Ever wonder how a CSA farm is born? Or how the heck two crazy kids coming out of college with next to no money (or skills) in organic agriculture have gone on to build a (mostly) successful farming business?
Last week, we distributed the first boxes of our CSA and shared some words about who we are, where we came from and how our little biz has changed over time. In honor of the first CSA box of the season, I wanted to share these same words with you plus a recipe I can’t wait to share with our members. I hope you enjoy both ♥
Raleigh’s Hillside Farm CSA was starting in the spring of 2013 though the dream began in 2011 when Kyle and I were both attending UW-Madison. We were falling in love while learning about the state of the world (Kyle and I both have Environmental Studies certificates and classes like Energy Resources, Wildlife Ecology, and Environmental Geography taught us that Climate Change was real, agriculture was changing, and our food system was beyond broken), and we both knew when we graduated we had to do something big, something that would have real impact and something that we could really sink our hearts and bodies into. For a combination of reasons, CSA farming felt like the best fit for our skills and interests—Kyle has a Soil Science degree and dreamed of working outside for most of his life; I have a Community & Environmental Sociology degree and dreamed of healing people and communities in Wisconsin.
We talked to my parents, who live on 180 acres in southern Wisconsin, about our vision and asked if we could begin leasing land from them to start a small CSA operation. Always being incredibly supportive of my dreams, they said yes immediately, definitely not understanding the infrastructure needed or the growth we may encounter while on their land. Honestly, even if they would have known, they probably would have said yes anyways, but perhaps not so quickly. We have had to communicate with them a lot over the years as we have grown our operation to make sure it’s still working for everyone and no one is crossing over any lines.
We still farm on land leased from my parents (now 7 acres instead of that initial 2) and have worked really hard to create boundaries and infrastructure that respects their space. We built a pack shed last season and are using it for the first time this week! It’s a big project that really takes us out of our parents’ space. Prior to this year, all of our irrigation was running from their home and all of our vegetables were washed and packed on a cement slab connected to their walk-out basement.
As for Kyle and I and our roles in this business, you will most often be hearing from me, Lauren, and seeing lots of pictures of my husband because we have a real farm partnership with each of us taking leadership in different areas and letting each other flourish in the spaces we enjoy and find meaning (while still always being available to help when needed).
I am obsessed with the CSA model as a whole and do a lot of that work for our farm—selling the shares, setting up the systems, arranging delivery, communicating about the boxes, sharing cooking resources, planning our events, etc—as well as our overall business planning and managing our finances. Kyle is the grower and leads everything that has to do with that—creating field plans and seeding calendars, greenhouse work, soil and nutrient management, planting, weeding, leading harvests, setting up irrigation, watching for pest and disease and creating a plan as necessary, etc —as well as managing our crew and upkeeping/building our infrastructure (everything from tractors to new walk-in coolers). Essentially, I’m Admin & Marketing. Kyle is Production & Infrastructure. It’s obviously a lot for two people to do but our roles become better defined and more systematized each year.
We also have three incredible crew members alongside us to help! Zoe, Emily and Rebecca are tremendous assets to our farm team and we are so grateful to have them. They all come with great and varied farming experience– I’ll definitely introduce them in more detail later. We also have seven worker shares who work 60 hours a season in exchange for their CSA share. Last year, we began outsourcing delivery to an amazing local guy named David. We have always farmed with a pretty lean crew and having someone else do our delivery has felt tremendous and really helped open some space in our week.
As for the business and where we are today, this year the CSA makes up the largest portion of our income at about 75% of our projected sales. The other 25% is veggies sold through wholesale accounts—mainly restaurants. This year, we added our first grocery store—the Willy Street Co-op!!!—and we are thrilled to be selling case after case of Lacinato kale to them throughout the season. We haven’t done a farmers’ market since year one and probably never will again (though we have great respect for all our friends how do!). We really love CSA as a model and the opportunity in provides to deeply connect and feed a family throughout a full growing season. Restaurants and a few big wholesale accounts are a perfect complement to that. We are able to really only grow produce we know is already sold. We care a lot about food waste and because of the ways we market our food, we are able to waste essentially nothing each week.
Because of our deep love of CSA, it has grown a lot over the past seven seasons from eight members to 293 members this year (up from around 200 last year). We went from offering one CSA option in year one to offering eleven different options this year, and as we continue to offer more variety and lots of smaller share options, our membership began to grow quite quickly to accommodate our income goals. We can’t believe there are 293 families eating from our fields this year and we truly never imaged our CSA growing so large but we continue to realize year after year that it is the best way for us to have impact in this world.
We are honored to grow good, clean, certified organic food as sustainably and with as little footprint as possible. And we love to do so for you. We love growing for a community. We love sharing resources and helping you learn to cook and feel confident in your kitchen. We love helping you all understand what eating local really looks like and connecting you with other amazing producers.
Happy summer bounty to you all! I hope you are enjoying your own CSA and/or garden produce in crazy quantities and getting ready for some of the best, simplest and happiest eating of the year!
SPINACH, TURNIP & GREEN GARLIC DIP
Adapted from Bon Appetit
Takes 30 minutes
2 tablespoons butter
2 green garlic, white and pale green parts only, minced
1 bunch turnips (or radishes), roots shredded and greens, roughly chopped
2-4 cups spinach, roughly chopped
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
8-ounce cream cheese
2 ounces Parmesan cheese (about 1 cup)
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- Melt butter in a medium saucepan. Add garlic and saute for 1 minutes over medium heat until very fragrant. Add radishes and cook, tossing, until well-coated in butter, 1-2 minutes longer. Add spinach and radish greens along with salt. Cook until wilted and most of the liquid is cooked off., 5-10 minutes. Add cream cheese and cook until melted. Stir in Parmesan and pepper until melted and creamy. Taste and adjust seasonings.
- Serve warm with toast, in a bread bowl or with crackers.