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March 26, 2017
A Little History Lesson
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 a 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 he decided to 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!
Does "The CSA that Let's You Choose" resonate with you? How much does choice matter in a CSA? Are there other factors that are key to your positive CSA experience? We'd love to hear from you!
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March 11, 2017
Action Steps that Support Local Farms
A Note from the Farmer's Wife
Do you value local food and want to support your local farm? Here are some simple action steps you can take to make a difference.
1. Join a CSA - we are hoping you choose ours! www.redearthfarm.org The CSA model offers an essential security to small farms since your early commitment allows the farmer to plant knowing his product will be consumed.
2. Recruit ONE new member for our CSA. Put your thinking cap on. Eating more vegetables is a simple and effective way to support one's health. Do you know someone who has never tried a CSA? Tell them about your experience! Break down the expense - show them that CSA can be more cost effective than shopping at the standard grocery store.
3. Post flyers, or postcards at local businesses where potential CSA customers visit. Only 1% of the population uses a CSA, which means quite a few people have never experienced the wonder of a just-picked box of produce delivered to them. Email us if you would like us to send you postcards or flyers, or both.
4. Leave a rave review on Google or Yelp - your honest reviews help potential customers choose our farm. To leave the Google review open Google Maps, search Red Earth Farm, Kempton PA and click the stars and leave a comment.
5. Email us your testimonial. Let us use your words of praise to help others know that we are the real deal.
6. Send us a "Selfie Video" of you raving about your favorite aspect of the CSA - use your smart phone and make a short clip: if you do we will send an extra goodie in your first CSA box of the summer season!
7. Like our Facebook page, follow us on Instagram, share our posts or even better: make your own veggie loving post, or even a live video on Facebook, opening your first CSA box. It really helps!
We know we say it all the time: YOU are our best advertising! Your efforts to spread the word really make a difference. Take a step today. Thank you for your ongoing support.
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March 6, 2017
The Early Bird Gets the Veg!
Announcing the Spring Share
www.redearthfarm.org
It's official! For those of you who cannot wait to get your hands on Red Earth produce, we are once again offering a Spring Share. The early greens are the sweetest and most tender of the entire season, and not to be missed! We are offering a limited number of shares to select locations.
The Spring Share will be Farmer's Choice only (no ordering, take what you get - you know like those old fashioned CSA's?). The cost will be $115 for 6 weeks, 5 items/week, beginning April 26.
Possible and likely items in your box will be green onions, radish, baby salad, arugula, bok choi, head lettuce, kale and swiss chard. Egg shares are delivered weekly for $4.25/week.
All deliveries will be on Wednesdays.
Your participation makes a difference!
Log in to sign up for the Spring, and/or the Main Season. You won't be sorry!
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March 4, 2017
Herald of Spring
A Note from the Farmer's Wife
www,redearthfarm.org
The tractor has already been busy. Never ever have we been able to start our field prep so early. Beautiful even rows of brown earth wait for the Farmer, like a blank canvas awaits the artist. In many ways farming is an art and the summer fields become an expression of the passion of the farmer. Nothing feeds his spirit like the miracle of growing food. Every time seeds sprout and thrive, it feels like magic.
In spite of winter-like temps today, the Farmer made the trek to Farmer's market with early greens and radishes from the hoop house. Even on chilly days, which have been scarce, you can now feel the power of the sun again. The birds know it. Chirps, twitters and a flurry of activity remind us that nest building is underway.
If things continue this way, we will be on target for our Spring Share, a 6-week share featuring the priceless first greens. We have set the date for this to start in late April, so stay tuned for all the details.
If you haven't registered for the Main Season, jump in now. We are happy to have you back.
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February 22, 2017
CSA Day is Feb 24!
A Word from Small Farm Central
In honor of CSA Week, Simon Huntley, Small Farm Central, asked us to share this letter he recently posted. We thought he had some great ideas!

Why You Should Consider Joining a CSA Farm this Season:
Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is a personal relationship between a farmer and eater. You join the farm as a member and you get a box of food from the farm throughout the growing season. The CSA Charter describes this relationship well.
As our culture and economy becomes more homogenized and centralized, CSA is the opposite. It is about a personal relationship between a farmer and the CSA members.
It is an intimate connection between local farmland and your dinner table.
You get the freshest possible ingredients from a farmer that you know and the farm gets advance knowledge of demand so he or she can focus on growing healthy food and getting the food to you.
In world of intractable problems - take your pick: political and economic instability, nuclear weapons, global warming, and on and on - joining a CSA is a positive act that you can take today that has profound impacts on your health, your local economy, and the environment.
CSA farmers spend money with other local businesses which circulates money in our local economies. CSA farmers take care of their land. CSA farmers treat their employees well. You know all this because you can go visit your CSA farmer and see for yourself.
CSA keeps small scale, local farms in business so they can continue producing food for you.
To be frank, joining a CSA is not the easiest path to eating healthy. You can continue to shop at the grocery store and maybe visit the farmers market a few times throughout the season. However, joining a CSA puts you in partnership with a local farmer.
A CSA membership enriches your life with high quality food as you spend your food dollars in a way that you will feel good about.
The investment you make in your CSA farm is modest. The average CSA share costs $25/week during the season, so that is $100/month. (editor's note: Red Earth Farm CSA is just $21/week for a Partial Share) and $30/week for a Full Share). That’s probably less than your cable bill and less than your cell phone bill - for food grown with care in local soil and delivered directly to your neighborhood! There usually is some up-front investment, though most farms will offer payment plans (if not, ask your farmer for a payment plan if you need it!).
Thank you for supporting local farms and making the commitment to a CSA share. Your support makes all the difference and keeps our farms running.
If there is something that is preventing you from joining your CSA farm, you should let your farmer know so they can improve their program in the future!
Simon Huntley
Founder, Small Farm Central

Sign up for Red Earth Farm CSA by midnight Feb 24 (CSA Day) and win two tickets to our gourmet Farm to Table VIP Dinner!
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February 8, 2017
What DO Eaters Want?
a Note from the Farmer's Wife
www.redearthfarm.org
And so it is that the farmers and their families wend their way home from Penn State after the 26th annual farming conference hosted by PASA (Pennsylvania Association of Sustainable Agriculture). If you’ve never attended this inspiring event, you can’t imagine the incredible energy when several thousand sustainably-minded, idealistic farmers come together. The conference is loaded with informative classes, from labor laws to field fertility, from marketing trends to cheese making; there is something for everyone.
I attended a session with Simon Huntley, CEO of the marketing firm, Small Farm Central and avid CSA proponent. His topic, What Eaters Want, reminded me of a blog post I wrote a few years ago, speculating on the future of CSA.
Huntley provided some data that validated some of our concerns and some that proved our concerns wrong. He also offered some creative encouragement to negotiate the changes in the CSA market.
He noted that while $703 billion is spent in the US on food at home, only 0.5%- 1.0% of that amount is spent on food purchased through the local food movement channels, such as CSA and Farmer’s markets. To gain some perspective on that figure, Whole Foods alone receives almost twice the annual dollars spent on food, as retail local farm outlets.
When you look at those numbers, the idea that the CSA market is saturated seems kind of ridiculous. Surely the CSA model is a good fit for more than 1% of the population. The trick is figuring out why that figure is so low, and how to either meet the needs or spread the word to those who do not participate.
According to Huntley’s research, last year was the first year that spending at restaurants and bars surpassed money spent on food for home consumption. Clearly this reflects our busy lives and the drive for convenience. After long days at work, juggling kids’ activities and other responsibilities, a stop to pick up takeout can be a relief. Many restaurants offer dishes made from local foods, with plenty of options for healthy choices, making the temptation to buy out even more tempting and justifiable.
Another obstacle that many CSA consumers face is the daunting task of preparing and cooking the entire contents of their box each week. This takes commitment, and for those who are less confident in their cooking skills, truly challenging. To meet the needs of the unconfident-wanna-be home chef, mail-order services like Blue Apron offer meal kits utilizing perfectly portioned local foods and easy to follow recipes. At $60/week this option is more than three times the expense of a CSA farmshare box, and yet 3% of consumers have tried it. Compare that with an optimistic 1% that have tried CSA, and a Farmer might get a little discouraged…or start selling to Blue Apron. Meal kit services have a notoriously low retention rate when compared to farm shares, which leads one to believe that CSA is still a more sustainable option in the eyes of the consumers that actually try it.
Does the term “CSA” still mystify the consumer? Or is that now a mainstream word that has meaning when mentioned on Facebook, or print advertising. Huntley suggests that even though the term is now used by non-farm “shares,” such as a Beer CSA, or a Bread CSA, it might make sense to use a term whose meaning is quickly understood, such as "Farm Share" or "Farm Box." The term CSA literally means, Community Supported Agriculture, but it is evolving into a more generic term meaning something like community supported artisan, or activity as much as anything to do with a farm.
Regardless of the term used, Huntley confirmed our experience that CSA’s expand by word of mouth. We rely heavily on a good reputation which our customers who are passionate about the farm and the good food that comes to them convey everywhere they go.
We would like to hear from you. Have you tried a CSA before? What was your experience? If you have never tried a CSA, why not? What do you think would make this model more accessible to veggie consumers, and more user-friendly for the new customer? If you have been, or are, a CSA customer of Red Earth Farm, do you have ideas that can improve your experience?
Feel free to comment below this post, or email us with your thoughts. If you are willing to speak to us personally, that would be a great help. We are all ears. info@redearthfarm.org
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January 31, 2017
Intimidated by a Daikon Radish
A Note from the Farmer's Wife
Any chance you have a huge daikon radish in the back of your fridge? I stuffed one in the depths of mine after unpacking my final CSA box in December (yes, the Farmer’s Wife really does sign up for her own CSA share at a massive discount). There it sat for a few weeks, while I pretended it wasn’t there. It is true, I ordered it, but once the gigantic root arrived, I felt intimidated, uncertain how to tackle the beast.
Recently at a friend’s house, I poked around her fridge and saw a familiar sight - a long, whitish green root, tucked along the back wall of the fridge - too big for any crisper, or even a bag for that matter.
"Let’s eat this!” I proclaimed as I wrestled the beast from it’s hiding place. My friend raised dubious eyebrows. “Hmmm…what do we do with it?” Without hesitation I grabbed a big, sharp knife and proceeded to slice about a dozen wafers, 1mm thick and bravely tried the first slice. The flavor was surprising: mild, very similar to our salad turnips that are so popular, and the texture incredibly crisp and juicy.
We artistically arranged a plateful of our new favorite vegetable, grabbed salt, pepper and some delectable “goes-on-to’s” and set it before her family. In less than five minutes the plate was empty, the giant root, now only a green stub, settled into the compost bin.
Now daikon has become my favorite gluten-free “cracker,” a lot more affordable and interesting than those cardboard-like crackers that come in a box.
I love the challenge of eating local foods, even in winter. Now you can make a little room in your fridge too!
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December 8, 2016
Solstice Reflections
A Note from the Farmer's Wife
We awoke to a child-like surprise this morning: snow! Even though our practical minds quickly assess matters such as the impact of harvesting in such weather, the magic of its beauty never escapes us.
Living a life connected to the outdoors truly does have a soul-satisfying effect on one’s psyche. We know our surroundings intimately. We know dirt. In the height of the summer, the tiny cracks in our hands and feet are dyed the color of earth. Our laundry if full of dirt, plant stains and plant debris. Even the Farmer’s side of the bed takes on a hue of nature. The land becomes part of who he is when seven days out of seven he is outside.
When the summer’s heat abates, so does the quantity of dirt that enters our house. Instead, leaves and hitchhiker seeds of all sorts appear, and the house becomes a woodland elf home. Our daughter collects wooly bear caterpillars by the dozen, brings them in and creates a comfy home for them in a jar full of carrot tops and dill.
Even on the coldest days of winter we are outside, unloading potting soils and other supplies for fields and nursery, walking the fields, breathing the cold crisp air. Dreaming of what’s next for the farm. Spring arrives early for us, even when a foot of snow lies on the ground. By February our nursery shows a tinge of yellow-green as the baby plants emerge: future supper for many veggie-lovers. Early March, or sometimes late February, a sudden breath of warm air excites the farm. Even now as I write I can imagine the scent of snow melting into sloppy mud. The primal pull of nature in Spring surpasses all delights.
As we develop the farm infrastructure to extend our season, this love affair with the outdoors deepens. Over-sized hoop houses and greenhouses have allowed us to start early and finish late. We now feed hundreds of families through our CSA from close to the spring equinox until the winter solstice. Almost three quarters of the year.
While we grow food for our enthusiastic CSA, it is our CSA that feeds us. The livelihood of this family farm depends on the CSA model. While wholesale accounts such as Common Market, Greensgrow and Whole Foods supplement our income, the commitment of our CSA members to consume the bounty of our farm, makes the operation viable. Over the years, now starting in on decades, we have formed relationships with individual members who have stood by us through thick and thin. Our recent Farm-to-Table feast honored 14 members who contributed to our GAP-VIP program. While we enjoyed incredible food straight from the fields, we most of all enjoyed getting to know the people behind the names we see on the weekly boxes.
