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Are you a Serious CSA Member?

December 8, 2011

This year has been fantastic for Serious Farms, and next year is shaping up to be even better. We’re happy to offer Serious CSA Shares for the 2012 growing season. We encourage potential members to sign up as early as possible to help us plan how much food to grow.

We genuinely enjoy sharing our story with you of growing food and starting a farm, and we know that many of you want more than just a grocery-store interaction. We want to get to know our community better and develop a strong sense of connection to one another. We take pride in offering you and your family the same food that we eat. We know it is healthy and delicious. Together, we are developing a communal dining table. This is strikingly different from the relationship with industrial food. The story behind their food is invisible. Kids grow up unaware that potatoes grow underground. CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) takes us a step in the right direction, reducing the commodification of food.

By becoming a Serious CSA member, you will get to know your farm, your food source. We encourage people to visit our garden and we welcome you to share your gardening adventures with us. Know that you are helping a small family farm get started. We’re planting seeds, but you are planting a very important seed.

As most of you know, we’re looking for a farm not too far from Selinsgrove. In the mean time, we continue to grow a variety of veggies in our garden at home and at the community garden. We’re applying for loans and meeting with realtors. Your commitment to Serious CSA will help us to get access to good land. In a very real and concrete way, you are preserving local and sustainable agriculture.

The average age of farmers is on the rise. About 40% of farmers are age 55 or older. This is connected to the commodification of food. The corn farmer is getting squeezed for every penny, because the industry that purchases corn from him wants more profit. The CSA model is a breakthrough. Food goes directly from farmer to eater, insuring that 100% of the food value goes to the farmer- not the industrial food corporations. It also insures that farmers can grow a variety of veggies. Monoculture causes devastation to the local ecosystem, and usually it relies on chemical pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers. Most CSAs use organic methods and plant a wide variety of crops, a much more sustainable approach. CSA is on the rise. Serious Farms is not the only farm getting started. Lots of other beginning farmers are building reality from dreams. This is part of a much bigger movement.

Many people become CSA members in order to eat more vegetables. Other people join, because CSA shares often include vegetables that you can not get at the local grocery store. For example, our salad mix is always changing, and at one point this summer it included arugula, mizuna, purslane and parsley. This vitamin-packed and delicious combination can’t be found anywhere else. Serious CSA members will enjoy a wide variety of veggies every week for 20 weeks, and we’ll share recipes to inspire you throughout the season.

Want to learn more about our CSA? Check out the FAQ section of our website. It offers many details about what you can expect from Serious CSA. So join us. For your health, your community, and for the future of local, sustainable farming.

Serious CSA Membership Form

In any season, we hope you’re eating well. Questions? Comments? Send them to us at seriousfarms@gmail.com.

Seasonal and Local in the Off-season

November 11, 2011

“How do you eat locally… in the winter?” I really enjoyed Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. She writes about her family’s effort to grow most of their own food and procure much of the remainder of their diet from local and sustainable sources. In the midst of summer, it is easy to imagine providing all of your own food. However, once the leaves fall from the trees, the garden is not as generous. So how does one eat locally during the off-season?

For us, eating locally in January requires work in August. Canning, freezing, pickling and drying are a big piece of what we and many others do in the summer and fall. In January, we can be eating much of what we grew in the garden, just differently. Canned tomatoes become pasta sauce and frozen green beans find their way into a soup pot.

Often, people misconstrue the locavore diet for deprivation. On the contrary, we relish things abundant in the moment. Today, we cracked open a jar of our homemade dill pickles and nearly polished off the whole thing. (You wouldn’t blame us, if only you could smell the garlic and dill!)

A friend asked me if I could put together a local seasonal food guidebook that she might read to better know the rhythms of nearby farms. This is an interesting proposition, as every farm is a little different. I don’t know how to write a book that would account for all the differences between individual farms. Some of us are extending the season with cool-weather crops, such as kale, lettuce, and parsley by using low tunnels and cold frames. Others have constructed heated greenhouses. Some farms focus on lesser-known veggies, like bok choy or mizuna. Some farms will have raspberries a few weeks early by using portable high-tunnels to encourage early fruiting. We are all so different.

