The “C” and the “S” in CSA

12 Sep

As we work our locavore muscles to strengthen our community, it only made sense to have a reflection from Nicky Dennis, Community Program Coordinator at NOFA-NY.  Here, she shares her reasons for committing to Commmunity Supported Agriculture, and what that has meant during the 2013 season.

One of my favorite things about the Locavore Challenge is the invitation to grow closer to the community of locavores, to get to know your farmers and food producers, and to inspire others to join in on the fun.  When my boyfriend Nick and I were shopping for a CSA, community was a critical element in our choice.  We were looking for the opportunity to get to know the other shareholders and spend time on the farm, getting to know the farmers and their operation.  When we met Jolene from Morse Family Farm at the Canandaigua CSA Fair, we were enamored by the way she spoke so lovingly of her crops and the excitement she had for every step of their growing process, from selecting heirloom seed to the thickness of the plastic they use for their greenhouses.  She also realized we’d be eating the food, so when she talked about making a stock from mizuna and how they select varieties for taste and nutrition, my chef boyfriend was sold.  We had so much hope, on that snowy February day, for all the goodness that was to come in spring, summer and fall.  Farmers that passionate and involved in their growing process couldn’t fail, it seemed.  Who could have known what intense weather was coming up for 2013’s growing season, affecting so many farmers in the northeast?

First share

Our first week’s food from Morse Family Farm

We received several gorgeous shares of from Morse Family Farm in the spring.  Then Jolene told us that the farm would have to take a break from distributions for about a month.  She explained how the incessant rain had compacted soil on top of their newly planted seeds (they might not germinate, and weren’t guaranteed to produce enough food in the coming months) and had made it impossible to bring tractors on the muddy fields to transplant crops (again, adding uncertainty to the land’s ability to produce even after the rains were hopefully going to let the fields dry out enough).  So many farms were experiencing similar struggles that it immediately brought to mind the community role in Community Supported Agriculture.  Nick and I reminded each other, that CSA is about sharing the risk when situations like this, which are beyond anyone’s control and happen despite careful planning, result in drastic loss.

Jolene was amazing with communication through all of the farm’s tribulations.  That really helped us keep up a positive relationship through the time period we weren’t receiving shares.  We felt that they were including us in the farm, which was, after all, why we wanted to join a CSA.  So the “S” in CSA didn’t just come from us to the farm; it came from the farm back to us as they wanted to tell us what was happening.  We felt supported by their understanding that we weren’t receiving what we and they had hoped for.

I sympathized with their frustrations and loss and hoped that spending a day on the farm, putting in some sweat equity, would reinforce that they had our support through thick and thin.  For me, being a locavore means that I will weather the storm alongside the farmers and delight in delayed gratification.

high tunnel cukes

Cucumbers protected by much of the troublesome weather inside a high tunnel structure at Morse Family Farm.

I headed out to the farm for a day of work in August.  Jolene and I spent the morning weeding the onion plot and chatting about brewing beer, our families, and how we both came to love farming.  Jolene grew up in Alaska where her dad was an organic farmer, supplying to local restaurants.  She met her partner Joe while they were both working (and training to be farmers) at Fellenz Family Farm, an organic CSA and pick-your-own farm in the area.  There is nothing that makes me swoon more than farmers who fall in love on a farm.  It’s easy to see how such passionate people bond when you see how much of themselves they put into their work.   The day I worked at the farm, their five kids were milling about the farm, totally embodying the farm-family lifestyle.  After a family lunch, we got to work reconstructing a high tunnel that was destroyed last winter (see photo below).  I went home covered in dirt and sweat and in an exhausted heap.  I felt proud that my body was up for the challenge.  I was grateful for the opportunity to see the farm, get my hands dirty, and for time spent getting to know the people who devotedly grow my food.

MFF apple orchard

The apple orchards on the farm.

Besides their wonderful family and dedication to producing quality food in the best way, I also respect Morse Family Farm’s dedication to natural resource conservation, low-impact materials use and whole-farm sustainability.  A lot of the implements and infrastructure (the non-plant elements of the land and farm) are repurposed, reused, or “hacked” to fit the needs of the farm.  A really cool thing I learned is that they have set up rain barrels underground, which are fed by farm drain tiles.  Normally, farm drain tiles are used to keep water from drowning the fields, though unfortunately this year’s rains were too much for even that normally functional system of crop protection.  Instead of the rainwater draining into a stream, the barrels collect the excess rainwater, which is then pumped into the farm’s irrigation system.

farm drain tile undrained and drained

To me, Morse Family Farm exemplifies principles of our Farmer’s Pledge program, from serving the health of the land and people to using ethical business practices.  To see three generations working together on the farm reminds me that I’m in it for the long haul.  I’m weathering the storm with them through this season because I know there will be bounty of food and community in the future.  The hope that I have now, as part of my farm’s and CSA’s community, is so much stronger than the excitement I had about receiving good food.  Now it’s about the people behind the food–I know they’re responsible farmers and real people I’ll know and engage in CSA with for years.

MFF family

Joe (dad, farmer, beekeeper), Jacob (son, farm worker), Jolene (mom, farmer), and Gary (grandpa, farmer, business partner, tool and equipment hacking specialist)


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