The FSA (Family Supported Agriculture)

veggie 2“Do you know what you want in your FSA this week?” I asked Emily.  Eggs, goat cheese, beets, potatoes, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, carrots, sage, and pumpkin piled into the cooler.

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I have always been on that in-between-sized farm.  I can grow a lot of produce, but I have run into a few problems with a small farm.  When I take produce to the farmer’s market, most folks will pass up my small display to go to the big farm tables.  You have to have a big, vibrant display to get folks to stop.  I tried to do a CSA (community supported agriculture) one year and some weeks my customers got a lot, and sometimes barely a shoe box.  We used to pick the best to go to the market and for the CSA’s and then ended up with the garden dredges ourselves, or worse, out to eat because we didn’t have enough!

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This year I took produce to the market early on and ran into the very same problems so I stopped.  Our kale is still four feet high out there and vibrant ruby beets line the row.  We have eaten more of our own produce then we ever have before.  We put up quite a bit as well.  I still have Jerusalem artichokes, sweet potatoes, potatoes, and cabbage to harvest but the garden is sleepily falling into slumber.

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I have found more joy in delivering large bundles of produce to my grown children then I ever did going to market.  Knowing that they are eating delicious, organically grown produce, cheese, and eggs makes this mama’s heart happy.  I always throw in some meat from my friends’ ranches.  It is my way of giving gifts to my kids.  I can’t always help them repair their cars or pay their bills, but I can feed them.  It’s what I do best.

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FSA stands for Family Supported Agriculture.  Payment comes in the form of a hug, and that is just right for me.

CSA or Farmers Market? (a small farm dilemma)

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We live in a little yellow house.  We rent from folks that don’t care that we started a farm.  This property envelopes two lots, two thirds of an acre total.  It backs to the fairgrounds, and I have lovely, like minded neighbors.  We love our little farm, it is a dream come true.  We call it our practice farm because we intend to move to more space next year.  We have successfully intensively planted a quarter acre, take care of six adorable goats, a plethora of entertaining chickens, and the cutest ducks I have ever seen.  We have a wonderful little homestead here.

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We intended, reasonably, to have the farm help pay for itself.  I sold two goats this year and I have milk share holders.  I cannot bring enough eggs to the farmers market.  They are gone in minutes.  The vegetables are coming up now and there are amazing nutrients to be had after a winter of preserved food.

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Crisp, peppery radishes line up in rows, nearly ready to harvest.  Waves of green butter lettuce tempt the palate.  Green onions, and small bulbs of garlic, herbs of every sort, oregano, basil, chives, ready to season the salads.  Collard greens, kale, and Swiss chard ready to be simply sautéed with olive oil and garlic, a touch of sea salt.  Delicious meals at the ready.  I have a bit to share.

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The farmers markets are not inexpensive to participate in.  The main one we do is quite pricey, actually.  We had two tents proudly held and filled them with our Apothecary items as well as canned goods, cooking extracts and homemade vinegar, eggs, and a table of produce.  I am the only farmer there with produce that did not get shipped in.  The larger farms have to bring vegetables in from California and Mexico in order to make a living in these early months.  A separation of knowledge.  Folks don’t know what is in season.  They demand fresh corn in May and peas in September.

My main industry is Herbology.  Farming is my passion and one I want to share.  To be able to assure chemical free vegetables picked at dawn and driven only two cities over is an amazing gift. However, without the large table of overflowing produce, I get little notice.  Bags of fresh salad go home to be eaten by us for supper.  Onions line my produce drawer.  I cannot sell all the produce I bring and that is a terrible waste.  I would rather harvest for those who will enjoy it and eat it.

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I love the idea of the overflowing tables of produce.  I may have that by mid-season.  I want to stand there in my overalls and serve up heirloom tomatoes, and brightly colored corn.  I want to be known as a farmer.  But am I a farmer?  Or am I a farmsteader?  Farms have to grow a lot to survive as a farm.  I would have to sell everything I grow in order to keep up at the market leaving nothing for my own family.

A farmstead is a place where a family tries to be as self sufficient as possible.  One tries to make, grow, and create what is needed to live.  And that is where we lie.  We have enough to share, eggs, milk, vegetables, fruit, but most of it has to go to us in order to have enough for the entire year.  We are a farmstead.

