In 2011, several local residents living the heart of Madesi Territory, desiring to improve conditions for all residents, began to conceive a plan to create a community-owned farm to raise and distribute healthy organic food, provide local job opportunities, and to educate and train people in the principles of permaculture. Founded in 2012, the Madesi Valley Community Land Trust (MVCLT), a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation, recognized by the USA Internal Revenue Service and Shasta County, purchased a marvelous local farm at the gateway into the heart of Big Bend.
The MVCLT non-profit was named in reference to and in honor of the small isolated valley that is the homeland of the Madesi band of the Pit River Nation. The naming referred to the geographic location (the Madesi Valley), and was not meant to claim affiliation with the Madesi Band, the Madesi Council, or the Pit River Tribe.
Although the founders intended the name to be a respectful geographical reference and recognition of the valley and its original first-nations inhabitants, some tribal members expressed concerns and confusion about the organization’s name and intentions. Other tribal members expressed their support for the name and the intentions, goals, and work of the non-profit, but the MVCLT Board of Directors (BoD) decided to change the name, using the (more commonly known and less controversial) name of Big Bend, which is the Shasta County Rural Community Center (RCC). Thus, the MVCLT became the “Big Bend Community Land Trust” (BBCLT) in 2013.
The BBCLT is based on the resource-abundant land parcel that the organization is very honored to steward (along with collaborating Big Bend community members and other regional residents who want to participate). The BBCLT farm (formerly known by many locals as “The Duck Farm”) is centrally-located and easily accessible, in the “downtown” of Big Bend RCC, at the intersection of Big Bend Road and Hagen Flat Road. The farm is blessed with abundant resources and great potential for a local community resource, to help uplift this small isolated town and valley. The BBCLT has seen a variety of different phases, ideas, changes, visions, and projects, based on permaculture regenerative plant agriculture, livestock raising, food preservation, community services, events, and more.
The BBCLT has been steadily growing and improving, finding new ways to fulfill the original and evolving goals, which include becoming a center for education, community-supported farming, and providing other much-needed services for the small isolated valley. Over the years, numerous dreams and plans of the the non-profit’s participants have continued to gradually manifest, as countless local volunteers (and some part-time local employees) contribute thousands of hours of hard work to make the CLT’s intentions become increasingly activated and fruitful programs.
From 2012 to 2017, there were many wonderful achievements and advances in the formation and establishing of the BBCLT, and also plenty of challenging times for the project, as well.
By 2014-2015, there was a lively group of alternative farmers and hippies living together on the land and many great projects were happening, including gardening, hugelkulture raised bed construction, livestock-raising (even including Yaks!), communal living (several babies were even born in the farm house in that era!), educational community workshops, and more.
There were also some wild times and fun parties, weekly “Friday Night Jam” community music sessions, and it became a known visiting spot for friends and family, especially folks from the Rainbow Gathering extended network (and others), since the creative and permaculture-focused founders were “Rainbows”, and word spread that good things were happening in Big Bend.
The farm was a very lively place (to say the least) for several years, and many residents were making positive and productive things happen (while others- not so much).
The BBCLT of 2014-2016 saw comings and goings of small groups and individuals in both the BoD membership and the farm house residents, and many cool projects were successfully done. The participants had varying degrees of (but generally very limited) experience in the various needs and skills to successfully run a working farm and a non-profit corporation, such as creating organized plans and visions, resolving conflict, organizational requirements and paperwork requirements for non-profits, grant-writing and management, setting/enforcing boundaries for farm policies, residents, and visitors, understanding land management and regenerative farming practices, working with Shasta County laws and regulators, integrating with the Big Bend community, and much more.
During that learning and growth period, although there were many people living on the land and a lot of work and creative activity was happening on the farm, there was also a distinct lack of strong leadership or guidance from the BoD or anyone who tried to assume the role of “Farm Manager”.
Outside of some of the farm residents, participation was limited, and many challenges came up, including trying to get some inactive residents to do their share of work, a reduction in the flow of funding contributions to pay the mortgage and other expenses, repairs and improvements needed on the house, skeptical and suspicious neighbors, etc. Other issues included some interpersonal and intrapersonal challenges/conflicts between and within the BoD, the larger BB community, and especially amongst the residents of the large farm house. The BBCLT appeared to be imploding from several serious pressure points…
Many residents put in a lot of time and hard work to improve the farm and its functioning, however! Some really stood out and did more than their share of work and brought in a lot of ambitious agricultural projects, experiments, and resources.
Eventually, Puck came along and provided even more leadership, good role modeling, creative ideas, organizational skills, and hard work, resulting in creating the Community Thrift Store, the Community Library, and an expanded Community Food Pantry during that disorganized but growth and vision-creating era of BBCLT’s history. New things were gradually being born while old things were getting more and more cleared away away…
The Big BBCLT Transformation of 2017
In January 2017 about five feet of wet heavy dense snow fell in a (typical at the time) Big Bend winter storm.
As the heavy wet snow accumulated and covered the old sprawling and beloved BBCLT residential farm house, the roof eventually collapsed under the heavy snow load, which crushed many of the rafters and destroyed the roof’s framing, insulation, and ceiling panels in large sections of the building, causing unsafe structural damage and unpreventable water damage to the interior.
