Grace Farms’ uniquely blended goal is to serve ‘as a peaceful respite and porous platform for people to experience nature, encounter the arts, pursue justice, foster community, and explore faith’. It’s been doing just that since opening in 2015, the vision being enabled by generous contributors and corporate and nonprofit partners, implemented by a highly qualified staff, and produced with the help of numerous volunteers.
The Grace Farms property in New Canaan, features a complex of five structures that wind across the landscape, and are aptly named the ‘River’. This award-winning building, designed by the Pritzker Prize-winning Japan-based architectural firm SANAA, include a sanctuary, library, dining/meeting space known as the ‘Commons’, with state-of-the-art catering kitchen, a pavilion, and an indoor basketball court and gym. Outside, nature trails lace the 80-acre property, and its gardens, ponds, and natural terrain. The entire experience is all about nature, as the River’s glass walls allow light to stream into every space and bring nature into view at every turn, and because the out-of-doors beckons with welcome.
But it’s actually the programming that Sharon and her team have delivered in their first five years of operation that have earned Grace Farms the embrace from, and a lead role in the community. Grace Farms is regularly open to the public! For free! With healthy and delectable food available for lunch, the basketball court available for play, the library available for study or contemplation, and scheduled nature programming, led by the local, expert naturalist Mark Fowler. The Foundation is now known for its ability to develop collaborations with diverse organizations and world-class experts. In five years, Grace Farms has hosted over 1,000 programs and events and welcomed an astounding 100,000 visitors a year.
But that’s not all. While the Foundation’s work sourcing and supplying PPE would be enough for any organization to have taken-on during Covid, Grace Farms determined to address the food insecurity in the region that was immediately exacerbated by the virus’ onset. With Grace Farms’ community gardens produce as a part of its food supply, the Commons staff, under the direction of Neena Perez, has been carefully prepping meals for 12 different local not-for-profit organizations. For some of these organizations, such as Inspirica in Stamford, and Staying Put in New Canaan, the emphasis is on delivering meals. For others, such as the Open Door Shelter in Norwalk, the need is for pantry items. For organizations such as Bridgeport Rescue Mission, Connecticut Institute for Refugees and Immigrants, and Food Rescue US, it’s both food supplies and meals. In only three months (the same three months they delivered 1.9M pieces of PPE), Grace Farms has served meals to over 20,000 people!
“Food insecurity is not going away, and the need will continue even after the Covid crisis is resolved. Perez notes, ‘It's a passion of mine to make sure that we are thinking of the person as a whole. That's our mission, to do good in the world.’
Beyond its regular service to the community, Grace Farms has proven to be a real friend-in-need in these tough times. Sharon Prince commented, “Our interdisciplinary approach combined with an entrepreneurial mindset allowed us to pivot quickly. We’re able to leverage our networks and expertise in diverse fields, such as Justice and Nature. This crisis has really brought Grace Farms together with our neighbors.”
Five seemingly separate initiatives: Nature, Arts, Justice, Community, and Faith; but one vision to bring about real change, drive new outcomes, and move the needle on some of today’s most pressing causes. Covid tests us all, but Grace Farms has excelled. Grace Farms is a Covid Hero...and a Community Champion!