Waldingfield Farm

Waldingfield Farm

Listen to your mother. Eat your vegetables.

Recent Posts

The changeover

The changeover

We are approaching the end line for our current president’s tenure and as such some are lamenting the loss of such a talented and charismatic leader.  Others will hold their breath and wait to see where the next administration will take us, and still others […]

2017 – A new year begins…

2017 – A new year begins…

It is a brand new year with many challenges ahead of us as we enter our 28th season (whoa!!) growing certified organic vegetables in the Litchfield hills.  It never ceases to amaze us how quickly time flies and as we settle into middle age as […]

CSA Season

CSA Season

In 1990 our brother Dan started a small organic farm in Washington, CT.  The first things he did were buy a dog; a Redbone Coonhound named Otis, and he start a CSA.  The plan was to engage with a group of friends and neighbors, get them to pony up some loot, grow their garden vegetables for them, and create an early revenue source for the farm in the springtime before a seed had been planted. He had 15 members that first season.  Oh yeah, he had never run a farm before, and the new members were a little wary as to how it was all going to work out.   What farming knowledge Dan had he got from reading and working a season on a small organic farm in Cornwall a few summers earlier.  He also began asking some other farmers in Litchfield County about ways to “make a go of it” at farming, and the concept of CSA farming kept coming up. From the earliest days of our farm, it was seen as the wave of the future for small-scale organic farms. It was the beginning of a model that continues to this day though the scale has changed a bit.

So what is a CSA?  It stands for Community Supported Agriculture.  The idea is that people invest, share the risk, and reap the rewards of their local farms production throughout a single season.  While it is most commonly associated with vegetable producers, it is now actively part of the dairy, chicken, beef, pork, and seafood worlds, as well. It has its origins depending on who one asks in either post war (WWII) Japan where a group of women created a subscription system with local farms who refrained from using synthetic inputs, or from Europe where followers of Austrian philosopher Rudolph Steiner’s writings were engaged in biodynamic farming and began to collectively support farms who shared similar methods.  The latter appears to be more closely linked with the rise of CSA farms in the US.  It started to trickle into the US consciousness in the late 1970’s and two farms in the Northeast, Indian Line Farm in Massachusetts, and Temple Wilton Community Farm in New Hampshire, lay claim to being the first two in the US.  This was in 1986.  A movement was born.

At Waldingfield Farm we like to explain to people interested in joining our CSA that membership is a 52 week investment for a 20 to 25 week return, and that we will faithfully adhere to our standards to ensure a harvest.  Should nature intervene (Tomato blight in 2009 took all 30,000 of our tomato plants) then that burden is shared by all of us.  Programs vary in length but usually run between 16 to 25 weeks.  Once farmers have the funds needed to successfully start their seasons (seed orders, early season labor costs, machinery upkeep, etc) they can focus on growing instead of marketing because their investors have backed them.  At its core the development of a “community” is what drives many of us to have the program.  It is exciting to be a part of a group, to exchange weekly doses of farm knowledge and in return hear of lovely dishes prepared with food one grew, or find out that someone had never cooked with Bok Choy before coming to our CSA.  The best CSA programs often have the most engaged client base, though it is not exclusively so.  Over the years our CSA has varied in size, and our farm model also incorporates markets and wholesale distribution. Some clients keep coming back with very little input other then a pre season payment and regular pick ups.  Others become part of the fabric of our farm.  Come to think of it, CSAs are really what we know today as “crowd funding”.  Pretty cool.

So why do CSA farms matter, and are they worth the investment of your hard earned money up front?  After all, we are used to paying for food we pick out at supermarkets or at a farmers market on the spot.  We see it, we buy it.  But is it worth it to pay well ahead of actually getting anything in return?  We think so but admittedly, not all farmers have been able to deliver the goods, and some people can be never be satisfied with what the farm delivers. It might actually be helpful to also look at the CSA model from both the farmer’s vantage point as well as from the investors.  Sometimes the expectations of a CSA can be very different and explanations are needed.