It seems to me the solution is to really get to know the people growing your food. Ask them what they’re growing right now. Ask them how they grew it. Keep in mind that not all farmer’s markets require sellers to only sell their own produce. Many vendors sell auction produce, which may have traveled quite a distance from small or industrial, organic or chemical farms. When you purchase directly from a farmer, there is an opportunity to hold the farmer accountable by asking, “Did you grow this?” and “How?” Here is a great resource for questions to ask farmers.

How do you find good farmers? The internet has made that a lot easier, although it is important to keep in mind that not all farms are online. Local Harvest is a fantastic website that lists farms, markets, CSA farms, cheesemakers and much more. Buy Fresh, Buy Local PA also provides great resources to find not only farms, but also restaurants and stores that offer local goods.

Finally, eating locally is not just about acquiring locally grown produce. There is work to be done in the kitchen. Luckily, there are many cookbooks on the topic of seasonal cooking. I’d like to recommend a few.

There are also many books out there on the topic of putting food by (canning, freezing, drying, storing).
These days we’re enjoying food we put by during the peak of produce season. We’re also harvesting fresh greens from our low tunnels. Yesterday we opened the tunnels and coldframes to let in some rain. It may be off-season, but it’s still a joy! Here are a few photos.

In any season, we hope you’re eating well. Questions? Comments? Send them to us at seriousfarms@gmail.com.

The Search Continues

November 1, 2011

We haven’t posted anything new recently for a couple of reasons. First of all, we got married on Oct 1st. It was a fantastic day and the beginning of our lifelong honeymoon together.

The other thing that has been keeping us occupied is searching for land. As we’ve talked about in previous posts, we’re bound and determined to start our own farm, so we are hunting for a small parcel of land to call our own. It is not easy to find what we are looking for. I don’t know what we were expecting. I mean, they aren’t just handing out awesome farms for free. (Although, that wouldn’t be a bad idea. It would encourage a lot of other people like us to start growing amazing food.)

There are a few things that we’ve identified as important features to look for in a farm. Location is key. We can build barns and improve soil, however the one thing we can not change about a farm is its location. We looked at one farm about 40 miles west of Selinsgrove, and although we fell in love with it, eventually we realized that it is simply too far from our home base. Why stay close to Selinsgrove? We’ve got roots here, family and friends, a community not to be taken for granted. Also, we’re offering CSA shares in 2012, and we don’t want to ask people to drive 40 miles to pick-up veggies.

So we crossed the too-far farm off the list. Now we’re looking for land within 10 miles of Selinsgrove. We’re open to land that does not yet have a home built on it, as we are interested in building a sustainable home. (I’ve got a book on straw bale building that is on my winter reading agenda.) Our farm can be as small as 5 acres or as big as 20. Also we need a source of water, be it a stream, pond, or well. Recently we checked out one place that previously had a mobile home on the property, so there is a well, septic and electricity already hooked up.

It’s worth mentioning that we continue to come across advertisements for land that is being marketed toward real estate developers. In order to stay afloat, farms everywhere are selling off parcels of their land to builders. As a result, more than an acre of farmland is lost every minute to development. (As we lose farmland, who is producing our food?) This also makes buying farmland expensive and the biggest hurdle for new farmers.

So we continue hunting for the right piece of land. In the meantime, Harv is reading about workhorses. We’re both working on a business plan and crop plan. We covered our low tunnels and cold frames so that our winter crops are protected from severe cold. (FYI, kale omelets are delicious!) We planted garlic and spring onions. Soon we’ll inventory our seeds. As we change seasons, farm work shifts gears, but I still wouldn’t call this the off-season.

Photos of the happy couple and our low tunnels follow. As always, feel free to email us with comments or questions at seriousfarms@gmail.com.

Landlocked Farmers

September 23, 2011

Farm Loans

What do you suppose is the first thing you need to grow food? Is it seeds or water or tools? No, the very first thing is land.

Harvey and I are searching for a nearby small farm to call our home, and in the process we’re learning about the biggest obstacle to new farmers- access to capital to purchase land. We’ve been visiting farms for sale, and there are a few farms which have peaked our interest. So we took the next step and started talking with lenders. First, we looked into the Farm Service Agency’s New and Beginning Farmer Program which offers loans at very low interest rates for farm ownership. Unfortunately we can not qualify for their loans because we have only been farming for 1.5 years. They require 3 years minimum.

