We wait for the sight of the first meadowlark pair, anxiously listening for their song. To our farm, this is the truest signal that spring is really approaching. The long, gray, winter days melt away and we can soon turn full swing into preparing our gardens for another year of growing organic vegetables, flowers and herbs. By this time the greenhouse is overflowing with seedlings that are aching to find a home in the soil. We too, await the long days of planting as we find ourselves once again able to live mostly outside, rather than in. We call ourselves Meadowlark Farm.
Having grown up in the Traverse City area, we decided to return home 4 years ago to see if we could make a go of farming, living in the part of the world we loved more than any other and start a family. My husband Jon Watts and I had traveled around the country for several years, living in intentional communities and learning about different ways to work the land. Before moving back home we lived on a farm in Wisconsin that grew food for people in a system called Community Supported Agriculture or CSA. We lived and gardened there, supplying about 200 families with fresh, local produce. We returned to Northern Michigan hoping to start our own farm and CSA.
We were lucky to find a beautiful farm to rent in Leelanau County and in three years have built up three of the 80 acres that encompass this property. This year we will work up another 2 acres in hopes of increasing our farming operation in 1999. The soil is typical sand dune material, and our efforts to improve it are slow, but noticeable. We use as much manure and compost as we can get our hands on. Someday we hope to find our own farm, but sadly watch as the farmland around us is sold for crazy prices and then turned into subdivisions, or other "developments". We patiently keep our ears and eyes open.
CSA is a movement of mostly small, organic farmers who have opted for a somewhat unconventional way to grow and distribute food. The concept came from Japan and Germany about 9 years ago and has grown from those early years to include over 600 farms across the U.S.. In Michigan there are very few CSA farms. In our area, there are about 3 small CSA's. There is no set formula, association or rule as to how a CSA is run, so the farms range greatly in their set-up and operation. This allows for great diversity and dynamism and is a part, I believe, of CSA's great success.
Basically, CSA is a relationship that is created between a local farm growing food and local people wanting to eat this food. It is a direct relationship whereby the farm sets out to provide a diverse selection of fresh, seasonal produce each week of the growing season and in turn the local people or "shareholders" purchase a share in the farm season. The shareholders directly support the farm's life by providing the capital to start a new season. Instead of being fed by "unseen farm workers", who most times work in unsafe and economically unjust conditions, shareholders know who grows their food. We in turn experience the responsibility of working on behalf of friends. It is a relationship built on trust and a shared sense of the risks as well as the benefits of farming. In the conventional system of supply and demand, the farmer must take all of the risks involved with farming upon his/her shoulders. If El Niño rains devastate acres of lettuce, too bad. The farmer is placed at the mercy of a system driven by money and nothing else. We feel this is sucking the vitality from farming as a viable (and yet so necessary) livelihood. And so the mega-corporate farms stay afloat while smaller family run farms fold by the thousands each year.
From our perspective as gardeners, we have greatly enjoyed heading the farm in the CSA direction. We are able to really concentrate on building and caring for our soil, as well as our community and in turn aren't pressured into making philosophical sacrifices to make a living. The benefits for us are many, but mostly we feel very good to be growing food for people in the community who care about what they eat, care about how their food is grown, care about keeping their money in the local economy, care about land use issues and on top of that trust us to do the best job we can do! We are freed to grow our best vegetables and flowers for our "people", because we know them and feel that by providing them with healthy, organic food we are making their lives better. Instead of worrying where we can sell our crops or being pressured to pay the bills by spraying the poisons, we can concentrate on doing what we love to do--growing our gardens right.
Our season runs from June through October and in these months we supply our shareholders with a weekly box of veggies and flowers that have been harvested and delivered at their peak freshness. We have several drop-off sites in Traverse City and Leelanau County, and many people pick up their produce at the farm. We like having people pick up at the farm, because in our minds it really fosters the connection between the food in their boxes and the land and people from which it has come. We also encourage people to come and help on harvest days and any other day that pulling weeds sounds like fun!
This season will bring new challenges and faces. Our new baby will arrive sometime at the end of April, and my sister Sarah Tutlis will be working with us full time. Her partner Stuart Grandy will also join us, as soon as he finishes his Masters Degree in Sustainable Agriculture at the University of Maine. Our 2 year old daughter Ella will be honing her weed pulling skills, and we hope that this season will be the best ever! We are hoping to find 65 families to join us in this season's harvest, so if anyone is interested, we still have a few spaces left. For more information about CSA or the Meadowlark Farm CSA, please call Meadowlark Farm @616-228-6980 and ask for Jenny Tutlis.
Return to the Index of Synapse 43, Spring 1998