Even though our Fall Share continues through the week of December 19, today we have launched Early Registration for our Main Season. Please consider joining our CSA early, enabling us to buy supplies at the December 10% discount - a huge savings for our farm.
To all who support our farm, whether in large or small ways, we offer our thanks. Because of you we will continue this love affair with nature, food and the wonderful people who appreciate it.
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November 4, 2016
Seasonal Reflections
A Note from the Farmer's Wife
Fall color is spectacular on Hawk Mountain, just a few miles from the farm.
The Main Season now over, the time has come for the Farmer and his Wife to kick back their heels, and act like bumps on a log. Oh wait, we are still feeding half of you through November! Okay, okay, we will keep at it until the Winter Solstice. After that? We will take a breather over the holidays. If you have any suggestions for good Farmer/Farmer's Wife movies, pass them along. I am planning a good snuggle-movie fest once the Farmer sits down.
The crew popped the cork on a jug of apple cider after the final big Main Season pack yesterday (one small West Chester pack today). The final day of the Main Season always feels like a moment of accomplishment. The summer pace tends to be grueling and can wear on the most idealistic and optimistic crew member. The satisfaction of reaching the finish line is unbeatable. The extended Fall Share will keep many hands busy, but the atmosphere changes as seeding, planting and weeding pressures fade into summer memories. Sweltering harvests transform into invigorating chilly ones and sunscreen is traded for woolen hats.
We are thrilled that 50% of our membership is participating in the extended Fall Season - our best enrollment ever. For those of you that joined the Spring share, your plate will have been full of Red Earth goodies for 33 weeks of the year by the end of the Fall share. If you would still like to join, now's the time as we will be closing membership Sunday, 5pm.
We are always grateful for our loyal veggie eaters. Stay tuned for updates about the 2017 season. Early registration will open in December. And we have gift certificates of any amount available for gift-givers who want to share the next season's bounty.
Stay healthy and happy this winter...and keep eating those veggies!
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September 3, 2016
Autumn Whispers
A Note from the Farmer's Wife

It never fails. The first week of September, even if the days are hot, the first hints of fall appear. A solitary bright red leaf, fallen on the dirt roadway between the rows of kale, or a flurry of monarch butterflies wending their way southward, and the classic honk of a “v” of geese as if we lived in a story book. At the farm signs of fall show up in my kitchen. Even after all these years, the Farmer still romantically leaves little surprises in my kitchen, heralds of the next season’s bounty. This week a pumpkin and a few sweet potatoes appeared mysteriously on the counter top. This turns my head from looking back at zucchini and beans lost to summer, and ahead to broccoli, sweet greens, butternut and the rest of the fall bounty, some of the best vegetable eating of the year, still ahead of us.
Our Fall Share starts the week of November 8, directly following the close of the Main Season, and extends for 7 weeks. For the first time we are offering specialty shares in addition to the Apple Share: Artisan Bread, Farm Fromage Artisan Cheese and even Eggs from The Nesting Box.
We have reached almost 30% of our enrollment goal and your participation is greatly appreciated. If you have not yet registered for the Fall Share, simply log in and follow the steps on the upper left margin. New members are welcome to register here.
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August 10, 2016
The Way of CSA
A Note from the Farmer's Wife...and the Farmer
Many of you have already heard the Farmer and I wax philosophic on the future of CSAs in our region. Maybe I should say, we wax anxious about the issue. Surely everyone knows by now that the term CSA stands for “Community Supported Agriculture.” The question, then becomes, what exactly does that mean?
Red Earth Farm began operating under that name in 2006, when the Farmer and his Wife purchased their first farm. Before that, the bachelor Farmer leased ground and saved every penny out of his $17k annual income with the hope of buying a farm. Within 2 years of settling on Red Earth Farm, Orwigsburg, our customer base was burgeoning and the need to expand seemed clear. It was our enthusiastic CSA that enabled us to buy the 90 acre farm that is now home to our operation, and soon to be home for our family.
The future of our farm still depends on a healthy CSA membership.
A recent article in the New York Times, summed up what we have been sensing over the past few years. The concept of CSA is morphing.
Originally, the CSA model was designed to accomplish two objectives: first and foremost, it provided farmers with the assurance that their product would be sold throughout the season. Growers who previously relied only on farmers' markets and wholesale outlets, such as produce auctions, might experience dramatic fluctuations in sales, depending on fair weather and customer turnout. The upfront commitment by CSA customers removes this uncertainty. Second, the unadulterated CSA model eliminates the "middle man.” This is a win-win for both customer and farmer, allowing the customer to receive a fair deal on the freshest produce and the farmer to get full retail price for his labor. This has made all the difference for small family farms such as ours.
Isn’t there an old saying, “Where there is blood there are sharks"…or something like that? The success and profitability of the CSA enthusiasm has attracted larger organizations, ready to cash in on the opportunity the local food movement provides. From large cooperatives of farmers, such as Lancaster Farm Fresh to Amazon and Target, the range of organization and good intentions surrounding the delivery of local goods is now mesmerizing and maybe confusing for the consumer.
As the NYT article put it, “The opportunity for confusion is of enormous concern to many farmers in the New York [and Pennsylvania, we might add!] region. Depending on how and where these new businesses buy their produce, consumers can receive all the benefits of C.S.A. membership, while the farmers get only a fraction. Some farmers say that after years of steady growth, their C.S.A. memberships have dropped since the arrival of services like Local Roots or Farmigo….But the drawbacks can outweigh the benefits. Some say that these hubs have siphoned off their members, partly by offering a more convenient product, but also by blurring the definition of terms like ‘C.S.A.' and 'farm share,' so that customers believe they are directly supporting local farms with their purchases when they might not."
Our production has expanded greatly, and our growing skills sharpened since we started more than a decade ago. Those of you who have been long-time customers have weathered through some ups and downs with us. Do you remember when we had virtually no cucumbers? Or when the list was so short in August, when our squash conked out and the tomatoes were blighted out of existence? The Farmer has bull-doggedly forged on, year after year, honing his skills, creating systems around seeding, planting, weeding and harvesting. All to bring variety and quality consistently to your table. Consequently, we have more produce than we have ever had. Even with the addition of wholesale relationships, we still have plenty of food left. Some goes to the Greater Berks Food Bank.
In spite of the apparent strength and progress of our farm in the past few years, our CSA membership has plateaued, and then this year, actually declined. At first, we felt this was a natural shift as the market grew saturated and diverse opportunities were presented to our customer base. We felt that we needed to diversify, which is why we ventured into wholesale. But wholesale is a new game. The profit margin is smaller and takes a much larger production scale to achieve the type of security we so easily found in our CSA. The need to expand into new markets has also required we make changes to meet more stringent food safety standards. This summer the farm is becoming GAP (Good Agricultural Practices) certified as part of this process.
