Community Supported Agriculture: A unique way to get your minimum daily requirement of vegetalesThe road winds inland for eight miles through trees and fields to Chelsea Morning Farm. Just beyond a graying weathered fence is a half-round plastic covered greenhouse — the first indication of the farm.
By: Tammy Francois, Lake County News Chronicle
The road winds inland for eight miles through trees and fields to Chelsea Morning Farm. Just beyond a graying weathered fence is a half-round plastic covered greenhouse — the first indication of the farm.
It is quiet here in late March, but by next week the first green shoots of newly planted seeds will emerge; tiny harbingers of future activity.
Jason and Cree Bradley own the 25 acre farm in Silver Creek with vistas overlooking the North Shore. Here, more than 75 varieties of 25 types of vegetables are organically and sustainably grown. They make maple syrup in partnership with Phil Cook, a long-time producer in Lake County, host hives of bees owned by another couple and welcome customers — called members — who support their efforts by buying shares — an idea that helps sustain farmers, customers and the land. It’s called community supported agriculture.
“CSA is an interesting philosophy,” said Cree Bradley, who has been farming here for six years. CMF’s website describes it this way: “The community shares in the inherent risks and potential bounty that local, sustainable agriculture offers. With CSA, members pay in advance for a share of the season’s fresh produce. This up-front payment supports the farmer during the spring season when most farm expenses occur. In exchange, the shareholder knows exactly where their food is coming from, who is growing it, and how it is being grown.”
Last year’s floods are an example of an unexpected event that can take a profound toll on farmers, especially here in northern Minnesota where the growing season is short. Despite the risks, the Bradleys say they have excellent member retention and have grown significantly from an initial offering of 10 shares. Their members have grown to trust the duo and respect their work.
“As a farmer, it’s our job to mitigate the risk as much as possible by taking care of the land, making good business decisions,” Cree said, and both she and her husband have gained experience both as teacher and student in fields related to their profession as farmers, or to enhance their business. Each hold degrees in environmental science and has worked for pay and as volunteers on others’ farms.
Cree is currently the director and facilitator of Lake Superior Farm Beginnings, providing education and support to novice farmers. Jason worked as an outfitter and canoe guide in the BWCA. In addition to farming, he is also a commercial fisherman who apprenticed with Steve Dahl.
In fact, fresh fish and fishcake batter are made available to CMF’s CSA members. Both Cree and Jason have worked for the Minnesota Department of Agriculture as seasonal agronomists, too.
Their early attempts to grow vegetables encouraged the couple to think bigger, but even with their combined years of experience, they say there was much to learn.
“When we first started, I don’t think we thought about the business … you want to grow vegetables and play in the dirt,” Jason said, with Cree adding: “I think the first couple of years every decision was wrong or took us in a backward direction. It wasn’t until year three or four, when we started growing and went from 20 to 50 members that we started feeling like farmers … recognizing the amount of care and stewardship that was required.”
They say they owe a great deal of their success to the generosity and mentoring of other farmers along the way, including neighbors Elaine and Bruce Hanson. Elaine was raised on the land now owned by the Bradleys. The Hanson’s own some of the heavy equipment needed for big jobs around the farm and have offered their services to the Bradleys.
“They do it out of the desire to see us succeed and they do it so graciously and willingly,” said Cree. Nodding in agreement, Jason added: “We wouldn’t be nearly as far along on the farm without our mentor partners.”
This year, a 14 or 15-week share of organically grown vegetables is $470, or $445 for members who commit to five hours of labor on the farm on harvest day. The purchase of this share entitles the member to additional benefits as well, including the purchase of shares of grass-fed beef, pastured pork, lamb and poultry, hand-harvested wild rice and raw honey from partner farms. The couple says they’re eager to include more Lake County members into their CSA.
“This year we’re growing a little bit and we’d love to open those shares to people in Two Harbors and Ely. Ten members in Two Harbors would be fantastic,” Cree said enthusiastically.
For those who are inspired to grow their own vegetables, the Bradlees also sell starter vegetable and herb plants each spring — offering the same quality and diversity of types and varieties as the ones they grow for shareholders. Contact Chelsea Morning Farm at 218.834.0846 or firstname.lastname@example.org Visit the website at chelseamorningfarm.weebly.com