When my Carrot and I started this farm seven years ago, it’s safe to say we had no idea what we were getting ourselves into. And though we have grown our business by 30-40% every year and are extremely proud of the produce we put out into our local community each week, there are still moments where we feel like we have no idea how we got ourselves into this mess.
I’ve heard it said that the model of agriculture we do (known fondly as Community Supported Agriculture) is the PhD of farming. Our model of agriculture is quite diversified which makes our business incredibly resilient, but it also means the learning curve is incredibly steep. We CSA farmers grow a bit of everything for our members so need to master production of not three or four, but 50+ crops.
Add to that the fact that every kind of farming requires a diverse array of skills, and you’ll find that crop production and land management are just the beginning. Farmers also need to understand what it means to run a business. From strategic planning and goal-setting to the day to day record-keeping and bookkeeping, running a farm means running a small business. Most farmers also act as mechanics, builders, soil scientists and managers. CSA farmers in particular find themselves taking on several other roles as well: delivery drivers, marketers, communicators, educators, administrators, and community organizers.
If that all sounds like a lot, it’s because it is a lot. And yet, I only want to see this model continue to thrive. I only want to see CSA farmers finding great success and happiness in this model of agricultural. Because even after these seven years of running one heck of a complicated business, I still believe that CSA is one of the best ways to move our food system forward.
So, for the past couple years I’ve been on a bit of a personal mission to help sustain the CSA movement through some independent projects. It began pretty earnestly. I co-presented at a local CSA conference with my dear friend and fellow CSA farmer Beth Wright of Winterfell Acres. The title of our presentation was “10 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Becoming a CSA Farmer” and it was intended to help folks in the room decide if CSA farming was a good fit for their skills, interests and passions. I lit up as we stood in front of the room sharing our successes and our failures.
That small presentation morphed into a grant project under North Central SARE that will ask aspiring and beginning CSA farmers similar questions through a collaborative educational video project. That video series will launch on YouTube in November of 2020 and I couldn’t be more excited to extend this knowledge to a broader national audience.
In the meantime, I’m eager to provide support to other CSA farmers right now. This summer, I was able to share some knowledge on two of my favorite farming podcasts. I discussed our decision to outsource key aspects of the business we don’t feel skilled at or have time for, and taught other CSA farmers how to more efficiently engage their CSA members with their weekly newsletter. This weekend, our farm will be hosting a Beginning CSA Farmer Intensive through Soil Sisters. I hope to turn much of the content into blogs, online trainings and other great resources over time. And in the fall, I’ll begin my Co-Active coach training to move into a space where I cannot only continue farming and teaching farmers strategies we’ve implemented, but also have one-on-one phone calls and group coaching conversations in support of others’ farm dreams.
It’s a busy, fruitful abundant time of digging deeper into this farming existence. Of not only honing our craft of growing stellar produce for our local community, but also learning how to contribute our greatest impact to this movement. I hope you stick along for the ride. It’s certainly going to be a wild one.
Forever and always,
EASY EGGPLANT PARM BAKE
Adapted from Bon Appetit
Takes 1 hour, 15 minutes
2 medium eggplants (about 2 pounds total), trimmed and cut lengthwise into 1/4-inch thick slices
1-pound bunch rainbow chard or kale, center ribs removed
2 large eggs
1 15-ounce container whole-milk ricotta cheese
1 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 15- to 16-ounce can tomato sauce
1 8-ounce fresh mozzarella, thinly sliced
- Place eggplant slices in a single layer in a large colander and sprinkle generously with salt. Add more eggplant and more salt until all slices are sprinkled with salt. Let sit for 30 minutes then pat dry with paper towels.
- Preheat the broiler to medium high and place an oven rack 5 to 6 inches from heat source. Line baking sheet with parchment paper. Drizzle with oil and arrange eggplant slices in a single layer. Brush top side with olive oil. If it doesn’t all fit on one sheet in a single layer, use a second parchment-lined sheet. Broil until eggplant slices are tender and beginning brown, watch closely so they don’t burn. It should take about 3 minutes per side. Remove baking sheet and allow eggplant to cool while you prepare filling.
- In a large stock pot, bring salted water to a boil. Add chard to pot and boil until just tender, about 2 minutes. Drain and rinse with cold water. Squeeze chard dry as best you can with your hands then pat gently with a towel or paper towels. Chop coarsely.
- In a medium bowl, whisk eggs and a pinch of salt. Stir in chopped chard, ricotta, parmesan, basil, garlic and black pepper.
- Pour half of the tomato sauce into a 9×9-inch pan and lay out 1/3 of the eggplant slices over the sauce. Top with half the filling followed by another 1/3 of the eggplant slices, the remaining filling, the last layer of eggplant, and finally the remaining sauce. Place mozzarella slices in a single layer over the top. Cover with foil and bake immediately in 350 degree oven for 30 minutes or chill until the next day. If you chill cook for 45 minutes. Either way, remove the foil and cook for 15-20 minutes at the end until brown in spots and the sauce is bubbling. Serve hot.