Genesee Valley Organic Community Supported Agriculture

Notes from the Farm - March 2001
By Elizabeth Henderson

Getting ready to start a new farming season is a little like preparing for a 9 month expedition to the Arctic Circle. We try to organize our management team, assemble everything we need to purchase, and get equipment into working order. In Wayne County, its not quite as hard to buy farm inputs as in northern Alaska, but with days full of farm work, time and energy are just as scarce. The answer to the often asked question, What do you do on the farm all winter? is: we interview and hire interns; evaluate how we well things went on the farm last year so we can do better next year; do our bookkeeping; plan crops and rotations; fill out our organic certification application; and shop for such items as seed, floating row cover, new plastic for the greenhouse, green sand, rock phosphate, worm castings, tomato harvest containers, and, as they say in auction announcements, many items too numerous to mention.

Because of your $50 deposits to reserve shares, we do not have to borrow start up money the way so many farms do, taking out operating loans every spring and paying them back with fall harvest receipts. Do you know the song The Farmer is the Man? One verse reads, The farmer is the one, farmer is the one, lives on credit till the fall. Then they take him by the hand and they lead him from the land, and the banker is the one who gets it all. Our fiscal policy may be the most radical (and conservative) feature of our farming. We do not farm for the bank. The support of our community makes this possible!

Last year, with the support and agreement of the GVOCSA core, we increased the number of shares from 165 to a little over 200. We do not intend to continue growing. We needed to reach this size so that financially the farm would support three full time farmers. This allows Ammie and Greg to try out their long time dream of farming together. With the three of us sharing the job of home schooling Helen, we are more like 2 1/2 full time farmers. Our plan, over the next five years, is to exchange skills so that each of us knows all the jobs on the farm. This year, I will train Ammie to run the greenhouse and Greg will share tillage work with me. After some vague number of years, we would also like to add a junior partner so that I, the most senior partner, can cut back to half time. We want to run the farm efficiently enough so that we reduce the number of days on which we need to work more than 10 hours, and average out the hours at 40 hour weeks during the growing season from March through early December. Given northeast weather conditions, it is unlikely that we will ever put in less than 10 hours a day during the peak planting time of late April through mid June. Seeking dynamic equilibrium instead of perpetual growth may be the second most radical feature of our farming.

When we talk about sustainable food systems, I think it is crucial that we share an understanding that what we are striving for is not further economic growth, but sustainable development. In his book Beyond Growth, Herman E. Daly makes this distinction: We can simply distinguish growth (quantitative expansion) from development (qualitative improvement), and urge ourselves to develop as much as possible, while ceasing to grow, once the regenerative and absorptive capacities of the ecosystem are reached... (p. 28) A whole series of convincing studies, such as Dalys, and Donella and Dennis Meadows Beyond the Limits, make the case that further growth endangers our very existence. Daly insists, The scale of the economy must remain below the capacity of the ecosystem sustainably to supply services such as photosynthesis, pollination, purification of air and water, maintenance of climate, filtering of excessive ultraviolet radiation, recycling of wastes, etc. Adjustment in the service of growth has pushed us beyond a sustainable scale. (p. 166) Our goal for Peacework is to develop, that is, to improve quality - the quality of our lives as farmers, the quality of the food we produce, the quality of our care of our environment, and the quality of our community.

Improving the quality of our community, we believe, means limiting the number of participants in our CSA so that we do not sacrifice intimacy to financial pressures. Somehow as a community, we must figure out how to balance farm financial needs with members pocketbooks. Greg, Ammie and I want to get to know every member of the CSA. Our chance to have conversations with each of you when you come to the farm is a big part of what makes the work fun for us. We thoroughly enjoy your diversity in age, race, ethnic identity, religion, sexual orientation, and income level. Diversity, both biological and social, is an important component of sustainability.

I have spent a few days this winter acting as technical adviser to the Northeast Neighborhood Association (CSA) market garden project, an exciting and challenging effort to bring ecologically produced food to a area where the average annual income is around $12,000. For years, our CSA has struggled with ways to include more low income members. The staff at NENA is getting ready to start a small CSA for neighborhood families, growing some of the food in the Vineyard, and several small gardens. They also plan to continue selling their produce and products from the Small-Scale Processors Association at the Public Market. Our farm and other organic farms in the area, such as the Porters, may be able to supply crops like corn, winter squash and carrots for which NENA does not have space.

Our other set of winter activities might come under the heading of professional development. All of us from the farm, and Lila Bluestone from the Core, participated in the NOFA-NY conference. I learned about a new pest control material called Surround that we want to try this season. It is made out of kaolin clay, a non-toxic, natural substance. A thorough coating of clay may reduce the number of cucumber and squash beetles nibbling our cucumbers, melons and squash. While I was at the NOFA-RI and NOFA-VT. conferences, Greg, Helen and the Kraais went to the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture. They bought tapes of the moving and inspiring keynotes by Jim Hightower and Winona LaDuke (we would be happy to lend these out). I participated in the first Scientific Congress on Organic Agricultural Research, a gathering of 50 farmers and 50 researchers to begin to set an agenda for organic research in this country. Ammie and Greg are attending a three day training in organic agriculture - soil, weeds and pests - set up by Abby Seaman, as part of a Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) funded research project on the relationship between organic management and insect pests.

I confess to being on too many committees, but it is hard to resist some of the exciting projects that are underway. I attended a meeting of the Steering Committee for the NE CSA Project. We are the interim board for the Robyn Van En Center for CSA. Housed at Wilson College in Pennsylvania, the Center manages the data base listing CSAs around the country, provides technical support to CSAs, and sponsors research on CSAs. On your GVOCSA contract, you have the option of donating a dollar to the Center. If we can get enough members of many CSAs to do this, the Robyn Van En Center will be no longer need grants. We also made plans for the next NE CSA Conference which will take place at Frost Valley YMCA Camp in Claryville, NY, December 7 - 9. Please put this conference on your calendars. Frost Valley is a beautiful place; there will be a full program for children; and an exciting program for everyone. I would like to get as many GVOCSA members to attend this conference as possible so other farmers can meet consumers who participate actively in farming.

Over the next year, I hope you will be hearing a lot more about another gathering I attended - the annual meeting of the National Campaign for Sustainable Agriculture. Campaign committees have put in a lot of work already on policy proposals for the 2002 Farm Bill, a mammoth piece of legislation governing food and farm policy in this country. The Campaigns overarching goals are to put a larger portion of the food dollar in the hands of family farmers while strengthening rural communities, improving the environment and increasing social justice. No small ambitions!

We are very pleased that two excellent people seeking internships have found us. David Mihalyi approached us way back last spring. David lives and works in Waterloo, and plans to become an organic flower farmer. If you are ever driving through Waterloo, stop at the elementary school to see the beautiful gardens David has created with the school children. Our second intern will be Rebecca Graff, who has been working in San Francisco on low-income access to decent housing. Not a city girl by birth, Rebeccas ambition is to learn how to farm organically and then go home to Missouri to take over the family farm and work with her dad. I expect these two will make us work hard answering their questions and sharing the skills they want to be able to apply in the near future.

With such a fine team, we are looking forward to our next growing season at Peacework. Whatever the weather, we will do our best to provide ample amounts of tasty and nutritious food for your shares.

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