How a Farm Grant is Helping Common Roots Farm Grow Food with a Purpose
Meet Brighter Future Fund grant recipient, Nina Vukicevic. Nina is the full-time farm manager for Common Roots Farm, a 4.5-acre market garden farm where people with disabilities work together to grow healthy food, beautiful flowers, and build lasting friendships. Located in Santa Cruz, California, Common Roots Farm provides jobs, volunteer opportunities and a paid internship to young adults with intellectual or developmental disabilities. The farm serves as a food production site, ecological resource and volunteer opportunity for people with disabilities throughout the region.
Nina fell in love with farming during an internship in agricultural business at Common Roots Farm five years ago, helping to set up a website and sales outlets. After completing the farm apprenticeship program at UC Santa Cruz, Nina was hired back at Common Roots to be the first farm manager, taking over for the director who founded the farm. Nina has been the farm manager for three years and has grown the operation to a 50+ member CSA that also produces shelf stable value-added products and sells at pop-up markets.
“Our mission has become important to me, and I really enjoy the challenges of a production environment that also overlays a social mission to give opportunities to people many don’t ever think about or expect much of.” – Nina Vukicevic, Common Roots Farm
Nina shares, “Our farm is unique in that we are a production farm that welcomes people with disabilities to participate in our growing operation. I am super interested in how we can farm ecologically, even regeneratively, on a human scale using mostly hand tools and lots of volunteers. This farm lets me integrate my health and ecological priorities with a social mission I support. We see a lot of disabilities here and we work within that human diversity to grow great food, give people purposeful work, and donate produce to local food programs. We have several trainees each season and 50% have been LGBTQ and 33% racial minorities. We also hold a paid internship for a person with a disability each season. I identify as non-binary and I feel like I can be a resource for younger trainees while helping figure out how to make farming work for a wide variety of people!”
How does Nina plan to use Brighter Future Fund grant money? “Because we’re working mostly with hand tools, we need a lot of them to engage more people on our farm. We care for our soil by tilling it as little as possible. We try to modify tools and tasks to include everyone who’s interested in participating on our farm. As such, we propose to purchase more long handled shovels, spades, metal rakes, hula hoes, a T-post pounder, wheelbarrows and gorilla carts and gorilla tubs for our farm. We find gorilla tubs and carts to be a great way to partner farm where people with and without disabilities can share tasks and work together in small groups! We need tools that are heavy duty enough to handle a lot of use. Our wheelbarrows are all rusting!”
AFT’s Brighter Future Fund provides grants to help farmers nationwide improve farm viability, access, transfer or permanently protect farmland, or adopt regenerative agricultural practices. In 2022, the fund began prioritizing funding for farmers who identify as BIPOC, Veterans, LGBTQIA+ and beginning farmers who had limited access to financial resources in the past. Since 2020, AFT, with the support of Tillamook, Tractor Supply, and others, has provided approximately $4.5 million in grants directly to more than 2,000 farmers across the nation. Learn more about farm grants at farmland.org/brighter-future.