Last week we only did one tent (so half the price) at the farmers market.  The market manager was not happy.  I suppose though, if it were so important for them to have small farms present, they wouldn’t charge so much.  He really wants us to bring produce next week.

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CSA stands for community supported agriculture.  A co-op of sorts, a club.  One pays an upfront fee at the beginning of the season (which is now, here in Colorado) and every week the recipient receives a basket of fresh produce of what is in season, freshly harvested at dawn.  Mine would include a milk share and a dozen eggs.  All for less than $22 a week.  This helps me confront the exorbitant water bill, as well as getting more seeds, and helps me keep my farmstead running.  I offered two.  Half a bushel of really fresh produce, half a gallon of creamy milk, and a dozen pastured eggs.  One has dinner.  It truly is a great deal and it helps me immensely.  The CSA holder is a part of the farm at this point.  They own a share of the goats, the gardens.  If a hail storm or coyote attack occurs, we are all at a loss.  We pray for good weather.  We pray for a wonderful harvest.  We pray for an invisibility shield from predators.  The families can visit the farm, see what actually is in season at any given time, help out if they like, let their children see what a farmstead looks, smells, feels like.  What warm soil feels like, a chicken’s feathers against the skin feels like, what the ducks sound like as they march across the yard, what a fresh raspberry tastes like.  Enchantment thirty minutes from the city.  Priceless.

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The answer seems obvious. Offering families CSA’s helps share the extra harvest, assures that I have enough to preserve and enjoy, and makes two families a part of our farm family.

How to Start a Farm

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How do you start a farm?  Well, you get a hundred acres or so, just buy it or inherit it or something, make sure it has a farmhouse on it.  Gets lots of fuzzy animals that want to work for room and board.  Grow tons of fabulous food.

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This was my vision of a farm and how to start one.  Just do everything at once and get really lucky and somewhat rich to start it.  My vision has changed.  I see that farming can be on a large scale or small.  That farmers usually start small and work their way up to more.  More fields growing, more animals, more customers.

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Here at Pumpkin Hollow Farm I had my first farmer’s market as a farmer!  Okay, okay, so I had two bags of greens.  I went out at dawn and carefully picked two bags of delicious, heirloom baby greens, radishes, and cherry tomatoes.  I washed them, shook them dry, and packed them into cellophane.  They sold almost immediately.  A vendor bought one of them for her lunch.  A stick had made it into the bag and she laughingly called it fiber.  Folks that want organic, hand picked vegetables understand that the occasional spider or stick will make its way into the salad!  She said it was really delicious and that made my day and fueled me to up production and become an even more real farmer.

I brought preserves from the root cellar and sold out of pickles.  I baked four loaves of bread and sold one of them (more for us!).  I sold a dozen eggs.

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The herbal medicines that we bring out to these markets have been our sole income for four years now.  Surrounded by new customers at new markets, there was a lot of interest in them and they sold well for a first market.  We will continue to be herbalists and sell the herbal remedies along with our farm goods.  It was so fun hearing Doug say, “All these things were made on our farmstead in Kiowa.”  We sold teas, coffee, soap, lotion, and aprons as well.

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The day before was our first Farmgirls market where Nancy and I and our farm girl daughters and granddaughter headed out in ridiculously high winds to a new market donning aprons and goods from our homesteads.  Nancy sold two bags of greens (they may have been too hidden), and baked goods, eggs, and we both sold preserves (mostly pickles!).  The herbals did well there too.  It feels like we are crossing the line from wannabe to farmers.  Perhaps our income tax returns will list “Farmer” as our profession.

My friend, Eileen, a fellow blogger, started a CSA from her one acre farm.  Nancy and I started taking our homestead goods to farmer’s markets.  A roadside stand could sell excess produce and farmstead goods.  Starting a farm is easier than I thought.  Grow stuff.  Sell it.

keep calm

We are a little (okay very) worried about where we are moving too.  It is nearly impossible to find a house to rent once you divulge how many animals and chickens you have.  Even places in the country for rent have no pet policies.  But I know that it will all work out and as the saying goes, “Home is Where the Heart Is.”  I think it should say, “Home is Where the Farm Is!”