Next, we began talking to local commercial lenders. We’ve met with one bank so far, and it was an encouraging meeting. We’ll keep you updated on our progress with that, but it’s made us realize that there is a bigger picture issue here. There are a lot of young and beginning farmers in the US, but there is no clear path to acquiring farmland. Check out this new NPR report on new farmers, where they talk about new farmers trying to find capital for starting a farm. It’s interesting because in this story they focus on conventional farming, which can be expensive due to purchasing seed and chemicals every year. I would think that lenders would prefer to fund sustainable farmers, because they require less purchased inputs. Sustainable farmers tend to use manure or compost instead of chemical fertilizer. Many of us save seeds from one year to the next, keeping the cost of seed purchase at a minimum. Ironically, lenders hesitate to fund sustainable agriculture, because there is a stereotype that it is not profitable.

Harvey and I are in the thick of it. I know we’ll find a creative solution to this, but it is unfortunate that there isn’t something in place to help new farmers access land. Think of all the creative, smart people that are interested in growing delicious, healthy food for our local communities. Many of them will give up on trying to get a farm and in the mean time, older farmers are retiring. The young, would-be farmers are left to polish up their resumes and try to get a 9 to 5 job. That is easier said than done these days, and we are left to answer the tough question, “Who will grow our food?”

Like I said, Harvey and I are bound and determined to find a small farm. We love growing good food. And we are grateful to live in such a strong community of supportive people. Speaking of community, many thanks to everyone who came out last Saturday for the Harvest Festival. It was a really great way to end the season. I especially enjoyed watching the kids participating in the scavenger hunt. They eagerly ran around the market while asking farmers if they use chemicals on their crops and discovering what chickens eat.

Farmer’s Market

We have wrapped up our growing season, and we will not be at the farmer’s market this week. However, we encourage people to visit fellow our fellow farmers at the Selinsgrove Market. Tomorrow is the Market Street Festival, so the Farmer’s Market will be on Pine St, east of Market.

As always, feel free to contact us at seriousfarms@gmail.com or our Facebook page.

Celebrate with us at the Harvest Festival

September 16, 2011

Market Update

  • Arugula
  • Beets
  • Bok Choy
  • Cucumbers
  • Green Beans (Featured in this week’s recipe.)
  • Green Tomatoes
  • Kale
  • Pumpkins
  • Swiss Chard
  • Heirloom Tomatoes and Cherry Tomatoes (Featured in this week’s recipe.)
  • Winter Squash
  • Herbs: Basil (Featured in this week’s recipe.), Parsley
Field Notes

You can feel autumn in the air now. The leaves are beginning to change color and fall. At Serious Farms, we’re also changing gears. This will be our last Selinsgrove Farmer’s Market for the season. We’re looking forward to spending more time searching for a new farm to call our home and getting details together for next year’s Serious CSA. We visited a few potential farms this week, and we’ve begun talking to banks about farm financing. We also visited Marcia and Giles at Mystic Springs Farm, and they helped us to bend some pipes that we’ll use to extend the season by building low tunnels. Hopefully they will look something like this:

Low tunnels help extend the season by keeping crops warm.

As if we’re not busy enough, we’re getting married in two weeks! We’re both thrilled and looking forward to celebrating with family and friends.

So come celebrate all of the good news with us at the Harvest Festival on Saturday! Details can be found here. We’re looking forward to live music, a scavenger hunt for the kids, and an apple pie baking competition.

Our Recipe of the Week is Green Beans with Cherry Tomatoes. This recipe got rave reviews on our dinner table this week. It’s a great harvest dish, and easy to make.

See you on Saturday from 9am-1pm at the Selinsgrove Farmer’s Market. Questions? Comments? Please email seriousfarms@gmail.com

The Great Flood of 2011

September 9, 2011

Lately, living in Central Pennsylvania has meant hurricanes and earthquakes. This week, it also means flooding. We are okay, however many people in Selinsgrove and other nearby communities along the Susquehanna River and its tributaries were evacuated and are returning home to clean up from flood damage. We spent yesterday helping family to pack up and get to higher ground, and today moving them back home.

Our garden is absolutely soggy. We debated for quite a while about what to do. If we harvest today, then we’ll do serious damage. Walking in the garden when it is this wet compacts the soil. Harvesting from wet plants can cause disease to spread. To make matters worse, many of our tomatoes have split because of all the rain and most of our beans are overgrown. However, we worry about disappointing customers who may come to market and find we are not there. We also worry because the Harvest Festival is next Saturday the 17th, and we want to remind people to come with their family and friends for all the festivities. (Check out the details here.) Finally, we decided not to harvest today. That means we will not be at the Selinsgrove Farmer’s Market tomorrow.

