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March 28, 2015
The History of the Red Earth CSA
A Note from the Farmer's Wife
The Farmer was barely a farmer when he first heard the term “CSA.” In 1999 the phrase “Community Supported Agriculture” was still a new concept in the Philadelphia area. The first CSA in this country began in the mid 80s when Jan Vander Tuin, a Swiss biodynamic farmer, introduced the model to a small farm in Massachusetts.
When the owner of the small farm where Michael (the Farmer) worked approached him about starting a CSA, he was dubious.
The idea of selling a season’s-worth of organic produce up front before the first field had been tilled seemed half-crazy, if not nerve-wracking. But even more concerning to him was that the customer had to accept anything the farmer wanted to stick in their box. Don’t like kale? Well if the kale harvest was good you might get half a box of the stuff. Eat it or compost it, right? This concept seemed both unfair and un-modern to the Farmer. He proposed that they offer their shareholders the ability to choose which vegetables landed in their boxes.
Four years later the Farmer began his own farm, and the Future Farmer’s Wife was one of his first CSA members. With about thirty members, the then-Bachelor-Farmer collected each week’s orders off an ancient answering machine. In an even ancienter Ford van he delivered boxes to several drop off locations. One of these was the Future Farmer’s Wife’s chiropractic clinic. Her staff and patients raved about the fresh food and the following spring attended an Open House to hear the Farmer speak on organic gardening. Okay, that day is a whole story in itself. Suffice it to say that two years later the Future Farmer’s Wife became the Farmer’s Wife and they founded Red Earth Farm together.
More than fifteen years later, the Farmer feeds a growing number of avid vegetable eaters. He is still adamant about offering his customers the ability to choose what goes in their weekly box. And ordering is now streamline through online accounts - no more dreaded evenings of handwriting orders from a scratchy answering machine recording! We are still the only CSA in the Philadelphia region that offers online weekly ordering. And the Farmer’s Wife? Believe it or not, she is still a member, and loves ordering her veggies online each week. Getting that box (she has home delivery!) each week still feels like a birthday present! And now I am wondering, is there anyone, besides me, who has been a member since the days of Oley Valley Produce, the Farmer’s first CSA?
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March 20, 2015
Greenhouse Whoa's
A Note from the Farmer's Wife
Ah, yes. The snow has nearly melted. The robins hop around the wet clumps of last year’s grass. The sun is strong enough to revive the Farmer’s farmer’s-tan. Spring is…wait! What’s that?! Friday’s weather forecast calls for three to five inches of WHAT?!!! Here comes delay number two of the new gutter-connect greenhouse. Crew hustled this week to prepare the site for the project. Having crew back on the fields felt exciting this week. Like the arrival of the robins, the hopped around the field, stretching string, pounding stakes and pondering rented equipment designed to drill the greenhouse posts to a sturdy level. Mother Nature will have us wait a few more days. We hope for better luck on Monday. If successful, I plan to capture some moments of the raising to share with you.
What’s up in the nursery, slated for the first CSA box? Baby onions galore, baby bok choi, kale, beautiful red and green lettuces, and lots more. We have nicknamed the nursery “Florida” for obvious reasons. Take a step inside and the warm moist air will fog your glasses, moisten your dried winter skin and delight your senses with young life. It truly is a magical experience, especially when the north wind blows.
Many old-timers in this area believe that eating early wild spring greens cleanses the liver. You can find sandwich bags of dandelion greens at the local butcher, ready to be paired with hot bacon dressing. These are the very first, small toothed leaves to appear even before the grass is fully green. Compared to the monstrous ones we cultivate for the CSA this seem tough and bitter, but perhaps that is the point. Bitter flavors are reputed to stimulate the digestive powers of the body. Whether any liver cleansing, or enzymatic miracles are occurring, no doubt young bitter greens are extremely nourishing. Rich in minerals such as calcium and magnesium these treasures feel like a welcome change from over cooked, starchy winter foods. Put the hot-bacon dressing aside and make your own vinaigrette. Did you know that acetic acid, aka vinegar, may boost metabolism? Choose a raw vinegar whenever possible to boost the beneficial flora in your digestion as well.
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March 14, 2015
Spring Has Sprung!
A Note from the Farmer's Wife
Our four year old leapt from the car yesterday, abandoned her boots and sunk her toes into the muddy grass. I couldn’t blame her. Tempted to do the same, I sniffed the air instead. A flood of childhood memories never fails to inspire me each Spring. The smells and sounds of awakening life have the same effect on my heart. What a relief!
The Farmer had planned to build a “gutter-connect” hoop house this week, but with persistent snow, combined with copious amounts of slippery mud, he abandoned the plan.
He will try again next Friday. What is a gutter-connect? Picture a greenhouse made of giant hoops, like a long tunnel. Now picture three of them snug up against each other. Finally remove the walls between them and you have it. This will cover a good portion of ground, allowing for early planting of salad and other cool-loving crops. What does it mean for you? Potentially, we will be able to offer a small early Spring CSA, for those of you who can’t bear to wait until June. We will keep you posted if that possibility becomes real for this year. Otherwise, you will have to wait.
Every winter, we try to use as many of our own vegetables as possible. We have become veggie snobs, and grocery store produce in this year doesn't provide the same satisfaction to our palates as the fresh harvest from the farm. Late winter challenges this resolve. Lately we have been enjoying baby arugula salads, baby arugula omelets and baby arugula smoothies. Okay that last item is only enjoyed by the Farmer’s Wife (see recipe below). The arugula this time of year is perfectly sweet and mild. The kids, who mid summer turn up their noses at the pungent flavor, eat it happily this time of year. The Farmer also recently brought home a bunch of young Red Russian Kale, a treat you should all be jealous of!
