Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Week 15 Newsletter

As most of the crops have been planted or harvested, we are entering a new stage on the farm. While summer is not officially over, we have fully embraced the fall. Last week, we spread compost on next year’s vegetable fields and seeded them down with oats and field peas. This is also a time (while the season is still fresh in our minds) to review what worked well and what didn’t this year. There is always a lot that doesn’t work well and I fully understand that while any new solution could create new problems, we always live with the hope (even after 20 years of trying) to perfect what we do by incorporating necessary changes.

Running a farm is a combination of working with nature, people, and technology. The challenge is to properly address the needs of each component. We have become pretty decent at solving our technological challenges by having kept pace with the 21st century in accessing information and using equipment. As opposed to technology, interacting with nature and people requires an open mind and an open heart, as both are never constant. All you can do is create an environment whereby you foster stability as best you can. And herein lays the challenge.

Jody and I are under no illusion that we have the intellect or the wisdom to create that environment by ourselves, nor should we. The acceptance of our limitations led us to become a CSA farm and immerse ourselves in its underlying philosophy of community. It was the input from and insights of many members that helped bring about the farm as it is today. Very early on, the members understood that in order for a farmer to produce high quality food, the farmer needs to stay on the farm. This was one of the founding principles of Roxbury as a CSA farm. In the early 1990s, the most plausible way to make a farm work economically was to spend three days a week at a farmers market (rather than taking care of the farm). Another small example is that when we expressed the difficulty of growing garlic due to the high labor input at the wrong time of year, the members committed themselves to taking on an important roll in the planting and harvesting of garlic. In short, our relationship has always been about dialogue to find solutions to challenges.

The largest accomplishment of this dialogue is, of course, the purchase and preservation of farmland. The members recognized that we were not in the position to take on a huge debt load to purchase farmland. Members, with the help of the Open Space Institute and Equity Trust, completed a successful fundraising effort in 2002, securing 150 acres, barns, and housing for farmers in perpetuity.

When we say “members” we recognize that it is rather difficult to be in dialogue with all members or that we have a system in place for getting input from you through democratically elected representatives. The members that participate in running the sites, the ones that come to the summits for visioning and budgeting and to the member workdays have always been self-selected. We are deeply grateful for the enormous amount of effort, energy, and goodwill that has poured into the farm since 1990.

Since 2003 I have been concerned that we have started to live under the delusion that Roxbury Farm has everything figured out. So, why hold a summit if we have it all figured out? We admit, we are not a struggling operation and we are not operating in a crisis mode. But, we recognize it to be an oversight to discontinue a platform for dialogue. Of course dialogue continues informally and we appreciate the many e-mails we receive, the feedback on the annual surveys, and the discussions during workdays and CSA pickups. But, when you create a space like we have in our past summits, those types of conversations develop much deeper qualities as we all make a commitment to implement proposed changes.

This fall, we are seeking members to participate in a summit at the farm again. We want to exchange thoughts and ideas for the long-term future of Roxbury Farm. A diverse perspective from members, farm coworkers, and us will make for a fuller picture of the past, present, and future. In the end aren’t we all blind men describing different parts of the same elephant? Together we create a better picture of the whole animal.

We plan on having this meeting in early November. If you are interested in participating, please e-mail the farm at info@roxburyfarm.com. This will not be a forum for individual wishes to be discussed; instead, participants are asked to come as if one is a members’ representative. At the summit, we will discuss the present and future challenges that will impact the success of Roxbury Farm in the future. We need your help to find creative solutions to some challenges we are already aware of. There might be many we are not even aware of and, therefore, even if you can’t participate in person, we would like to know what you think are possible challenges (and possibly any ideas you might have for solutions).

Over the past couple of years we may have lulled you – and ourselves – into the idea that it is just us and the site coordinators who are providing you with a service (and we enjoy doing so). Members can, and are, providing a mutually important service back to the farm. Members provide us not only with the financial resources but also with an energy that is clearly felt by the farmers – and it exudes further into the farm, providing the basis for it to become a living organism. This energy is especially important and appreciated in a year like this one. Your connection is the lifeline that keeps this phenomenon moving into the future. While it sounds appealing, it is really an awe-inspiring responsibility.

1 comment:

donald said...

Brilliant post. As a farm manager on the Frontrange of Colorado I periodically check your website and blog to see how a farm which is essentially a CSA farm pulls it off. I like to compare your weekly shares to what we offer and think about how our other forms of marketing, i.e., farmer's markets and restaurant sales dictate what we have available for our members. With this post you've expressed many of my thoughts in a rather pertinent and eloquent way so thank you. I am hopefully moving to the Hudson Valley at the end of the season to take a position at the Glynwood Center for I need to expand my experience in animal husbandry and would love to talk with you all if time ever arises. I admire and commend your agricultural practices and the fine example you are setting. You put your members first and foremost and I have been given the impression, especially from this post, that you all have created and maintained a positive relationship with your members, truly capturing the essence of the CSA. So thank you and keep up the great work!

Donald Arrant