Most people who join a CSA do so with the noblest of intentions.  They want to support a local farm and allow their family to keep in touch with where their food (mostly) comes from.   Or their friends did it, raved about how awesome it was and they wanted in on the action.  Others join because they believe that market does not represent the needs of producers and the true costs of production so why not invest in the farmer and allow them to pocket what middlemen have been taking for years.  Still, others believe that by joining a CSA you are joining a price club akin to joining Costco (you’re not), though in our experience after 26 seasons of CSA production, most growers are usually pretty good at the “value” factor and reward clients when bumper crops come in.   What all will agree on is that the food is (usually) far fresher then anything available at the supermarket.

In the beginning, farms like ours (Waldingfield Farm, in Washington, CT), and others who were early pioneers of the CSA model, were usually certified organic growers who had to actually seek out like minded believers in chemical free farming methods and the CSA model was a lot better then what most “health” food stores provided.  The type of organic produce we have today wasn’t really available at local supermarkets back in the late 80’s, and the boom in farmers markets was still a few years away.  Today CSA farms are seemingly everywhere, and that is a great value to the consumer.  There are a lot of farms to choose from.  While is has been a major factor is the growth of smaller scaled organic farming here in Connecticut, some of the larger conventional producers saw a movement formulate right under their noses and they, too, have sought a piece of the “local” CSA pie.  They are certainly welcome, however their price points often are cheaper than their organic counterparts, and have caused some to question whether or not an organic CSA is the way to go.

Since it is locally produced, what’s the difference?  How come they can produce so much more?  These are fair questions, but often they are born out of a complete lack of knowledge as to just how varied the farming practices are.  It is a lot more then labor standards, or using synthetic versus plant based herbicides, pesticides and fungicides, or planting GMO or non GMO seed stock, not to mention the tough regulatory standards for certified organic growers versus the completely unchecked conventional producers.  That is only the beginning.  But competition should not scare organic CSA farm producers.  Instead it should inspire one to tighten their practices, get more focused in their marketing and story telling, as well as fight for their market share.  Farming is a business, after all, and while we are on the subject, conventional producers are fighting for their share of the pie just as hard if not harder to compete with the far cheaper conventional fare in the supermarket from all over the world.

Bottom line is people should join CSAs if they want to really connect with their food source, if they wish to experience risk and reward in a non monetary but nutritiously satisfying way.  They need to ensure that they have the time to make that trip the farm stand or to a drop spot (logistics have to work), but for many that trip is a highlight of their week.   For the farmer a CSA has many upsides (besides easing early season financial burdens), but it can also mean having to deal with an investor who feels the need to critique on every single item they get in their weekly basket, or complain they got no tomatoes in June nor Strawberry’s in October.  It can be tough to have to justify a lost crop due to weather, insect or decease when a CSA member was counting on it.  Having to explain risk and potential loss to some CSA members is something many producers do not revel in doing, but it is a part of the game.  And not all growers are adept at growing the rich variety of goods that are features of the successful CSA model, and as such concentrate on a wholesale model, or limit themselves to farmers markets as their primary revenue source.  There is room for all.

So get out in the mix, check out that local farm down the road you have been meaning to stop in and visit.  Chances are they will have a CSA, or maybe not.  Maybe you will their first member…

Patrick Horan runs Waldingfield Farm with his brothers, Quincy and Daniel.  The farm has been Certified Organic (Baystate Organic Certifiers) since 1990.  He sits on the Board of Directors of CT-NOFA.  He and his wife divide their time between Brooklyn, NY, and the farm.  He is a Mets fan.

