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Whole Farm CSA Delivers Food Year Round

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This article comes from the NOFA/Massachusetts 2013 July-August Issue Newsletter

By Nicole Belanger NOFA/Mass Public Relations Director

A year round CSA sounds like a lot of work, and it is. Hilary Costa and her husband Lincoln Fishman are some of the few in our area taking on a project like this, at Sawyer Farm in Worthington, MA where they’re entering their third season. The venture grew out of their desire to homestead, make a living, and provide good, local, fresh items to others. With 20 open acres and 45 acres total, Hilary and Lincoln provide dairy, meat, and veggies essentially year round for 10 households.

For years while Lincoln taught high school biology in New York City, he would spend summers at his family’s land in Pennsylvania. While teaching nutrition he had a revelation: he could get a wider variety of ingredients and cuisines there in NYC than just about anywhere else in the world. There were an “absurd amount of choices… but none of [the food] was ethically grown,” says Lincoln. Looking for a change, he and his girlfriend, now wife, Hilary, quit their jobs and started the homestead.

Worthington is at a higher elevation, therefore cooler than the rest of the Pioneer Valley, making it tough to compete head to head with others in the region during prime growing season. They needed to grow something unique to set them apart. Their focus is largely on produce that will store well, like carrots, potatoes, winter radish and squash. They also produce beef, pork, chicken, goat, eggs, and dairy. “It’s not gourmet food; it’s just real food. Good food. It probably was exactly what people were doing 100 years ago,” says Lincoln.

The cellar in the house on their property gets good airflow, but regulating the temperature has proven to be a challenge. Relying so much on stored veggies, they need a reliable refrigeration system. Enter CoolBot – a quick, cheap way to create a walk in. Created by CSA farmers in New Paltz, New York, the CoolBot converts a conventional home air conditioner into a cooling unit, capable of producing temperatures below 32 degrees. Costa and Fishman bought an insulated 8x18 truck from Craigslist for $2500. Parked next to their house, they are able to keep stores of root vegetables cool during the spring and fall warm spells. They also are able to pick some items the night before their CSA pick up and keep them from wilting. They also use a separated third of the refrigerator for hanging meat if they have to slaughter an animal out of season. The setup has saved them money, time, and expensive repairs. Neither knows much about repairing compressors, and if the air conditioner goes, they only have to replace that, a significant cost savings.

Whole Farm CSA Delivers Food Year Round Lincoln says they would never try to convince people to do what they do. Both they and their friends are around 30 years old, which has worked out well so far as they’ve relied mostly on free labor. They have cherished the fun working out in the country with people who are positive and have great energy. However, long term, they’re not sure how it will evolve. No strangers to hard work, they also have crafted ways to keep their sanity in addition to good summer swimming. Harvesting many crops all in a few days, their approach takes the labor pressure off the early season, when many are harvesting greens and such daily for early Farmers’ Markets and CSAs. They also prioritize taking trips away in the winter. The last two years in a row they’ve spent several weeks in Mexico. Trusted friends help prepare the week’s CSA pick-ups while they are away.

They farm with horses, with a row every 3 feet apart in their field. Their goal for July is to have 100% biomass coverage, including in pathways. Once 90% of weed control is done in June, they want to put something in there to hold and build the soil. They follow the model of the Nordells of PA, following the tenet “feed the soil, not the crop.”

Thanks to the birds in their chicken tractor accidentally leaving some organic corn seed in the field, they found that corn provides great biomass. They leave ¼ of their garden open, manuring and cutting cover crops like oats, peas, and buckwheat, preparing these areas for an early planting next year. At Sawyer Farm July is the slackest month. Seedlings are in; weeds are under control. Their focus shifts then from the garden to things like barn improvements and pasture management. This gives them time to control goldenrod, thistle, and burdock before they seed. Though it would be better handled in June, they do things when they can. Knowing their small customer base well, what they like and don’t, makes their operation that much easier to manage. They retain many customers and are able to accommodate customers’ requests.

What does the future hold for Sawyer Farm? They’d like their inputs from outside to be minimal, eventually growing their own livestock grain, or contracting a neighbor to grow it for them rather than buying it. They would like to eventually double their size, but want to stay as small as they can.

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