In the off season, I’m often asked about what the coming season holds: what I’m looking forward to, what new crops I’ll be growing, what new markets I’ll be attending. This year, I have a different—and pretty radical—answer: In order to continue doing the CSA at a high standard and to further explore the possibilities of this place, Shel and I have decided to take a break from the CSA for one year and return to it in 2021.
I know that may sound alarming. Certainly, those friends I floated the idea past had been (initially) alarmed. So I want to be clear on a couple of points:
• We are not doing this because we have grown weary of the CSA model. We are not burned out, nor is the farm’s business model failing. We are not hoping to transition into a new format or different kind of operation. We love and are committed to the traditional CSA model and how it connects people to their food. Our every intention is to spend this season experimenting with ways to farm more efficiently and sustainably so that we can return with renewed energy and purpose in 2021, and for many years after.
• We will continue farming this year, though on a much smaller scale. So much of this project relies on finding efficiencies in the CSA model, and in order to do that, we need to keep growing things. So we’ll still do our plant sales this spring and will sell our produce at the Sweetwater Market from time to time throughout the season.
What we are doing could best be described as a sabbatical. I mentioned this plan to a professor friend, and he immediately understood the reasoning because in his line of work, it is common to use every seventh year or so as an opportunity to research, explore, and initiate new projects. Which is exactly what we have in mind for 2020.
This wasn’t a decision we reached easily, though there are plenty of reasons behind it. Primarily, we are needing to find capacity to implement new projects and enterprises on the farm, but more than that, we are looking to build sustainability not only for the farm but also for our life here. Sustainability to us means that we need to attend to the needs of the farm and all the creatures and plants that inhabit it–but we also need to ensure that we balance the health of the farm with the thriving of the people who run it. While this past year was this farm’s sixth full season, I have been working in sustainable agriculture in West Michigan for nearly fifteen years and have been able to observe what farms like ours do to individuals, families, and marriages. The CSA model is a demanding one for the farmer, and sometimes those demands can break these things. Farm work will always be difficult, messy, and busy, and I fully embrace that fact, but I am hopeful that we can find a more sustainable balance of work and enjoyment.
To be clear, we are not envisioning 2020 as a year of rest and relaxation (though there may be a touch of that). No, we have plans. So. many. plans.
After six years here, we have accumulated quite a running list of pretty mundane tasks we’re hoping to tackle this season: barn repairs and renovation, infrastructure improvement and maintenance, cleaning and sorting and culling. We also hope to experiment with how and what we grow in the field: things like alternative ways of trellising tomatoes, experimenting with different methods of weed control, and exploring possible equipment purchases. And growing on a smaller scale offers us the chance to give most of the field a year-long rest where I can intensively invest in the soil’s health.
But that’s not what excites us the most.
When we first moved to the farm nearly seven years ago, we saw nothing but potential. Since then, we’ve spent most of our energy developing and tending to the CSA. And yet we see that we have not even begun to tap the possibilities of this place. We are planning that this next year will give us the time and space to explore some new ventures—workshops and classes and concerts and more—and live into that potential we first saw on a cool late-fall day many years ago. We’re looking forward to exploring and then building the vision we have for this beautiful place we get to call home.