GAP is a new term to most of our customers, in fact it was to me before we started the process. GAP is a USDA voluntary audit that "verif[ies] that fruits and vegetables are produced, packed, handled, and stored as safely as possible to minimize risks of microbial food safety hazards.” To meet GAP standards we have had to invest in tens of thousands of dollars of new infrastructure. A separate building for employee lunches, hand washing stations, organic sanitizing system and new wash tables are just a few examples of the improvements we have made. Oh yeah, and those awesome plastic liners are part of the deal. If we want to re-use a box, we have to use a non-reusable liner. For those of you like me who are plastic sensitive, we apologize. Our audit is scheduled for August 22.
Does this bring our customers more peace of mind? We hope so. In the thick of the summer, with long days and longer weeks, it’s easy to get discouraged. There are times we reflect on our early years, when the CSA was small, and our crew ragtag. It was rough then, but in some ways it felt simpler. The added burden and expense of GAP can feel overwhelming, but we are proud this step forward for the farm. Our business has grown, and we now can reach more people who have a passion for local food. We aren’t certain what the future will hold for us, but we do know that our farm has never been stronger. We believe that the challenges of this summer are part of a growing process that will benefit both the farm and our customers. .
The concept of CSA was born from a passion for supporting small farms and for a grass-roots endeavor to reconnect with where and how our food is grown. I maintain this blog with the primary intention of helping our customers know us and our farm. I write with my heart on my sleeve, because I believe that our customers care about the welfare of their farming family as much as about the convenience of having their local food arrive in one box. I want our customers to know without a shadow of a doubt their dollars are supporting the livelihood of a small Pennsylvania farm and their support makes this farm a better provider of fresh, high quality, safe food for people throughout our region.
How can you help?
  1. If you are not a current member, please join today! Our CSA is the only one in the region offering weekly online ordering. Our produce has never been as lush and abundant as this year. And we are GAP certified…almost!
  2. If you are a member, refer a friend. Tell them about our farm - share this post.
  3. Sign up for our Fall Share. We are extending our season by 7 weeks this year and are opening our fall share at almost all sites. Your Fall Share commitment is a HUGE help to us this year. In addition to fall veggies this year, we are offering egg, apple/asian pear, bread and cheese shares.
  4. Consider making a donation to our GAP certification expenses. If every member paid an additional $0.37/item for the Main Season ($2.22/week for Partial Shares and $3.70/week for Full Shares) we would meet our initial GAP certification expenses. While any size donation is greatly appreciated, would like to offer a pint of our own Red Earth Farm Pasta Sauce to anyone who donates $40 or more, while supplies last. For donations of $275 and above, we would like to invite you and a friend to a gourmet dinner at the Farm, with the Farmer and his Wife. You can’t get much closer to Farm to Table than that! Donations can be submitted via PayPal or check to Red Earth Farm. They are not tax deductible. Links to donate can be found on your Extras account, as well as on your Fall Share registration page.
As always, we are grateful every day for the opportunity to feed you and your families. Thank you for your continued support.
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July 22, 2016
Beans, Potatoes and Tomatoes Grow!
A Note from the Farmer's Wife
Now the serious picking begins. Tomatoes and beans are just starting to roll in. Since we are still picking squash and cucumbers that means we spend a lot of hours on harvest. Still other tasks beg to be done as well, like staking the tomatoes (see above). Those tidy, weed-free plants don't just magically grow that way, as any home gardener can attest to. When the plants are quite young, wooden stakes are driven into the nearby earth. This task on our farm is done with a man-powered post driver. Not my favorite task, but some people love the workout. Next tomato twine is carefully woven to secure the plants to stakes - one long string down the entire row. A month later, when the plants have begun to flop again, another layer of twine is repeated at the next level. Sometimes a third string is needed, depending on the size of the plants...and how much spare time we have.
Rain early this week blessed the ground with a good soaking, much needed after last week's dog-gone heat. Consequently, the farm looks vibrant and abundant. With a super strong crew this summer, combined with a favorable growing season, we are able to harvest a lot of food. We are grateful to our customers who want to eat it!
As many of you have heard, we have opened our CSA for the second half of the season to new members. Partial shares are currently prorated at $308 and full shares $425. Not only will this keep some wonderful food out of the compost pile, it will help our family farm bear the cost of our GAP (Good Agricultural Practices) certification process. Our customers are our best source of referrals. Take a minute and think of someone who might benefit from the bounty, and send them our way. Click here to register.
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July 14, 2016
Sharing the Bounty Helps the Farm
A Note from the Farmer's Wife
Vegetable farming in July is far from easy. The labor required to pick, wash and pack is plenty. Add to that the ongoing planting, weeding, irrigating and soil maintenance and the load can be downright overwhelming. Every season is different and depends largely on the weather and the strength of the crew at hand. We have been blessed this year with favorable weather and a hard-working dependable crew. We have taken this opportunity to apply for GAP certification. This is a third-party audit that ensures that our product is as safe as possible for consumption. The process required us to invest in some costly infrastructure. While we don’t necessarily agree with every measure required, plastic liners in every box for example, we do see many benefits for both the consumer and our employees as well. Employees benefit from higher tech equipment in the wash area, as well as a separate lunch room for comfort and food safety. Our customers can rest easy knowing that their food is as clean and fresh as possible. Well, that is if they know that a) we are GAP certified and b) what the heck that means.
Truly, as we were quite comfortable with the safety of our produce before shelling out thousands of dollars, this hoop was jumped so that we could prove it to customers like Common Market (they require the certification) and Whole Foods (they do not require the certification). Cooperation with both of these big customers provides us with an outlet for surplus items beyond what our hungry CSA consumes, like 200 hundred boxes of summer squash we just happened to have this week.
Still those big customers pay a lot less for item, taking advantage of a wholesale price offered to them. It will take a lot more than 200 boxes of zucchini to pay back the debt incurred by GAP certification. Fortunately we are having an incredibly abundant season, and with a very strong and loyal crew we are ready to invite new members to the second half of our CSA.
Have you been enjoying the bounty of the season? If so, can you think of anyone who might want to give CSA a try? You can help the farm by actively recruiting new members for us. You are our best advertising! We think we have something special to offer that tops other CSA: the opportunity to choose what goes in your box which is then picked and packed the day before you receive it. Local food at it's finest.
Share the food, and the news that we are recruiting. All new members will be prorated for the weeks they missed. We are truly grateful to you for enjoying our produce with enthusiasm and support for our family farm.