NY TIMES

NY TIMES

Just found these mention in the NY Times from 2011.  Better late then never… http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/13/nyregion/13dinect.html?mabReward=relbias:r&adxnnl=1&module=Search&pagewanted=all&adxnnlx=1412712118-gzY4R2SbAzDPV5HWxURiow http://www.nytimes.com/2006/08/02/dining/02lbox.html?module=Search&;mabReward=relbias%3Ar

September Harvest

The fields are raining tomatoes and in the distance the sunflowers dance like an agrarian Martha Graham piece.  This is simply the best time to be at the farm despite the fact that most of the crew has left for school, and the days are […]

Hapening in the Hills

Hapening in the Hills

A nice piece by a Litchfield County Blog “HappeningintheHills.com” 

Nice, pictures, too!

http://happeninginthehills.com/onourradar/p-proven-q-quality/

Mid Summer Report – 2014

The Mid-Summer Report:  It is hard to believe that the end of July is upon us and though we have achieved a lot so far this season, what is most exciting is how much we have to look forward to.  The hard work of the […]

Park Slope, Brooklyn, NY – 4th Street and 5th Avenue

We are now open for business in Brooklyn, NY.  Park Slope is a neighborhood primed for organic producers like Waldingfield to deliver the goods.   Wednesdays from 3pm to 7pm, May through November.   Run by Down to Earth Markets – http://downtoearthmarkets.com/ – we are excited to […]

May at the farm

May is the usually the turning point for us here at the farm, the month where it all gets down to brass tacks with plantings, massive tilling days, and the beginning of (gasp!) the market season. The air, warmer and more hospitable to work in, breezes across the fields with the soft and gentle touch. Gone are the wretched days of April with snowstorms and heavy cold rains following 75-degree days. May brings us consistency and that is a good thing.

So here we are readying for the 2014 season. The market season has started in New Haven and soon we start our first markets in NYC in well over a decade (Park Slope, Brooklyn). Our other markets in CT – Kent starts the 17th of May, and Weston, Newtown/Sandy Hook and New Haven (Wednesday) start in June. Our stand will be open in June.

The CSA program is just about full for the season and we are excited to launch our inaugural season delivering in to Williamsburg and Prospect Heights Brooklyn (the addition of the Brooklyn farmers market will make the delivery into the city each week much more profitable as well.) We also have our drop spots in New Milford (at the NM Hospital parking lot), as well as in Watertown (at the Taft School).

The fields are packed and we continue to plant each week. In fact, we wont stop planting until September, and we have a top crew of young (and old) farmers working the land to get it done. Led by farmers Quincy and Jed, the farm has a returning group of agrarian mercenaries who take no prisoners, and push themselves to make the farm better everyday. Inspiring, to say the least. Many of you know them already but Lyle “goody gum drops” Nichol, Dana “Noosh” Jackson, and Jason “Tay-son” DePecol are doing the work of six men. When you see them next, shake their hands and buy ‘em a brew. Soon young Will “hippies make me sick” O’Meara arrives from the West Coast and the full time team will be complete. Part time players this season include John “Jack Chuck” Charles and Connor “the fall guy” Green. As usual, there will be times when the crew will swell in numbers – sugar snap pea harvesting, for example – but we think this team is lean and mean.

The new tractor arrived last week, a New Holland 55 HP with a loader that we needed badly. The lads are quite happy, to say the least. And, due to the excellent attention to the machinery (JB) this past winter, all of out tractors are up and running. Fingers crossed nothing goes down this season…

So that’s where we are. The high tunnel will soon be emptied of the greens we are currently harvesting and sun golds will be planted, the fields are stuffed with salad greens, potatoes, carrots, beets, turnips, kales, swiss chard and so much more. The tomatoes go in soon, and then the game is on! It’s going to be an exciting season and we hope to see you all at the farm or the markets.

Cheers.

Spring Planting – Sugar Snap Peas

Ah, spring how we missed you. The warmer air has come at last and erased a long winter from our collective minds… almost! Still it is probably safe to say that the chance of a last winter storm is getting smaller with each passing day […]


Organic Farm Life

Help Small Farmers

Help Small Farmers

Although more and more large scale farms are making the conversion to organic practices, most organic farms are small independently operated and owned family farms of less than 100 acres. It’s estimated that the U.S has lost more than 650,000 family farms in the last decade. And with the U.S department of Agriculture predicting that half of this country’s farm production will come from 1 % of farms by the year 2000, organic farming could become one of the few hopes left for the family farm.