As CSA farmers, we could go on and on about the value and importance of the CSA model of farming. Ultimately, our love for community supported agriculture isn’t complete without the community support. The connection with our members is at the foundation of the farm itself. Back in 1994 when Barb and David started this farm, CSA was a relatively new concept. They pounded the pavement with grassroots marketing efforts to educate their members about CSA. They have gained the trust of thousands of families over the years while paving a path for younger farmers to join the movement.

The CSA model is such a brilliant one that national brands have caught on and are borrowing from the wholesome, authentic values and qualities of local family farms. CSA-style box-scheme distribution systems and subscription-based meal services are popping up in every media channel telling us that we can be healthier, save money, be environmentally sustainable, learn how to cook better, and contribute to building a better food system. This marketing language may be appealing to many, but as a farmer, I shudder at the notion that a national distribution of perishable food, packaged into individual servings, from farms coast-to-coast (and internationally!), could be improving our food system.

Last year we invited our CSA members to participate in a survey conducted by FairShare CSA Coalition with researchers from UW-Madison and University of Wisconsin-Extension, funded by a USDA grant. This survey helped us to understand the values and behaviors of our current CSA members. Over 80% of participants indicated that they will continue membership. Members went on to say that the top 5 reasons to do CSA were to eat local, eat fresh, eat healthy, support local farmers, and eat seasonally. These values have a striking resemblance to the mission statements of box-scheme services striving to connect with their potential customers.

One of the leading meal service providers, Blue Apron, makes a powerful statement: We’re eliminating the middleman to deliver fresher food. Actually, that is what CSA is doing, not box-scheme distributors. In fact, their statement is a bold contradiction – they are the middleman. If this is the message that food-conscious consumers what to hear, then CSA farmers need to remind our own communities that CSA is truly the absence of a middleman, farm-to-table at its purest.

Although the CSA movement is going strong, many farms are experiencing a drop in membership across the country. With increasing amounts of purchasing options that seem parallel to CSA, consumers are experimenting with other delivery services for their vegetables. The impact is felt on a community level. If national brands replace local farms, the personal connection to our food production is lost. In the FairShare CSA Coalition network, lower-income families can receive subsidized CSA shares, making it possible to afford organic, locally grown produce. National brands are driven by their bottom line, disregarding socioeconomic disadvantages that local farms care so much about.

Our purchasing choices speak louder than our voices. In the evolving healthy-eating marketplace, we need to have a heightened awareness of what our spending ultimately means. CSA continues to be the most direct line between the farm to the consumer. So long as we care about the food that we put into our bodies, knowing our farmers, and can embrace the joy and challenge of eating seasonally, CSA will thrive in our dedicated communities.

Jonnah

Vermont Valley Community Farm Crew

Over the course of the past 23 years we’ve work hard to develop Vermont Valley Community Farm into a thriving certified organic vegetable farm and CSA. We have learned and grown and changed and consequently have a lot to share. We had the opportunity Wednesday to share our knowledge and experiences with a group of international farmers, representing six countries. Their areas of specialty were diverse and they had many interests and questions in common. We talked about business practices, community building, connecting with CSA members, nutrition, marketing, sustainability, family business, efficiency practices, equipment, financial sustainability, and much more. It was a little over an hour, but could have been a day. This was such a vibrant group of interesting and interested farmers. It was fun and rewarding to pull myself out of my daily grind and share what I do and what I know with this like-minded global community of farmers.

Barb

The Nuffield Scholars from Australia, Ireland, UK, Brazil, New Zealand, Netherlands

Garlic scape harvest. A scape gets snapped off of each garlic plant. This helps the plant put more energy into the bulb and gives us another edible part from the plant.

Kohlrabi harvest. The plant is pulled, the root snipped, the leaves removed. Then we take them to the packing shed to wash.

Salad mix, fennel and kohlrabi. Everything is so lush and beautiful with all of the rain we have had.

I’m talking about rainfall and irrigation time. One nice rainfall eliminates about forty hours of labor irrigating the crops. It was getting really dry in the fields. David and Jesse were working from dawn to dusk, seven days a week, moving irrigation guns (a traveling gun is a big real with a water spray that moves up the field) from crop to crop, letting them run their course and then moving them to the next area of the field. This can mean the difference between keeping a crop alive or watching it suffer in the heat and dry conditions, but it is hard to keep up.  Our fields are geographically spread out. The irrigation is moved with a tractor. Each run can take up to 8 hours. The settings are coordinated with how much water needs to be distributed. When it is 90 degrees and windy and it hasn’t rained in many days and everything is looking parched, this is a huge task. Mother Nature can deliver this to all of the vegetables at once in one rainfall. So when the sky opened up and gave us about an inch of rain on Monday night, we could give a sigh of relief. The thirsty crops were very happy and Jesse and David could focus their attention on other tasks in need of their time.

Harvesting salad mix on Tuesday morning after the glorious rain!

Eric (standing) needed to remove his shoes because they were sinking in the mud. Behind Eric is some irrigation equipment. On Tuesday afternoon, before it rained, we were irrigating this field because we had just transplanted new salad mix and it needed water. We turned off the irrigation when it started to rain.

Green garlic harvest. After we pull the garlic from the earth, we trim the leaves. Then the big task of spraying off the dirt.