We have a tentative date for a Meet the Farmer (and his Wife) Dinner at Agno Grill at 2104 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia. Mark your calendars for May 17th. We will be in touch with confirmation details and ticket prices soon. We look forward to the opportunity to meet as many of you as possible this year! Even if you cannot make it to any of our Farm events this season, we will be making an extra effort to regularly post pictures here and on Facebook, as well as send regular updates about what’s happening on “your” Farm.
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March 7, 2015
A Farmer's Inspiration
A Note from the Farmer
Spring is here, or is it? As we watch yet another layer of white stuff deposited on our farm it feels almost silly to be gearing up for planting, yet that is exactly what we are doing. This snowy weather is just a short delay of the inevitable change that is at hand.
The sun’s strength increases by the day (when we get to see it). Every year in late February we get a sunny afternoon and I look up and feel the sun's warmth on my face and realize that it suddenly feels different. It's stronger. There may be snow and ice on the ground and the air may be 25 degrees but the sun feels warm. As the angle of the sun’s light changes, we, and the plants in the greenhouse, can feel it. Soon winter’s grip will slip away.
It takes only a day or two for the farm to transform. A couple sunny March afternoons in the 50s and the snow will be gone. Two more blustery days to dry the soil and it is time to plow. We can go from winter white to plowing up beautiful rich earth in less than a week.
A farmer who isn’t ready loses precious time. The soil is full of moisture after the long winter. Plow too early and the weight of tractor and plow pack the muddy earth, damaging its structure, destroying valuable air spaces. Wait too long and we may lose the benefit of that moisture as the increasing sun’s intensity slowly dries the earth. Working and planting that moist spring earth is key to the success of our early crops. The soil never turns better than soon after the first spring thaw. Crumbly, soft and sweet smelling. That beautiful earthy smell is full of vigor and potential for the farmer. Few things inspire him more.
So we go out to shovel the path one or two more times, knowing that the sun will return. It's strength builds and one day we walk outside to the signs of spring flooding us. Why wait? Look for them now. As sure as the whiteness all around us, the awakening of Spring is already here. Bird song, smells on the wind, the swelling buds and rays of the sun. Enjoy every moment, it will be hot summertime before you know it.
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March 1, 2015
Are CSA's a Sustainable Model?
A Note from the Farmer's Wife
The Farmer and I had a date night this week. Yes, its true, we didn’t actually go anywhere. After the kids finally fell sleep, I slipped into a new dress and put on my pink fuzzy bathrobe. We enjoyed a salad together and a piece of Endangered Species chocolate. As usual the conversation drifted to the farm. We revisited a previous discussion about our three, five and ten year goals for the farm.
Invariably, this subject brings up the question of the long term sustainability of the CSA model. Recently we have seen evidence that big corporations are moving in. We have already been approached by “Big Name Corporation” asking if we want them to sell our “local” produce nationwide. All we have to do is pack and ship. Hmmm....
But aren't we all super busy? Running all day long and always looking for ways to save a few minutes here and there. Many of you have supported our farm for a decade, or longer. Is it getting more difficult to find the time to run and pick up your box?
The Buy Local movement gained momentum after the recession, but now more and more people are questioning it. How about this article written a few years ago, titled, 'Buy Local' Movements are for the Economically Illiterate? Or here is another, The Locavore's Dilemma: Why Pineapples Shouldn't be Grown in North Dakota. In this article the authors state, "Local food is generally more expensive than non-local food of the same quality. If that were not so, there would be no need to exhort people to 'buy local.'" After my recent trip to buy vegetables from Giant food stores (such a painful wintertime necessity for the Farmer's wife!) I can safely argue that our produce is no more expensive, and mostly less expensive than the organic alternatives I find there. Two packages of romaine lettuce for $10? That seems pretty pricey to me. And the taste? Well, I can't go there because I am completely biased.
Nevertheless, an argument that resonates more soundly with me is based on the economy of time. We are all short of it. I frequent Firefly Bookstore, a small family owned treasure just 15 minutes from the farm. And yet I confess that I still find it easier to pop online and order a few books and a spiral staircase from Amazon, wait a few days and pick them up from my front door step. (Okay, I didn't really order a spiral staircase, but did you know that you can?!)
The Farmer and I have long believed that CSA needs to be about the customer, as much as the farm. Supporting a local farm has value, but we feel the consumer should feel valued and supported as well. That’s why we offer online ordering. We believe that this gives the vegetable consumer a better experience than simply receiving a box of any old vegetables the farmer wants to put in there. But we still recognize the flaws in the system.
Now don't get me wrong. We aren't trying to shoot ourselves in the foot. And we certainly hope we haven't persuaded anyone to UN-register for our CSA this season.
We DO want to hear from you. What makes CSA work for you? How important is time efficiency versus the feel good moment of supporting your local farming family? Looking down the road, what do you think needs to change to make the CSA model remain a viable option for busy families?
Simultaneous to this blog, we have opened this discussion on Facebook. Please hop over there and post your comments, concerns, and thoughts. CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture. Let’s gather together, virtually for the moment, and talk about this. Times are getting harder for CSA’s, the market is filling with large and small farms vying for the same customer base. And now big business wants a piece of the same pie. View our Facebook post here
Oh, was our date romantic? It was.
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