Watching the news, we are reminded that we are lucky. We could be dealing with severe flood damage. Our hearts especially go out to people in Vermont who have been hit twice in a row by flooding. When I heard about what happened to Evening Song CSA in Vermont after Hurricane Irene came through, I tried to imagine what we would do in the case of a natural disaster. Their 10 acre vegetable farm is now completely torn apart, as the nearby creek moved into the middle of their fields. It did not just wash away topsoil. Instead, the creek bed actually relocated. Rather than having a farm, they now have a creek. To make matters worse, the FDA has announced that all food crops exposed to flood waters are at risk for bacterial exposure and should not enter the food system. That means many farmers will take a huge hit in their income this year. It helps somewhat that many farmers have crop insurance and the USDA offers loans to help farmers get through emergencies like these. However, most farmers are already getting by on a slim income.

We’re lucky that all we’re dealing with is a very soggy garden, due to the rain. Still, as we notice an increase in extreme weather conditions, small farmers are confronted by new challenges to growing food for our communities. It helps that we grow a diversity of crops. Although the tomatoes dislike this cool, wet weather, the beans and the squash are growing by leaps and bounds. Our sweet peas also enjoy this weather and most of the seeds planted last week have germinated. Growing many different things is one way to insure that no matter the weather, something will thrive. After all this adversity, we genuinely look forward to celebrating the Harvest Festival with you all next week. Thank you for your patience, and we hope all of you are fairing well.

As always, email questions to seriousfarms@gmail.com and keep in touch with us on our Facebook Page.

Summer is not over yet!

September 2, 2011

Market Update

  • Cucumbers- Featured in our Recipe of the Week!
  • Green Beans
  • Kale
  • Salad Mix (spicy arugula, mizuna, purslane and parsley)
  • Swiss Chard
  • Heirloom Tomatoes
  • Zucchini
  • Herbs: Basil, Parsley
  • Garden Flower Bouquets

Field Notes

We had better start with the big news first: we’re officially going to shift to Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) in 2012. Start thinking about becoming a Serious CSA Member. We will provide a basket of organically-grown vegetables for you and your family every week in exchange for your membership. This helps your family to eat a wide variety of healthy, local veggies while getting to know your farmer and the story behind your food. From the farmer’s perspective, we look forward to the regularity and security of a CSA. For a moment, put yourselves in our shoes. After a week of labor growing some of the best food on earth, it is time to set up a stand at the Farmer’s Market. However, the weather does not always cooperate. When storm clouds threaten rain, people stay home. We put the same amount of work into producing good wholesome food, however the fickle nature of weather can seriously impact our sales. With a CSA, we know how many people to grow food for and we can plan ahead when purchasing seed and planning our garden. We look forward to sharing more details and a registration brochure with you in next week’s update.

Everyone is talking about the end of summer, but for those of us growing food, the season is not over until the arrival of the first frost. And even then, we extend the season by using cold frames and low tunnels to protect crops from cooler temps and frost. Right now, we’re preparing for fall by planting seedlings for a fall crop. We’re also preparing our raised beds and cold frames for a winter harvest. The growing season is still going strong. This week, we started harvesting potatoes and onions! We also canned salsa and dried more basil. Hopefully next week, I’ll find time to can savory wax beans and dilly green beans. Many of you have shared your adventures in canning and freezing produce. On that note, I thought you would enjoy this video about the cultural and political significance of canning.

We’re also really excited about our new seasonal salad mix. We continually change our salad mix based on what is in season. After learning about the incredible health benefits of purslane, we started including this delicious leafy green in our salad mix. It has a succulent texture and a sweet, peppery flavor. (We’ve got your Swiss Chard, too.) Another good flavor is the creamy and savory taste of our Recipe of the Week… Tzatziki, a Greek cucumber dish. We’re giving out copies of the recipe at our stand at the Selinsgrove Farmer’s Market, Saturday from 9am-1pm. It’s the perfect addition to your Labor Day picnic. Speaking of holidays, be sure to mark your calendars for the Selinsgrove Hometown Harvest Festival. It’s on Saturday Sept 17th. Details are here.

As always, if you have any questions, please email us at seriousfarms@gmail.com or keep in touch with us through our Facebook Page.