My husband and I have subscribed to a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) service since 2007. For 18-20 weeks during the growing season (typically late June to early October), we receive fresh vegetables grown at a local farm. We like knowing the farmers, and have learned to prepare some vegetables we never would have tried otherwise.
Sometime during the winter, we send the farmer money to reserve our “share” of the coming year’s produce. The upfront payment helps the farmer cover his or her costs to get the crop planted and taken care of until the produce is ready for harvest.
Once a week, during the growing season, we visit the farm and pick up a container of produce.
This year, we decided to try a new CSA: Brook Farm on Lawrence Road just northwest or Harvard. 2014 is the farm’s first year offering a CSA, but the Brooks are not new to farming.
Rich and Sonja Brook have been producing annual flowers and a variety of vegetables at their farm since 1974. For many years, the Brooks have been fixtures at the Woodstock Farmers Market. They were also instrumental in starting the Harvard Farmer’s Market that ran for three years, but was discontinued after the 2013 season.
Four years ago, the Brooks started mentoring a young couple in the farm’s operation: Beth and Vijay Narayanan. Beth grew up in Harvard with the Brook’s daughter and helped out at the farm during her teenage years.
Recently, I sat down with Beth and Vijay to talk about the farm and their experience as young farmers. They are a lovely couple with three young daughters. Vijay grew up in California, and worked in the construction industry before deciding to begin working with the Brooks to learn the business of farming.
Brook Farm is not certified organic, but they do farm sustainably, using cover crops and applying compost to the fields. On a case by case basis, they treat specific crops for specific pests – but only if they can do so safely with an end result that they will eat themselves.
Brook Farm sells directly to consumers through the CSA, at both the Woodstock and Lake Geneva Farmers’ Markets, and from the store that is located on the farm. In addition to retail vegetable sales, they sell produce wholesale to several restaurants including Simple Café in Lake Geneva, and make and sell a variety of popcorn flavors that are popped and packaged at the farm.
Beth and Vijay acknowledge that the CSA has been a learning experience. This year, they started with just 30 shares to test the waters. If selling at Farmers’ Markets, they can bring along whatever produce is ready that day. When raising crops for 30 CSA families, they need to be sure that there are at least 30 heads of lettuce, eggplants, etc. ready to be harvested at the same time, and are of similar size and quality to one another – every week, for 18 weeks.
Personally, I think they are doing a great job, and will be looking forward to next week’s vegetables.
For information on local farms that sell direct to consumers, visit: www.localharvest.org