Jesse pulling the irrigation gun out from the reel

Irrigating cabbage

Whether this is your first season or your twenty-third, you are what this farm is all about! Twenty-three years ago, before most people knew what CSA was, David and I started this farm. We strongly believed in the concept of CSA and wanted all of the food grown on our farm to go only to our CSA members. We didn’t know if this was possible, but we gave it a try. We didn’t know if it was possible to make a living growing organic vegetables and distributing them through our CSA but we wanted to give it our best. We quickly got our answer as memberships increased each year. We wanted a connection with our members, something people generally don’t have with the person growing their food and with the farm where it is grown. This is why we give you many opportunities to come out to the farm during the season. We hope to meet you for the first time or see you again. We hope you enjoy the food that comes your way. And we always welcome questions or comments along the way. Happy season #23 from Vermont Valley Community Farm!

Barb

Monday morning. Harvesting rhubarb from our quarter acre rhubarb patch. That’s a lot of rhubarb!

Tuesday morning. Harvesting spinach. We pinch off leaf by leaf. Yum.

Tuesday morning. Scallion harvest. My view as I sat on the ground trimming roots.

Early Wednesday morning. Salad mix harvest. The sun is just rising in our valley.

Monday afternoon. Weighing and banding rhubarb.

Wednesday afternoon. Washing and trimming fresh garlic.

Yesterday was a gorgeous warm, overcast day as we harvested the last of the greens for the Spring Share. We experience beginning and ending three times as we prepare for, plant, harvest and deliver the different shares we offer. We divide our growing season into three seasons in order to give you, our members, choice. Early season greens, main season a bit of everything, late season roots.

Along with completing the harvest we also transitioned the hoophouse from a bounty of greens to a tomato house. The tomatoes had been planted alongside the greens, but not until we had all of the greens out and all of the weeds out and all of the trellis poles up could we see the impact of this transition. Then we layed the drip irrigation alongside each row of tomatoes. The tomatoes get watered from below and the greens got watered from above. The last thing we did before walking out was turn on the irrigation. There are already tomatoes on the plants!

Thank you so much for participating in our Spring Share season. You may not know this, but ALL of the vegetables we grow on this farm are delivered to you through our CSA (except potatoes which we also grow for our seed potato sales). Let your friends know that we still have CSA shares available for the rest of the season.

Barb

The last harvest from one of our hoophouses (the one we call “The Colossal”). The crops pictured are sauté mix and arugula.

Abigail and Eric harvesting lettuce heads between the rows of tomatoes.

Tonny and Eric (J-Mo) harvesting fennel.

Five hours later………No more vegetables or weeds! And the tomatoes are getting happily irrigated with the drip irrigation.

Another view of the tomatoes.

Rhubarb harvest in the smallest of our rhubarb beds.

As I drove around the farm today, I was completely taken by its beauty. The air is heavy, waiting for rain to fall. The spring green on the hillside is soft and gentle. And the fields are full of promise. The peas were standing in beautiful rows of bright green. The potatoes are under the ground, covered by hills. The plastic mulch has been laid, waiting for squash to be planted. The greenhouse is bursting with transplants; each week thousands of plants are transplanted outside and thousands more are started. So much new life, so much promise. I feel fortunate to be able to immerse myself in such a cycle of life.

Barb

The farm road into one of our fields. Ahead are peas and to the right under the hills of soil are potatoes.

The peas. These peas were started in the greenhouse and transplanted into the field. We do this to guarantee a solid stand of peas. If we plant the peas directly into the ground and then there is a lot of cold, wet conditions, many of the seeds will rot. (We are certified organic; we don’t use fungicide treated seeds as the chemical agriculture farms do).

Plastic mulch, just laid. We use plastic mulch for many heat loving crops. The plants get planted directly into the plastic. We mulch the bare dirt heavily with alfalfa hay. Irrigation hose runs under the plastic. The plastic acts as a weed barrier and holds the moisture in.

Rhubarb harvest for the Spring Share.

It’s 10:00. The trucks just pulled out laden with spring greens; a crew of 6 is out in the fields transplanting cabbage, Swiss chard, spinach, kohlrabi and fennel; David is on his tractor planting radish and turnip seeds, Eric is in the potting shed seeding popcorn. We packed 225 Spring Shares and cut 1,000 pounds or so of seed potatoes. The squash, watermelon and sweet corn transplants were moved out of their cozy warm germination chamber into the greenhouse and the salad mix transplants were moved into the area where we harden off the plants to prepare them for transplanting. Now what?

The transplanting will continue most of the day, the delivery drivers will pull in around 3:00, Eric will stay busy with farm tasks, David will likely be on his tractor all day, Jesse will be planting potatoes and Jonnah and I get to catch up on office work.

We couldn’t have been happier to see the sun come out yesterday and the soil begin to dry out and warm up. We spent a cold rainy Monday in the damp potting shed seeding all day. We spent a cold windy day Tuesday harvesting in the hoophouses. We totally enjoyed Wednesday as we continued harvest and started the week’s transplanting. It’s May on the Farm!

Barb

Watercress harvest. The watercress grows in a little spring fed stream on the border of our wetland. The most fun and challenging part of this job is figuring out how to set up the harvest to avoid stepping knee deep into muck. We’re not always successful, Sophal slipped off and filled his boot with water.

Washing tot soi. We all stand around the tub of ice cold water rubbing off dirt and removing bad leaves. Barb, Yun, Ryna, Eric (J-Mo), Neing, Phearo.

Sorrel harvest. Sorrel is a perennial and is one of the first plants to come up in spring. It’s cut, then washed and spun dry and bagged.

Harvesting Red Russian Kale, one of the greens in the sauté mix. Notice how the crew has to work around the tomato plants. We inter-plant tomatoes in our hoophouse alongside the greens. Once the greens are all harvested the house turns into a jungle of tomatoes