of money — or even money at all — we will have a box that people can put gifts in, as it feels good to them.

      Because purchasing the farm through crowdfunding and growing food in sustainable food forests — polycultures that support and sustain themselves without irrigating, fertilizing, or much maintenance at all — means that our overhead will be extraordinarily low, and we will be *able* to operate the farm on a gift economy.

      I know a lot of folks who would *like* to do what they love and share it with people simply because they love to do it, but are saddled with enormous overheads that make it virtually impossible to make joy or generosity their top business priorities.

      The personal “crisis” of the farm on which we both live and work going up for sale is actually a unique opportunity to build an amazing food forest farm run on a gift economy and not only raise awareness about innovative agricultural and economic practices, but also an opportunity to have a positive impact on the entire community.

      Also, you know, the whole this is our dream come true thing is pretty fabulous as well.

      Anyhoo! I hope I at least started to answer your question! I highly recommend checking out Charles Eisenstein’s various talk on YouTube, as well as Nipun Mehta, the founder of service space, and John Halcyon Styn’s various HugNation broadcast (and TED talk) that discuss gifting and gift economies. It’s really exciting, and there’s an infinite variety of applications of this style of sharing.

      Thanks so much for your support!
      :> Eleanor

  2. Just read your article in this morning’s paper. To help with labor maybe you should consider becoming members of the world organization of organic farming (woof). My sister spent a year or two as a woofer on farms in Portugal. The last I looked there were a few local farms participating which you could contact for their personal experience. Meanwhile I hope to come up to your farm sometime this week to meet you and pick some blueberries. Richelle

    • Hi Richelle!

      Yes! We *definitely* plan to host wwoofers when we’ve saved the farm! Currently, as caretakers, that’s outside of our ability but it’s such a wonderful opportunity for everyone involved that we’re really looking forward to it. And yay, come on up! The blueberries are starting to thin out but if you’re persistent you can still gather a good amount, and still more are ripening. I hope that I’m at the stand when you come up — one of us is pretty much always on the farm, but it’s a big place, and with the campaign and media bits going on, I’m back and forth to the stand with more frequency than before but here’s to serendipity!

      :> Eleanor

  3. Just kicked in a small contribution from Sydney, Australia, and you’re right – it does feel good. I might not ever make it to the farm but I really wish you both all the luck and good seasons in the world.

  4. Your story gave me hope that my own project will soon provide a path out of my dead-end job. What, if any, types of fruits and veggies do you have available for picking in fall? Sounds like a wonderful way to spend an afternoon.

    • Hi Jennifer! I’m so glad! I look forward to a reality in which *everyone* is filling their hours with work that is meaningful and fulfilling to them.
      Here’s hoping you’re engaged in heart-based livelihood soon!

      Until we’ve purchased the farm, it remains a blueberry-only operation, which means picking from the end of June through the beginning of August (such a brief window!)

      Until then, there are a whole bunch of wonderful local farms around York — you can find some of them at, and I believe there are some yard shares starting up locally as well.

  5. Hi, Eleanor and Vanessa. I discovered your lovely blueberry farm last year and came to pick a couple times. Will you have blueberries again this year? I do hope so!

    • Yes, we sure will — with the long winter, blueberry season is starting late this year and we guesstimate that 4th of july weekend will *probably* be our opening date (but we have to confirm this with the owner before we can “officially” announce it :>)

  6. My Husband and I picked blueberries there last year. They were wonderful and so was the farm. (We also got entertained a bit with seeing a mother and fawn not far from us). We most definitely intend to visit and pick blueberries again this year! We’re looking so forward to it! I’m so thrilled that we’ll be able to come and do this again this year. Warmest thoughts and wishes to both of you.

  7. Glad you are still hanging in there and look forward to visiting when the blueberries are ready. The berries I picked there last year were the best and I still have a few in the freezer.

  8. Fantastic Blueberries! Can’t wait for opening day. Is the earliest date to begin, July 4th 2014? I’ll be there ready to go!

  9. Yay! I have picked blueberies at the farm for years with friends and my family. So very glad to know the farm is continuing & love hearing about your plans! See you soon!! Gail & Marcus Sheffer, Wellsville

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