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June 11, 2016
Seasonal Eating
Take the Challenge
By now our veteran members are quite familiar with the concept of eating seasonally, but for newer members, the CSA might be their first real experience with it. The concept is simple: when each crop is ripe, we harvest it and send it to you. Some crops take months to ripen, like winter squash, and some only do well in the cooler part of June, like arugula, radishes and spinach. We do not offer some items like asparagus, because the height of the asparagus harvest is in May, before the CSA (except now that we offer a Spring Share we are planting asparagus!)
The Main season kicks off with LOTS of green stuff. The cooler weather lends a sweetness and delicacy to the salad greens and cooking greens alike. Enjoy them now, for when the weather gets hotter, they grow slightly less tender and acquire a more bitter flavor. Indulge in the health benefits the green antioxidants afford, and know that before you know it you box will be awash with tomatoes, beans and potatoes.
We think trying new vegetables and eating seasonally broadens your palate and exposes you to more nutrients. The flavors of what is fresh far out-compete out of season produce from the grocery store.
Ready to accept the challenge? Pick a vegetable that is either new to you, or that you think you do not like. Prepare it, take a picture and post it on Facebook or Instagram. Then eat it! Each week try a new vegetable. This will broaden your palate, and possibly offer new nutrients that your body needs. I love that my CSA box begs me to eat more vegetables than I would otherwise. While many foods end up on some sort of taboo list from time to time, gluten, sugar, alcohol, dairy, meat, for example, one dietary piece of advice seems to stand the test of time: eat more vegetables.
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June 5, 2016
Calling All Veggie Eaters!
A Note from the Farmer's Wife
If you have been thinking about joining a CSA NOW is the time to jump! Red Earth Farm starts this week and we would be happy to feed you this season. Why Red Earth Farm? Our members get special privileges, such as weekly online ordering. Wouldn't you like to pick each week what we pack into your box? They can also purchase extra produce, flowers and local goodies such as Saffron Cardamom Marmalade by Eat This, or Feta from Hillacres Pride and Greek Yogurt by Wholesome Dairy. We offer 2 share sizes designed for 2-4 people, as well as fruit, egg, artisan cheese, yogurt and flower shares.
What could be better? Our produce is guaranteed fresh, replacements or money back, and is often picked the day before it arrives at your location. Recently endorsed by Whole Foods, one of their produce buyers raved, "Your stuff beats beer!"
So if you are trying to cut back on beer, you might try eating a box of Red Earth veggies each week. A great way to encourage yourself to eat more vegetables is to make a weekly goal: finish your box before the next one. Almost all of us could stand to squeeze a few more vegetables into our diet and what better way than to eat the kind that taste better than beer?
Reading this after the first week of the CSA? Contact us about prorating your share. We accept members on a rolling basis throughout the season. We are happy to feed you!
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May 15, 2016
Walking With Whole Foods
A Note from the Farmer's Wife
There’s a buzz in the Lehigh Valley about the new Whole Foods coming to the area in September. Its long awaited arrival presents a unique shopping experience for those of us who share the Whole Foods mission, "With great courage, integrity and love – we embrace our responsibility to co-create a world where each of us, our communities and our planet can flourish. All the while, celebrating the sheer love and joy of food.”
Several weeks ago, a core Red Earth team, Farmer’s Wife included, arrived at a meet-and-greet with the produce buyers for Whole Foods. In search of locally sourced products for their new store, this invitation was extended to all local producers in the Lehigh Valley. We had no idea what to expect. Armed to the hilt with flyers, postcards, a farm video and a cooler full of samples we waited our turn.
What greeted us, was a panel of friendly, supportive faces, the produce-buyers of Whole Foods. Conversation flowed about the location of the new store, the speculation of its success, the story of Red Earth Farm and our growing philosophy. We talked about why efficiency is an important part of the sustainability model, and learned more about Whole Foods “Responsibly Grown” program. At last, the cooler was opened, and buttery heads lof lettuce, followed by bok choi, young kale, salad turnips and baby arugula spilled out on the table. It was a proud moment, watching their eyes pop at the lovely scent and freshness before them. To put it mildly they were excited. Matt was particularly enthusiastic,“In 20 years of buying produce for Whole Foods, I have never seen such a high-quality presentation of product as Red Earth Farm’s."
This week part of that same team stopped by the farm. We walked and talked about possibilities, nibbling samples growing in the fields. Of course this is potentially a great opportunity for our farm to grow and thrive, but what struck me most was the genuine support this team offered us. The feeling that this was a partnership, and that they cared about our prosperity as much as their bottom line was both surprising and overwhelming. If that feeling persists throughout our relationship, I will have an even deeper respect for the validity of their mission statement.
So now we are at the baby beginnings of taking steps to provide for the families that shop there. We feel that a good balance between CSA, Farmer’s markets and wholesale production is a perfect fit for our family farm. We value the direct connection with get with our CSA members and market customers and so they are top priority. With an excellent crew and managerial staff this season, we are ready to expand, and we feel confident that we are pointed in the right direction.
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March 13, 2016
Warm Thoughts
A Note from the Farmer's Wife
The spring peepers started peeping this week. The tractor has begun its work, tilling and amending soil. The triple greenhouse is warm and beckons the first planting. And the birds, well I guess here is my chance to throw out the work “cacophony,” for surely that is descriptive of the racket they are making. And just like the birds, the Farmer and I wake each day earlier and earlier, instinctively preparing for the long days ahead.
A Pennsylvania country spring holds magic for me. I still burst with childish delight when I find the first purple crocus appear amongst the leafy mulch of my garden. Eagerly, I push aside debris and think of little Mary Lennox, in The Secret Garden, doing the same. Then I will sit back on my heels and watch my daughter aptly dig for worms while Robin Redbreast admires her work from a safe distance.
It feels a little odd to have this indulgent warmth so early, but I cannot resist the happiness it fill me with. It also inspires me to plant flowers. 3500 gladiola bulbs, 400 dahlia tubers, several thousand sunflowers…the list goes on. The Farmer, naturally, is thinking vegetables: 60,000 onions, 20,000 heads of lettuce, 4000 tomato plants…you get the idea. How do we get so excited year after year about so much work? The answer lies in the magic of growing things, combined with the ultimate satisfaction of feeding people who love to eat them. That would be you!
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January 19, 2016
Early Registration Until Jan 21!
By Charis Lindrooth
Last call for anyone who wants to grab the 3% early registration discount. To qualify simply register and submit payment by midnight, January 21. If you miss the deadline, you still qualify for the returning member discount (if you are a returning member, that is!) Simply login and register. All discounts are automatically applied.
