Community Supported Agriculture farms deliver fresh, local produceThe air is thick with humidity from the previous night’s rain. Bright sunlight burns through the haze and a light wind blows the combined smells of lavender, herbs and compost tea.
By: By Julia Ybarra-Young, New Richmond News
The air is thick with humidity from the previous night’s rain. Bright sunlight burns through the haze and a light wind blows the combined smells of lavender, herbs and compost tea.
“Instead of buying fertilizer, we make our own,” said Garry Fay, as he dipped a green plastic watering can into a 55-gallon barrel of the brown, strong-smelling liquid. Compost tea is made from decomposed organic matter (compost) that has been steeped in water.
“It’s the best thing for putting nutrients back into the food.”
Fay is the co-owner of the Freedom Farm at 1531 Andersen Scout Camp Road in Houlton. The farm itself is part of a growing movement in our society – community supported agriculture farms, or CSA’s for short.
A CSA farm has members who pay a certain amount for weekly or bi-monthly produce. The money is paid at the start of the season to help CSA farmers cover the cost of the growing the produce, which can be anything from vegetables to fruits to eggs.
For example, the Threshing Table Farm at 2249 150th St. in Star Prairie is a CSA whose season runs from June 3 to the third week of October. Their entire 75 membership shares are sold out this year, but they plan to add more for the next season.
“We’ve been adding more each year, so we are definitely expanding,” said Mike Lentz, who along with his wife, Jody, owns and operates the Threshing Table.
Although both of them grew up in farming communities, they wanted to take farm beginning classes and experimented with a CSA garden on their lawn in town before buying their current 10 acres five years ago in Star Prairie.
Making sure they have produce for 75 boxes each week takes some planning. They start planting in January, making sure they have produce in various growing cycles.
“If we have 75 boxes, we plant for 100,” said Mike. “The boxes are filled first, and the extra is shared equally between the farm members and ourselves.”
To that end, they have elected not to have booths at farmer’s markets, although they do sell eggs year round at their farm.
Mike, who has a full-time job as an estimator project engineer, said he puts about six hours a day at the farm after his regular job. He does get help from Jody and Claudia, their 9-year-old daughter. They also have a couple of employees who work part-time on the farm, as well as any members who want to volunteer.
Each week, they pack the boxes with produce that is ready – it is never exactly the same each week.
“The CSA is like Christmas for some people because they don’t know what is in the box until they get it,” said Jody. “Then they plan their meals around it. We also send out a newsletter that has storage tips and recipes.”
A sample of the box contents are cauliflower, cabbage, potatoes, carrots, cale, swiss chard, green onions, thyme, cilantro, green beans, cucumbers and summer squash. They said the amount of vegetables should feed a family of four, or two vegetarians.
The members either come to the farm to pick up the boxes, or they are delivered to a pre-arranged drop site, usually a common area where several boxes are delivered.
Fay has been operating his 10-acre Freedom Farm for four years. His father was a farmer in Iowa, and his wife grew up on a ranch in Mexico.
He said his background as a public health official in the Cities had him setting up community gardens in addition to the family garden he had at home.
They bought their current farm to house their horse, but they ended up dropping in a garden instead. Now, they have two greenhouses – or hoophouses, as he calls them – along with the open garden, raspberry patch, hen house and cow barn.
“My youngest learned how to milk the cows and is now making cheese,” explained Fay.
Currently, Fay is accepting new CSA members. His farm produces year-round, including eggs and dairy products, though he admits production slacks off then because the cows like to have a “break” during the wintertime.
His farm does direct sales as well as offers canning, brine for storage and fermentation for foods such as sauerkraut.
Eventually, he hopes to have an orchard on the farm, a root cellar and a hog pen.
“We would like to be as self-sufficient as possible,” said Fay.
“Farms in America are losing money; we have to keep them here at home,” he continued. “So I’d like to propose changing from ‘community supported agriculture’ to a ‘community sustainable agriculture.’”
For more information about the local CSA farms, visit their websites or call the Threshing Table at 715-248-7205 or Freedom Farm at 715-549-6431.
Although not a “true” CSA farm, the Blue Gentian farm at 1990 Highway 46 in New Richmond offers something a little different than the usual garden produce: a variety of free-range meats.
Darryle and Renee Powers own and operate the 395 acres, 100 of which are restored prairie lands. They’ve lived there for 10 years and started farming for eight.
Going up their long paved driveway, visitors round a bend and are greeted by the sight of the farmhouse to the left and a herd of sheep penned to the right.
“The St. Croix sheep are endangered,” said Darryle. “We raise them (for eating) to save them.”
Currently the farm has about 120 head of cattle – which includes both the shaggy Scottish Highland and sleek Red Agnus, 80 head of St. Croix sheep, 12 Boer goats, 24 Berkshire hogs and about 1,000 poultry – which includes ducks, turkeys, meat chickens and egg chickens.
They also have a greenhouse and garden, as well as beehives for gathering honey, but they like to concentrate on the meat side of farming. The couple gets help from their grown children and some customers who want to come out and help with the care of the animals.
“We invite customers out to the farm so they can learn where their food comes from,” said Renee. “We will walk them around the farm; that usually takes about an hour. Darryle gives about 3-4 tours a week.”
For more information about Blue Gentian farm, visit their website or call 715-781-8169.