Rural Missouri - May 2013 - (Page 28)

T by Jason Jenkins hrough a cloudless sky on an early April morning, the sun beats down, warming Tom Ruggieri’s shoulders. A cool breeze still blows as he kneels and scoops a handful of soil, crumbling it between his fingers. Just 10 days ago, a late-season snow had blanketed the fields, but today, the unmistakable smell of spring is in the air and the time is right. It’s planting day. While they may not grow thousands of acres of corn or soybeans, Tom and his wife, Rebecca Graff, are farmers — true stewards of the land. Since 2002, they have operated Fair Share Farm, a 20-acre homestead outside of Kearney where they cultivate about five acres of vegetables and fruits on contract for members of their community-supported agriculture (CSA) program. The goal is to grow high-quality produce using low-impact techniques that improve the land. With a motto of “feed the soil, feed the people,” the Platte-Clay Electric Cooperative members are providing healthy food to nearly 150 local families. CSAs have been popping up across the United States since the mid-1980s. The concept is simple: Individuals and families partner with a farmer to grow their food for a season, sharing in both the risks and rewards that are inherent in agriculture. While fruits and vegetables are the most common fare, some CSAs also offer items such as meat, eggs and dairy products. “Some people actually call us ‘their farmers,’” says Tom, who spent 20 years as an environmental engineer in New York before moving to Missouri to start a new career on the land where Rebecca’s family had been farming for four generations. “We sign contracts and agree to grow your vegetables for you during the year. If you want a constant supply of fresh, local vegetables, there aren’t a lot of other ways to do that unless you grow your own.” The CSA model provides the farm with a guaranteed market for its produce, as well as capital up front on which to operate. In return, members receive a share of the farm’s bounty and the knowledge of how their food was grown. “It allows people to participate in their food production,” adds the 56-year-old. At Fair Share, the regular produce season lasts for 24 weeks, usually beginning in mid-May and continuing through October. Members may purchase a partial share or a full share of the weekly harvest. This year, Fair Share offered 150 total shares. Depending on the time of the year, a partial share includes four to six items; a full share includes seven to nine items. An “item” is what a person would typically buy at a grocery store in order to make a dish. As the season progresses, the share of produce differs each week. In the spring, a share might include sugar snap peas, baby beets, green onions, carrots, lettuce, radishes and chives. During the summer, the menu shifts to include tomatoes, peppers, 28 This year marks the 10th season for the community-supported agriculture program at Fair Share Farm near Kearney. This past year, owners Tom Ruggieri and Rebecca Graff built a high tunnel, which has extended their growing season by seven weeks. V EGGIES & ISION The roots of community-supported agriculture run deep at Fair Share Farm swap it out. We also always offer an eggplant, melons, cucumbers, green herb choice in the share.” beans, zucchini and basil. As autumn Annual prices at Fair Share currentarrives, a share might feature lettuce, ly range from $485 for a partial share broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, winter to $660 for a full share. In addition to squash, Swiss chard, potatoes and dill. this charge, the farm has a work re“Members either quirement. Members each provide come to the farm or one of our satellite locaKearney eight to 12 hours of labor each year based on the size of their tions to pick up every • week,” Rebecca explains. shares. They help with tasks “We label the crates saying such as harvesting, washing and packing of vegetables. how much to take, and they “Most people who can pick which ones look join a CSA want a congood to them. If it’s a crate nection to the farm. They of carrots, it may say take one bunch; lettuce, take two heads. want to come out, bring their kids and have that farm experiThere’s a swap box at the end of the ence,” says Rebecca of Fair Share’s line, so if there’s something they don’t work requirement. “So, it’s a way to find particularly appealing, they can WWW.RURALMISSOURI.COOP offer that to the membership and at the same time, the farm benefits.” This past year, Tom and Rebecca constructed a high tunnel, or hoop house, a type of unheated greenhouse. The structure has allowed the couple to extend the farm’s growing season to 31 weeks. Rebecca says shares for the extended season, which cost $230 for the seven additional weeks, sold out quickly for 2013. Fair Share is not a certified organic farm, but Tom says they follow all the guidelines for organic production. “We call what we do ‘biological farming,’” he says. “You are what you eat, and you are what your plants eat.” To care for their soil, Tom and Rebecca apply natural compost and grow cover crops such as rye, hairy vetch and clover as “green manure” to improve fertility. They practice low-till methods and mulch their vegetable beds with hay to prevent erosion, conserve moisture and provide additional organic material. The farmers also look for other ways to minimize their impact on the environment and reduce their carbon footprint. About half of the cultivating and other mechanized tasks on the farm are accomplished using a 1948 Allis-Chalmers Model G tractor that has been converted to run on battery power. All of the vegetable beds are irrigated using a 900-watt solar-powered system that can pump up to 30 gallons per minute. Tom says the practices they’ve adopted have had a dramatic effect on the fertility of the soil, which today feeds six times as many families as when Fair Share began. Even last year — during the heart of the deepest drought in 75 years — the farm still was able to grow high-quality food. “We can’t be beating up our land and taking from it all the time,” Tom says. “We’ve actually improved the quality of the farmland just by our farming practices. The crops we grow today are better than they were 10 years ago.” It’s a sentiment that Crystal Leaman of Holt shares. She joined the CSA shortly after Tom and Rebecca began their operation and has witnessed the growth of Fair Share Farm. “It’s pretty much changed my world in terms of eating vegetables and greens. The flavor is just different that anything I’ve ever gotten in the store,” says the Platte-Clay Electric member. “It used to be that I would think about something that sounded good and then go to the store and buy the ingredients. Now, I’ve got recipes for vegetables I didn’t even know existed. They’re some of my favorites.” Crystal says her support of Fair Share Farm involves more than a weekly basket of produce. “It’s about investing in my community and the growth of something that’s really wonderful,” she says. “They’re feeding more than 100 families and changing everybody’s eating and our ideas of it. Very little that I get to do with my money do I consider as valuable as this.” CSA shares still are available for the regular season at Fair Share Farm, which begins distribution May 18. For more information, call 816-3203763 or visit http://WWW.RURALMISSOURI.COOP

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Rural Missouri - May 2013

Rural Missouri - May 2013
Table of Contents
Chronicle of the corncob pipe
Missouri Snapshots contest
The family that drills together
Out of the Way Eats
Where bluegrass grows
Hearth and Home
Veggies and vision
Vertical gardening
Around Missouri

Rural Missouri - May 2013