As always, your referrals are our BEST advertising!
Spring is in the air, can't you tell?
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January 1, 2016
New Year's Savings
A Note from the Farmer's Wife
The stillness of the farm echoes our deep aching need for rest. After a quiet week in beautiful, albeit gray, Sullivan county, we rouse ourselves to return to simple preparatory tasks for the coming season. Many of our loyal, veggie-eating fans, have already signed on for the 2016 CSA, enabling us to order a huge pile of supplies necessary for the startup of the nursery. Before long, tray after tray of potting soil with be filled with seeds and promise for a green and abundant spring.
The truth is, an overly mild winter has kept us harvesting. Since the Holiday Box in December, we have been bringing beautiful greens, carrots and potatoes to West Chester Grower’s Market, and the Farmer will be there on Saturday January 2. Why not stop by and give him some warmth and cheer, and then tootle over to the Brandywine Museum to see the wonderful model train display?
We want to let you know that we have extended the Early Registration discount until January 21. Since we have been so sleepy and incommunicative on our end, we felt that you might need a little more time to be reminded. To receive the discount, simply login to your account (or create a new one, if you are not already a member) select your pick up site, shares and submit payment before the January 21 deadline. The discount is automatically applied during this time period, but expires if payment is not received by the deadline. Your early registration is essential for us to get a leg up on our supplies when winter discounts apply. We are very grateful to all who joined in December; those registrations saved us over $1000 in supply discounts.
Please spread the word in your community. Let people know that Red Earth Farm is the only CSA in the area that offers online ordering…and of course top notch produce. Our customers are our number one source of new members. Drop by our Facebook page and share a post, or tweet, or simply talk it up with your friends.
Wishing you all a healthy, peaceful and bountiful New Year!
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December 2, 2015
Lady Kale
A Note from the Farmer's Wife
In response to last week's blog post, which featured a recipe for the Patti LaBelle pie, I received this email from a CSA member: "I just wanted to let you know that I share my vegetables with Patti and she is using your sweet potatoes and vegetables for her Thanksgiving. She says you have the best Kale and Okra! We are both very sad to wait until the season starts again."
"Wait a second," I replied, "Do you mean THE Patti LaBelle??!! The Patti LaBelle who crooned me through college? The On-My-Own-Lady-Marmalade-Your-Are-My-Friend-Patti? Are you seriously telling me the Queen of Rock and Soul eats OUR vegetables?!"
Turns out that the answer is yes! In case you didn't know, Ms. Patti loves to cook. By now you probably heard about her famous Sweet Potato Pie, a sold out phenomenon available at a certain massive box store. To learn more, I checked out her website and found an array of sauces and recipes right out of her kitchen. Check out this recipe for Lemon Turkey.
As the Farmer and I sat at our Thanksgiving table, loaded with brussels sprouts, parsnips, carrots, celeriac, baby salad, mashed potatoes and a beautiful turkey raised by Broad Wing Farm, we took a moment to picture all of our loyal veggie fans doing the same. We thought about how wonderful it is to be connected to everyone through the ground, and pictured many happy faces eating sprouts and spuds. What an honor that one of those happy faces belongs to Ms. Patti LaBelle. Now all we want to know is did she make one of her famous sweet potato pies with a Red Earth monster spud?
Ready to grab your Early Registration Discount? Shares are NOW available! Hurray! Think summer! Login or Create an account here.
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November 8, 2015
November Beauty
A Note from the Farmer's Wife
Our November CSA has leapt out of the gates with gusto. Beautiful, sweet greens, carrots and broccoli, luminescent with the magic combination of chilly nights and warm sunny days, fill our boxes. With fewer boxes to fill and a lack of weeding and irrigation demands, our thoughts start to quiet. With a big heaping sigh, we breathe out gratefulness. A perfect sentiment for this time of year. The bounty of the growing season and the enthusiasm with which our customers consume that bounty fills us with satisfaction. Plans for next year percolate as we begin the wind down of the busy season.
My favorite autumn task involves digging in the dirt. First, dahlias and tender flower bulbs must be dug and stored for the winter. If any of you purchased and planted dahlia tubers, now is the time to carefully lift them from the soil. A digging fork works well. If your plants were large expect a massive clump of about 15 new tubers. Once out of the ground snip the plant growth, leaving an inch of stalk and wash the tubers clean. Store in well aired box at 50 degrees for the winter. Even if you don’t want to go to the trouble of storing these (we will be happy to sell you more at the spring plant sale), its still fun to dig them up and check out the beauty of the world beneath the ground. (Lots more info about dahlias here).
On the other hand, now is the time to plant tulips, daffodils and other spring beauties. Look for bulbs that are a good size and looks fresh enough to eat (but don’t eat them!). A lot of grungy leftovers can be purchased at certain box stores, so beware. To plant, simply dig a hole 4-5 inches deep with a trowel, add a pinch of bone meal, or fancy bulb food, place the bulb right side up in the hole and cover with earth. The happiness that blooms in the spring will be worth the effort.
If you are feeling a little blue, or detached from nature, you might be surprised how much dirt can cheer you up. Kids cranky? Take a spade, hit the yard (not the kid) and dig for worms together. Pick through the earth to find them with bare hands - no gardening gloves! And then resist the urge to wash your hands right away. Modern science backs up what I am saying here - everyone will feel a lot better before you know it!
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October 11, 2015
It Just Gets Sweeter
A Note from the Farmer's Wife
While I am still mourning the departure of the tomatoes, I have to tell you that in some ways the best of the harvest is yet to come. Often by now we have had our first frost, and Jack will probably make his arrival in the coming week. The colder nights and sunny days signal many crops to store sugar. Carrots, cabbage and kale become sweeter, while radishes and spicy greens develop a more complex flavor without abusing the palate. Bitter departs and sweetness follows. I'm sure I could wax philosophical about this natural phenomenon, perhaps somehow comparing it to Farmers in the winter, but I will refrain, in case one reads this.
Our main season ends the final week of October. If you haven't signed on yet for November, please consider doing so. Not only do the veggies get sweeter, but they also get larger - more bang for your buck. We depend on our fall share enrollment to help us purchase fall amendments for our fields. To enroll simply login and follow the link at the upper left of your home page. www.RedEarthFarm.org
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September 26, 2015
November Share is Open!
By Charis Lindrooth
We are pleased as punch to announce that early registration is open for our November Share! Full, Partial and Apple shares are available at select sites. Register and pay by Sunday October 4th to receive the 3% discount.
