When Brian and I got off work last Saturday at noon, we were expecting a full day and a half of lazing around to recover from farm work. As it turns out, nature had other plans. Haying happens whenever there is a 4 day stretch of guaranteed sunny weather, regardless of weekends. When we got back from our 30-mile bike ride on Sunday, I was about ready to pass out, but instead we helped bring about 200 bales of hay up into the barn. On Monday, as soon as lunch was over, the six of us headed up to the hay field, accompanied by Phoenix O’Brien and Kenny Larrabee. Phoenix and his girlfriend are the resident farmers on MOFGA’s land and are currently in the Journeyperson program through MOFGA, an intensive, two-year farmer training program which includes a mentorship. (Ken is Phoenix’s mentor in draft horse farming). Kenny is part of the Larrabee family who used to farm Ken and Adrienne’s land, and now lives right next door. The eight of us baled and brought in hay until 7:30pm, totaling 628 bales including what was brought in Sunday.
The process of haying begins with mowing, wherein Ken uses 2 horses to pull a long set of blades that mow down all the grass. He will then (the next day, ideally) ted the hay with a tedder, which is a rotating set of tines that fluff it and aid in drying it out, and then rake it into long strips. Phoenix then drove the baler with 2 of his horses plus Pete. The baler he was using is a 1968 New Holland square baler, which passes over the strip of hay, pulls it up into the machine, shapes it into a square bale, ties twine around it, and kicks it out the back. Once the field is strewn with hay bales, we come along with two Jewel and Star pulling a hay wagon while as many people as possible run alongside and throw bales up onto the cart where one or two people stack them as neatly as possible. In the end, we managed to get about 75 bales to a wagon when they were stacked 5-7 bales high. Once we brought the wagons back to the barn, one person threw bales down from the wagon, one person loaded them onto a (very persnickety) chain conveyer belt going up to the second floor, and 2-4 people received the bales on the second floor and stacked them up there. By the end of the 5th wagon load on Monday, we were all sweaty, scratched up, and exhausted, but haying with horse power and lots of people gives one a sense of personal accomplishment as well as camaraderie. Nowadays, many farmers certainly bale their hay on their own from the comfort of an A/C equipped tractor cab, but there is so much missing from that experience.
On Tuesday morning, we finished up the CSA harvest with beet greens, arugula, spinach, and radishes. Ken and I washed, bagged, and packed everything up for delivery. While Graham and I moved sheep and horses to new pasture and Mica and Adrienne drove to Portland to deliver most of the shares there, Brian held down the fort at the CSA on-farm pickup, where 10 local families get their shares. The share for the first week consisted of a ½ lb bag of salad mix, a ½ lb bag of either spinach or arugula, a head of lettuce, a big bunch of kale, a bunch of beet greens, a bunch of radishes, and a bunch of either cilantro or mint. This represents about $16 worth of produce, but the average throughout the season is about $25. The standard size share costs between $325 and $375 on a sliding scale and lasts 18 weeks, which averages out to about $20 per week. For families paying $350 for the share, this represents a $5/week savings on produce. It also means that the shareholders have a direct relationship with their farmers and are able to easily communicate about how their food was grown. On Adrienne and Ken’s side, it means a guaranteed early income in the spring rather than fronting the money they need for the season and hoping they will earn it back later at farmers markets.
While this is a very innovative and compelling economic model, the concept of a CSA originated with much more than economic intentions. In its simplest sense, current manifestations of this model can be defined as a direct marketing strategy where consumers, (in this model, they are called “members”), pay for their food (referred to as “buying a share”) before it is grown and then receive their food in (usually weekly) portions throughout the season. The payment serves as a ligature between producer and consumer, where the farmers have the obligation to grow food for the consumers, and the consumers share in the inherent risks of farming. There are many variations on this model, including modes of payment, length of season, ownership arrangements, type of food grown, number of shares, farming methods, distribution methods, share size, etc. CSA wasn’t always perceived as simply a business model or a marketing strategy, though. It began as part of a concerted effort by two groups of young people in New England in the 1980’s with a variety of backgrounds and interests. Their common goal was to develop a agriculturally-based route by which communities might break free of the chains of industrial food which have lead to so much misinformation, stripping of power, poor health, and poor people. Two farms, Indian Line Farm in Massachusetts and Temple Wilton Farm in New Hampshire, were founded in 1985 as the first CSA farms. Both of these farms began with a “CSA to ASC” model, meaning, “community supported agriculture to agriculturally supported communities.” Thus, it was born out of a desire for the relationship to truly go both ways, and it was rooted in the idea of a needs-based local economy, where the needs of the producers and consumers dictate business interactions, rather than the market dictating that the consumers pay to a distributer as much as they are willing to pay for a product they do not necessarily need. By this model, the local communities around the farm would gather and families would pledge money until the farm budget was covered. By uniting producer and consumer through a bond greater and more communicative than “the market,” CSA attempts to reinstitute community food, economic, and social sovereignty in one fell swoop.
On Wednesday, we planted some winter squash (finally!) and got a bunch of direct seeding and weeding done in Field 1, but we were all still feeling pretty worn out from haying and lack of sleep. Around 3pm, Mica mentioned to Adrienne that she thought there might be enough strawberries to harvest, so Adrienne went over to survey the patch. Indeed there were! Just as it began to lightly rain and wash off the heat of the day, we all found ourselves gorging in the strawberry patch for the rest of the afternoon. The heat and tiredness melted away with each bite and we were all laughing and happy and had juice dripping everywhere. While there were many dark red, overripe berries to eat, we managed to collect about 50 quarts for market.
On Thursday, we spent the whole day harvesting for the Belfast market with the help of a CSA member, April Boucher, who is the MOFGA Common Ground Fair director. We brought in 50 lbs of mesclun mix (baby kale, baby lettuce, and mustards), 20 lbs of mustards alone, 20 lbs of arugula, 12 lbs of spinach, and many bunches of chard, radishes, kale and head lettuce. We also harvested mint, cilantro, marjoram, lemon balm, parsley, dill, and sage, many of which were planted last year and survived the winter.
When Adrienne and Graham went to the Belfast farmers market on Friday, the 50 quarts of berries sold out in no more than 25 minutes. Meanwhile, Mica, Brian, and I planted more butternut squash and then picked about 40 more quarts of strawberries for the Saturday Orono market.
Next up: more haying! We have 1000 more bales of 1st cut to bring in starting Monday.
History of CSA: