If you are not familiar with the story of Walnut Acres, this farm was one of the original organic farms in Pennsylvania. Founded by Paul and Betty Keene, Walnut Acres was a true pioneer in the organic food movement, and an revelation to thousands of people for over 50 years. The farm was forced to close about 20 years ago but the original property has been reacquired and is seeking a rebirth into something new which honors the original legacy. You can find out more about the original farm and the new project here. The article below was published in the inaugural newsletter for the Keene Center at Walnut Acres. 7group is honored to play a small part in the regeneration of Walnut Acres!
The Journey to Establish the Keene Center at Walnut Acres
In August 2017, the Walnut Acres Foundation purchased back the original 70,000 square foot manufacturing facility, retail store, barn, and surrounding 16 acres of organic farmland and woods. The dream was launched. Owning “the heart of the original farm” again felt like a homecoming. But it was daunting at the same time, as the property and buildings were worse for wear.
The Foundation’s board began to consider options for the property and board member Jane Mulrooney posted news of the purchase on social media. A number of people reached out with interest in exploring ideas. Soon, a steering committee developed. The group was then introduced to Community Partnerships, a regional nonprofit organization dedicated to building healthy communities. Leaders at Community Partnerships embraced the vision to develop a center to serve the community and lent valuable resources to the project, including becoming the project’s fiscal agent. For over a year, the committee and partners met weekly to discuss possibilities for the site.
In early 2019, Patty Neiner of Community Partnerships joined the effort, sharing her knowledge of nonprofit organizational development as well as experience in family farming and organic agriculture. At that time the board began to identify the need to take a step back in order to move forward strategically by developing beliefs and guiding principles to assure the project would properly carry out the values of Walnut Acres founders. They began working with 7group, specialists in green design who guide groups such as ours through the process of discovering purpose. A path to development began to emerge.
In November 2019, fifty invited stakeholders and industry specialists participated in a day-long workshop in regenerative thinking and design facilitated by Marcus Sheffer and John Boecker of 7group. By day’s end, we had aligned around beliefs, philosophies, and guiding principles to advance our project’s aspirations and serve all stakeholders. Marcus and John did a remarkable job of helping us focus on the potential of the center and not fixate on solving problems.
Workshop participants asked themselves ‘What is unique about Walnut Acres? How can the center reflect its identity and achievement? What larger systems are we seeking to transform?’ The day included remarkable discussion about how our project might contribute to society. In our hearts and minds, we had believed the project had great potential to serve communities in a special way. The bonding of workshop participants around a collective vision began to turn the dream into reality.
The work with 7group continues and the next stage workshop is being planned currently. We will continue to report progress in our future communications.