Thursday, May 29, 2014

Buying a CSA Farm Share

 The harsh winter just devastated my garden, what the deer didn’t eat the freezing and thaw cycle did in. While trying to herd my contractor through the repairs on my home, I was overwhelmed by having to replant the garden. In April I was hanging around the extension office waiting for a meeting to begin, when Thomas Bolles the Environmental Educator for the Prince William Extension commented in sympathy that for many this year would be a lost year in the garden. I mulled it over all afternoon, finally embracing the idea that I only need to cleanup, replant the perennials and replace the lost trees. I would hire some professional help and buy a farm share. Done.

Jay Yankey in addition to being the Director of the Prince William Soil and Water Conservation District, runs Yankey Farms, a direct to consumer farming operation. In addition to his farm stands and pick your own berry and pumpkin patch he had in the past operated a community supported agricultural, CSA, program. This year he happened to be restarting the program and on that April afternoon still had a couple of farm shares to sell. A CSA or farm share from Yankey Farms is a 16 week subscription program where you receive a share of whatever produce is being harvested on the farm that week. Yankey Farms offers half bushel and full bushel shares. I bought a half bushel share, but it’s gone in 4 days. The CSA program had been successful and profitable for Yankey Farms; however last year in an attempt to streamline his farming operation he did not run the program. Fortunately for me, this year he jumped back in.

The produce from the farm share follows the planting and growing season. There are 4 weeks of spring produce then a couple-three weeks off before the summer harvest begins. The summer harvest lasts for about 6 weeks followed by another 2-3 week break before starting the fall harvest, which will lasts for another 6 weeks. The weekly share is picked up at the farm in Nokesville and if you arrive mid-afternoon this time of year you can see Jay’s Dad on a tractor out in the field. So far, the spring share has included strawberries, lettuce (all kinds), broccoli, cabbage, spring onions, cauliflower, kale, , and bok choi. I’m still hoping for cherries, summer squash, cucumbers, peas, beets, spinach, but that last snow and short spring might impact the crops.

In the summer we are promised peaches, tomatoes, onions, potatoes, green beans, peppers, eggplant, plums, melons, sweet corn, cucumbers, blueberries, blackberries, summer squash, and okra. While I’m not fond of okra and really how much bok choi do you want to eat (grill it brushed with olive oil and sea salt), I love Yankey Farm’s berries. For the fall they expect to have winter squash, cauliflower, sweet potatoes, pears, cabbage, collard greens, raspberries, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, apples, green beans, onions, and pumpkins. Yankey Farms CSA is not organic; I am very comfortable with Jay’s farming practices and the quality of the produce and fruit I get with my farm share.

Yankey Farms grows about 15-20 acres of produce and 50 acres of small grain based on a model of conservation agriculture, which is an integrated model of lest toxic, cost effective farming, utilizing crop rotation, field borders, cover crops and low till or no-till to reduce erosion. Yankey Farms leaves a permanent cover crop and drills through the upper layers to plant the seeds, always working to minimize erosion. Yankey Farms has about 5 acres of irrigation ponds used in a sustainable irrigation model. These ponds are filled by rainfall and are used to ensure that the crops get at least one and a half inches of rain a week. Though it varies from year to year depending on weather, the vegetable crops required 15,000 gallons per acre per week and the grains 40,000 gallons per acre per week.

Conservation agriculture uses herbicides (the least toxic) and active manipulation of organic matter in the soil to deal with weeds. No till farming, reduces sediment, nitrogen and phosphorus runoff that is responsible for contamination of our watershed, the Chesapeake Bay. Leaving the soil intact also increases its ability to hold onto carbon dioxide, which means less carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere. Instead of plowing up the ground to plant the crops, Yankey Farms uses a machine that punches the seeds or plant into the ground. No till farming can reduce erosion up to 90%, and reduces reliance on fertilizers as compared to “conventional industrial” farming.

Organic farming requires that farmers till the land, churning up the crop land, pulling up weeds and mixing them into the soil and does not use chemical herbicides. Disturbing the soil cover, loosening it so it's no longer tightly packed, leaves it more susceptible to being washed away by rain and wind and potentially finding its way into streams and rivers. Conservation agriculture and organic farming both strive to achieve balance between people and the land so that the land can continue to feed people without damaging the earth. Conservation agriculture emphasizes sustainability of the farming operation and maintaining soil by minimizing soil disturbance, maintaining a permanent soil cover and utilizing crop rotations to retain soil nutrients. Conservation agriculture is a proven method of sustainable land management.

While buying a farm share limits your choice of produce, what you receive is wonderfully fresh and delicious. The broccoli and strawberries have been fantastic. Also, it is important to me to know my farmer and his practices-not only for the quality of his food, but also for his impact on the earth.

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