This blizzard snow load weight roof failure mercilessly ruined the house and much of its contents, forcing all the residents to leave immediately. It appeared that the house was destroyed and the residents “evicted” by an “Act of God”, but why would “God” do such a destructive thing to a well-meaning non-profit and some hippy farmers with benevolent intentions? Perhaps the answer an be found in the saying “You have to destroy, in order to create.” (Johnny Rotten)
The loss of the large house seemed like a difficult setback for the CLT (there is a shortage of housing in Big Bend), yet the events that followed provided some very positive outcomes in the long run…
The sudden destruction of the house and the beloved home of the BBCLT on-site “family” also paused all activity on the farm. It felt shocking and tragic, but it later miraculously turned out to be a huge blessing in disguise. First a reorganization of the BoD occurred, then efforts to help the displaced farm residents were made.
A group of 12-20 resident families and volunteers were displaced (including some babies born in the farm house before the collapse), but the CLT provided many of the former residents some emergency-fund financial assistance, granted to help defray the cost of replacing their lost personal property and to help them relocate.
With the house uninhabitable and the residents gone, the place was suddenly both a big mess and yet less chaotic and more manageable, like a blank slate, ready to evolve into a more organized and effective organization and project, which then resulted in attracting more community members interested in becoming involved.
But there were still many issues and looming questions about how to save the BBCLT, which was nearly leaderless, had no income, and was very late on payments of the large mortgage debt. It appeared that the whole project was in danger of being lost, and the beloved property foreclosed and sold. And the big question was about an insurance policy and a possible settlement for the lost house. The original insurance policy was cancelled and lost due to the organization’s lack of organization and failure to keep up with paying the insurance premiums.
How Sarah Joy Saved the BBCLT:
Honoring A Special BBCLT Contributor: Sarah Joy is a very kind and special person, with an inspired work ethic and many skills. She came to Big Bend and offered her time and work to several community projects, including the BBCLT. She was both a resident of the communal farm house and served on the BBCLT Board of Directors (BoD), back in 2016 & early 2017.
Of all the many great Big Benders and visitors who have helped the BBCLT along its long and winding road, Sarah Joy is someone who deserves special recognition and is thus being celebrated here, specifically for one notable and outstanding contribution (among her numerous other contributions), involving completing a difficult task that literally saved the BBCLT from an almost certain demise.
In 2016, Sarah Joy offered to do whatever was most pressing and important to help the CLT get its act together. In response to her desire and offer to help, she was assigned to take on what felt like the most urgent, complicated, and important task that the CLT founders and BoD had been unable to do: find and purchase a new insurance policy for the unusual non-profit farm. This seemed like a difficult thing to accomplish for several reasons, but Sarah Joy persevered and eventually found and established a good property insurance policy for the farm, in late 2016.
Later, an inspector from the insurance company came to inspect the property and everything was in place when only a few weeks later, the big snow storm came and destroyed the house!! This all resulted in a large insurance settlement which allowed the BBCLT to pay off the outstanding mortgage debt and still have money left over for future operations. It was truly a miracle and saved the BBCLT from eminent land foreclosure and loss of the project. THANK YOU, SARAH JOY!
New Beginnings for the BBCLT:
The large insurance settlement combined with the cascade of change after the clearing of the crushed (old, poorly constructed, and high-maintenance) farm house along with the (entrenched and sometimes troubled) residents opened a phenomenal new path to renewal and reinvention for the BBCLT- a fresh start for the organization to find new ways to expand, improve, and thrive.
Within months of the house loss and divine intervention resident eviction, and new BoD was established and plans were made for the next steps, including cleaning up the huge rubble pile. The clean-up of the site commenced after many months of planning and reorganization. The energetic and physical clearing and reset of the cleanup of the wrecked house rubble pile was a huge inspiration and relief.
The new status of the BBCLT non-profit owning a valuable farm with no debt removed a cumbersome (and possibly insurmountable) financial burden, and also gives the organization a huge increase in credibility for access to and obtaining grants and other funding.
With the large farmhouse gone, the BoD and other volunteers focused on and worked to make improvements on the farm’s large shed, which now houses the BBCLT Community Thrift Store.
Also, the restored residence, known as “The Quonset Hut”, has gradually been upgraded and repaired and converted into a modernized rental unit for much-needed affordable housing in Big Bend.
The BBCLT has provided housing to long- and short-term residents for many years.
The BBCLT continues to work towards creating additional numerous helpful community-focused beneficial programs, events, and facilities that have already helped and inspired many residents and visitors.
Over the course of almost a decade, the farm has had many community members help to improve the land and structures.
When the CLT acquired the farm, the property had been neglected and largely unused for many years prior. Since the CLT became the land stewards, the property has been transformed into a working farm with many improvements, which are ongoing. The farm has also become a meeting place and a productive center for local residents to work, to help develop more food production, to attend events, and to organize other new and useful community efforts and institutions.
The land, facilities, and community programs have steadily improved, with countless hours of volunteer and staff workers transforming a once-neglected and degrading property further down the road to becoming a thriving community farm and a positive local center of activity, empowerment, and resources…
More community events will be happening as the BBCLT continues to evolve and grow. We plan to apply for grant funding to improve life in the Madesi Valley and collaborate with residents and outside agencies to uplift the community in many ways. Show up and JOIN US! The BBCLT belongs to all Big Bend residents.
Since its original founding Board of Directors, the BBCLT has had some of the most skilled and loved locals serve on the Board… Please see the current Board of Directors page to see who is currently generously devoting time, ideas, resources, and visionary guidance to the Land Trust (and the list of former BoD members)!
Thanks to all who have contributed! More BBCLT history and historical pictures will be added to this page- Stay tuned, and please PARTICIPATE!