What's in the November boxes? All kinds of goodies are available for you to choose from each week: cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, butternut squash, sweet potatoes, arugula, kale, Brussels sprouts, salad mix, radishes, spinach, root veggies and more. Apple Shares are delivered every week in November and include 4 lbs of specialty apples, grown with IPM methods. Online weekly ordering will still be in place.
Why sign up for a November share? Besides the obvious delicious benefit for your family, we rely on this late season income to purchase amendments for the soil and supplies for next season at a discount. Your participation makes a difference to next year's crops!
How do you sign up? Simply login to your account and you will see a link inviting you to register, upper left corner. Can friends sign up who have not participated before? Yes! They can go to our home page, www.redearthfarm.org and follow the link to create an account.
Still have questions? Let me know how I can help!
~F.W.
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September 10, 2015
Teamed Up
A Note from the Farmer's Wife
A decade ago on this day, the Farmer married one of his CSA members; that was me. A full moon rose in the late afternoon and smiled at the beautiful ceremony set right in the middle of a hillside. I am sure some guests were too hot, and others got restless during the longer speeches, but I remember the sweet smell of the dry meadow grass, the intensity of the blue sky over us and the feeling of love and joy radiating at us from the friends that surrounded us.
Reflecting on our journey over the past ten years, I am struck by the value our partnership brings to Red Earth Farm. Truly, the farm is like one of our off-spring, unruly, temperamental, worrisome and at times, deeply rewarding. Together we have raised this "terrestrial" child through ups and downs, comparable to the trials and tribulations we have endured as parents of "real" children.
I remember pack days in the early years of our marriage. In those days a good portion of our crew lived with us which made it easy to work extra long days. We harvested all day and then packed our boxes in the afternoon...or evening...or night. We played raucous music and laughed and tried to stay awake as we tried to pack each box accurately. Needless to say, we made lots of mistakes.
In fact, the one lesson we have learned about farming...and about parenting.. and about being married is that all three of these processes are a set up for making mistakes. We've become quite skilled at making mistakes, rolling with the punches and then making it up as gracefully as possible.
Accepting mistakes, forgiving each other, trusting that we each are trying our best to do our best combined with lots of cuddling are the essential ingredients in the first decade of our marital happiness. I will let you know how the next one turns out!
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July 30, 2015
Arghtickle!
A Note from our Noble Driver
Hiya there! Have you wondered about the non-farming labor that goes into your food? Are you aware that the driver isn't the farmer? This is a good starting point, since many of you could guess correctly, but aren't sure. And what does it take to be that driver? Here's a little piece that characterizes my experience of it. Please forgive the unconventional narration; my metaphors are as brazenly non-conformist as i am.
What would you do if you didn't automatically recognize people you know? I've never been diagnosed with any disabilities or mental illnesses—and i can relate to almost all of the ones i've heard of. While i may or may not have prosopagnosia, or 'face-blindness', for example, i do rely on complex criteria to identify people and often it falls short of being a seemless thing. If i'm driving and i see a coworker from Red Earth in another vehicle at an intersection, it will take me a few moments to cobble together some of the details i observed and conclude who that was waving and calling my name out the window. Yes, that happened two weeks ago! It's something that has colored my social life as long as i can recall. I remember people mainly according to two things: context and emotion. I'm mainly focused on feelings and character to help me identify people.
What would you do if you loved people tremendously, and your empathy meter was overloaded and worn-out by ordinary interactions with others suffering the mundane sufferings of humanity?
What would you do if you were an old man at 17, a philosopher at 8, and a romantic, unrequited lover-adventurer at age 3?
You just might find yourself 32 years old, driving the Isuzu box truck for Red Earth Farm, and enjoying more of it than drives you crazy.
The parts i don't like are worth mentioning, and i'll get them out of the way now, like picking the lettuce out and eating it first so i can move on to the good stuff like fennel, brocolli, cucumbers and zebra tomatoes:
1. Making mistakes. You know, like a misdelivered box or dropping something and spilling blueberries down the path, or the most recent edition of Clumsitude 101: checking the oil on the refrigeration unit above the truck cab and leaving the dipstick out, which ends up causing a spray of oil everywhere when it comes up to temperature, and i have to stop and buy ice to keep the veggies cool because i think that death gurgle and black vomit means the reefer has blown-up. Apologies to your driveways and that motorcyclist behind me doing the James Bond slidey stunts.
2. Inconsiderate driving behaviour (my own and other people's) such as cutting so close in front of another as to leave less than 4 seconds following distance; 1.25 seconds is normal ...and rude. If you'd ever tried to stop or slow down suddenly in a bouncy box truck you would realize just how rude this is. It makes a sadistic joke out of a sign like "Baby on board!" ...would you place your toddler at the bottom of a slide where a linebacker was descending? So i slow down to increase my AIIBZ, Anti-Involuntary-Infanticide Buffer Zone. And i slow down again each time someone does it, and soon everyone behind me takes that as an invitation to zip around as if the infinitesimal time 'savings' warrants endangering themselves and their babies.
3. Being paid. Yep, that's right. I don't like that part. For more detail on that you'll need the magnifying glass that came with your compact edition of the Oxford English Dictionary, and maybe Black's Law as a reference. And you'll need to set aside an insomniac night to walk together and share life stories and solve the problems of the world.
So all that aside, what's it like for Heath out there, trucking weekly produce to 650 families?
Have you ever had a dog that loved to ride with its head out the window? I'm that dog. I get a kick out of that feeling, with the windows down and the world rushing past. Even 25 mph through a neighborhood with 'SLOW CHILDREN AT PLAY' is enough to give me that high. When i allow myself space to focus on that, it's a real gift. I just remember back to my early memories of holding the steering wheel while negotiating a long driveway, with an adult at the foot controls and not far from the wheel. Serotonin is released when we feel 'significant' or 'important,' something I get from this everyday combination of fuel, accelerator and wheel.
Time travel: So, as not much of a movie buff, i've never seen the classic time travel films. I can say, though, that it takes no small degree of mastery to arrive in Roxborough at precisely 3:07 pm every Wednesday. On the odd occasion when i don't get there until 3:47 i have the opportunity to practice a little Eastern-style acceptance ...and so does everyone who's come to depend on my supernatural ability to control the flow of traffic. Or, maybe i just threw my good sense and 8 years of professional driving out the window and drove like a maniac to prevent it from being 4:47...
Which brings me to a lovely topic: Tickets! And not the parking ticket sort... The fact that i've never gotten a moving violation has something to do with my appreciation for the flipside of my gripe #2 above: For all my complaints, North America has perhaps one of the best overall driving cultures in the world.
