Wednesday, July 1, 2009

The History of This CSA

Welcome to the first season of the Henry Got Crops! CSA! Although it is only mid-spring, we have been planning for and thinking about this day for a long, long, time. I feel both excitement and disbelief that the season has finally arrived.

The idea of starting a CSA first germinated (ha!) last fall, as the growing season on our original farm site, an acre-and-a-half at Awbury Arboretum in Mt. Airy, was just beginning to wind down a bit. Nina and I were both apprentices on the Weavers Way Farm, but we got along so well with the two full-time farmers that we all started talking about how we could create jobs for Nina and me to continue working with Weavers Way. So, one morning in October, we had a ‘visioning’ meeting for the farm, sitting around our picnic table, where we talked excitedly and idealistically about many ideas and dreams for our continued growth as a farm. We were most excited about one emerging idea: starting a CSA. As an organization committed to spreading the cooperative business model, a CSA fit right into Weavers Way’s goals, as a true model of a member-owned cooperative venture. We liked the idea of connecting closely to a community of people who would be consuming the crops we grew. And we knew that CSA is an important tool to helping many small farms break even financially, as it cuts out both the middleman associated with selling wholesale, and a lot of the labor costs of selling at farmers markets.

The next step, then, was identifying land on which we could grow vegetables for our CSA. We had already been working with Saul High School’s agroecology program, jointly maintaining a small hoop-house at Saul with the students. So, we wrote up a proposal to deepen our relationship by starting a CSA on some of their land. Later last fall, we spoke to the agroecology students about the project, explaining what CSA meant, showing them the land that would be used, and finally asking them if they thought this project was a good idea. The answer was a resounding “Yes”. The students liked the idea of having a hands-on learning opportunity, a concept already so important to a Saul education, and they liked the idea of converting then-unused land into a productive area of food production. They were excited about meeting the people who would be eating the vegetables. After then getting the idea approved by the adults at the school, we got right to work.

All winter, we worked on planning and outreach. We decided how much of each crop we would grow and when we would plant them. We ordered our seeds, and mapped out the plants onto our fields. We hired three amazing new apprentices to work with us this season, as well as two summertime interns. We worked with the Saul students to create a brochure about the project, and to discuss plant varieties and soil testing. Somehow, each of us got to squeeze in a couple of weeks of vacation in order to relax between one busy season and the next. In January, we started our first plants from seed in the greenhouse (onions), and we have been seeding more plants in the greenhouse every week since.

We broke ground on the farm the second week of March with the students, and planted our first crops: broccoli, kale, collard greens, cabbage, cauliflower, onions, scallions. . . It was a busy week off the bat, and the pace has not slowed down since! The agroecology classes have been out in the field with us at least once a week, prepping beds, planting crops, and composting the entire cornfield by hand (whew!). The apprentices rotate between Saul and our other sites, while Nina and I are out 5 to 6 days a week.

Even with all of our careful planning and hard work, there have been some unanticipated hurdles; a rainier-than-average spring meant it was sometimes hard to get beds prepped in time for planting, low levels of organic matter in the soil caused seeds in the ground to dry out more quickly than anticipated, and a flourishing population of groundhogs has meant a vigilant-bordering-on-obsessive watch over our fields so we do not lose any crops to the rodents. “You know,” I commented to David Zelov, the Weavers Way Farm manager, in the midst of some newly-arisen issue, “My tarot card reading a few months ago warned me that things would not go exactly as planned.” “A tarot card reading?!” He replied, “I think that’s just common sense.” It’s true that farming always has an element of the unexpected. But even despite the surprises, we are off to a terrific start. This day is the culmination of a lot of work, but also the start of a long and wonderful season. We are so excited you are with us for it!

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