Let me say this again:
North America has perhaps the best overall driving cultures (plural) in the world, and i'm not talking about Mexico, LA, NYC, Nashville, Northeast Ohio, or New Jersey (where people think they're New York drivers but lack the battle-tested acumen of the F'Real NYC driver). There are many reasons for this, which i'll leave for another time, and i will admit that 'best' here is subjective, based on values like 'politeness' and 'risk-reduction'. I've driven in 48 states, half the Canadian provinces, England, Ecuador, the Dominican Republic, South Africa, and i've been a passenger in most of these and other places, and what to us is agreed to be 'rude' driving behaviour is commonplace elsewhere, even expected. I have friends with stories of Mumbai, Sao Paulo, Lagos and Shanghai...
So i do my best to uphold a high standard for communication (signaling ahead, not after the fact!) stopping at stop signs, respecting (or even abiding within?!) speed limits, and so forth. I may still get a moving violation someday, because my commitment to these values isn't strong enough to keep me 100% within the lines and limits, but unlike the majority of people (everyone thinks he/she is a better-than-average driver) i have a couple of verifiable stats to back me up. Do you? Have you thought about hopping over to the dead-end, but very interesting career of driving? It's in high demand. Ask the Farmer. See you out there!
~ Heath E Synnestvedt
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July 5, 2015
A Tomato and a Kiss
A Note from the Farmer's Wife
By now our veteran members are quite familiar with the concept of eating seasonally, but for newer members, the CSA might be their first real experience with it. The concept is simple: when each crop is ripe, we harvest it and send it to you. Some crops take months to ripen, like winter squash, and some only do well in the cooler part of June, like snap peas, radishes and spinach. We do not offer items like asparagus, because the height of the asparagus harvest is in May, before the CSA. So how does Romance figure into this equation? Please remember that vegetables are REALLY important to the Farmer and sharing them with others is one of his greatest joys. Now, the Farmer's wife likes vegetables a whole lot too, almost as much as flowers, and once upon a time she was a CSA member, back when the Farmer's CSA was only about 35 members. Way back then, a little romance in the CSA box began.
Little vegetable gifts began appearing in the Future Farmer's Wife's box: hearts of fennel, sugar snap peas, the first sungold tomatoes, delicata squash - her personal favorites. This was in the end, as you all know, very effective, and remains one of our favorite romantic moments. The Farmer still brings her the very first ripe of our favorites: 6 or 7 small red new potatoes appear on the empty kitchen counter, the first tender small zucchini, and most recently, 5 plump red cherry tomatoes - just enough to decorate our evening salad, and highly deserving a of a kiss on the Farmer's scruffy face.
So the Farmer's romantic gifts to his wife, are a herald of what will soon be ripe in in your box. You will have to wait for your tomatoes, but they are indeed coming, and maybe you can find a way to celebrate the first ones in your box!
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May 30, 2015
Happy Birthday to the Farmer!
A Note from the Farmer's Wife
The Farmer's Dad always tells a story about the Farmer's birth at a Memorial Day swim party...well not exactly at it, but dramatically almost at it. Now, a little grey speckles the Farmer's beard and swim parties remain a distant memory. His mind is focused on things like dirt, what's growing, including weeds and what needs to be done. With the CSA main season beginning this week, we are all distracted from thinking much about celebrations. Still, I want to take a moment to celebrate this hard-working guy in front of anyone who cares to listen.
It takes a special kind of guy to farm vegetables sustainably. He needs endurance, perseverance and vision. He must like the outdoors extremely muchly. Blazing heat, pouring rain, chilly mornings and long days cannot deter him. Dirt must be one of his best friends, since he has little time for socializing. Working 7 days a week during the growing season, from dawn to dusk, must seem like a great idea. Multi-tasking is essential as is managing a crew of 20 people simultaneously performing a variety of chores. And then we he is finished the farm work, he must be a cheerful, available Dad for his kids and a patient, kind ear for his Wife. That's me.
This is my Farmer, honest as the sky is big and hard-working as the ocean is deep. I am proud to stand by him on this journey we have chosen. And happy to make him a big, sloppy, strawberry cake in his honor! Happy birthday my love!
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May 21, 2015
3 Big Reasons CSA's Don't Work
...and what we are doing about it!
I recently spoke with a CSA member at our Ambler location and she mentioned that she had to drive a little further to our pick up location than she used to. In fact, she used to host for a previous site. Why did she make the switch? She and her fellow members were tired of endless, second-rate greens. She would love to bring our CSA back to her area, but she feared the reputation of CSA's had been damaged by this previous experience.
This conversation strikes me as the core of what has gone awry with the CSA model. The Farmer and I talk of this often, and our CSA has evolved from the following concerns:
  1. Poor Quality: Since the consumer cannot sort through and pick out what she wants in her box, the CSA system allows the farmer to slough off "seconds" or even "thirds" while saving the premium produce for wholesale and markets. How does this make the customer feel? Second-rate!
  2. Small Portions: Vegetable size can be a matter of preference, so it can be challenging to guess what each CSA member might prefer. Take zucchini for example. Some like the vegetable picked young, small and tender. Others use the big daddy's to make zucchini bread...or zucchini chocolate cake (see recipes). But one little cucumber to feed a family of four? Undersized bunches and boxes can leave the CSA member feeling neglected once again.
  3. Lack of Choice: Most of you know this issue represents our biggest beef with most CSA models. The idea that you, as the devoted farm-share holder, should suck it up and eat whatever comes across your plate seems antiquated and even ridiculous. True, it exposes you to new and unusual vegetables that you might not have tried before, but it takes no account for people who join a CSA who also garden. Someone growing bushels of tomatoes in their back yard may have little need for yet another box of farm tomatoes. And people who don't like kale, still don't like kale ten bunches later.
At Red Earth, CSA is our primary focus. The majority of our growing fields are dedicated to the membership. Filling member boxes with quality, fresh produce remains top priority for us. Hot summer days, boxes left outside at pickup sites, or pack crew error still give rise to issues. In this event we stand behind our produce and offer replacements or refund for anything that arrives in unsatisfactory condition. In June we pride ourselves in glorious heads of lettuce, unlike any found in the typical grocery store. Later, when the summer heat stunts the lettuce growth, we double up those heads to make up for it. Every year we strive to implement systems to improve the consistency of what arrives in your box.
Providing the opportunity for our members to choose weekly items stands as the keystone of what makes our CSA work. For us, this means extra labor. The Farmer has to predict a week in advance what might be ready for harvest (no easy task, I assure you!), orders must be printed and placed in the correct boxes, and then the crew has to pack each box correctly. Easier said than done, but definitely worth it. Weekly online ordering remains the number one reason our members choose our CSA again and again. That, and the great tasting vegetables...and maybe the occasional cheery note from the Farmer's Wife!
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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 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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